As part of the recent Minifigure40 campaign, LEGO have sent out a collection of old print advertisements for a number of themes, from the 1970’s through to the early 2000’s. These advertisements come from a variety of sources, including comic books and magazines from the period. Not all of these were presented in English.
Today I thought we might check out some of the advertisements from the 1980 to 1997. During this time, we have some 4.5V and 12V trains, and ultimately see the introduction of the enduring (and endearing) 9V train system.
Introducing the New 12 Volt Train System
In 1980, we saw the introduction of the new 12 Volt train system: offering electrified central rails, batteries were unnecessary. The system also introduced a system of switches that would allow remote control of points/switches as well as boom gates and trains.
The trains of this era included 7710: a push along passenger train; 7720: a 4.5V battery powered ‘Diesel Freight Train Set’; 7730 – a 12 Volt Goods train Set, with a steam engine; and 7740: Inter City Train Set. There were also a variety of additional locomotives and shunters, push along and 12 Volt – including the 7750 Steam Engine. Additional carriages could also be purchased, cargo or passenger, so your train could always achieve a little bit more!
We start off with several similar advertisements from Germany in 1980: no image is quite the same – either the camera angle, or the trains have been moved. They highlight different aspects of the new 12 Volt system, and show a railwaycentric layout, with a number of trains and support buildings around the layout. Of interest, is that we do not see a consistent tag line with the logo at the bottom of the screen. In English the message is the same: The train/railway with unlimited possibilities.
These advertisements show a much busier layout, with lots of minifigure based activity, around the railyard.
Two years after the initial 12V campaign in Germany, we have this advertisement from Sweden: the different roles that the child playing with the trains are highlighted.
The introduction of the automatic boom gate is highlighted in the advertisement here, with the first introduction of story telling in the advertisements we have here.
Again, we see some story telling suggested in the text. However, it is not specifically demonstrated in the artwork.
“Close the door, the train is moving out!”
That’s the great thing about LEGO railroad: you can just do anything with it. There are such exciting accessories as remote controlled points, a real goods station and cranes for loading and unloading. And if you want to see if everyone has their ticket, that’s no problem. Just take off the roof and look! This is a lively railroad game.
Germany 1985: New 12 Volt Trains
In 1985, we saw a new 12V Train – the 7745 High Speed City Express Passenger Train. A same image was used in several publications with different captions.
As far as story telling is concerned, the use of a generic image with different texts does limit the storytelling to an extent. The first however describes the specific hustle and bustle of the railway station, whereas the second focuses on the products of the 12V train system themselves.
Finally, we see some action and excitement reflected in the image, with a vehicle stuck on the crossing.
Interestingly, this Itailian advertisement from 1989 features the previous model of passenger train – now roughly 9 years old…This is quite a different style of publication – I am unsure as to whether it is a magazine or catalog. The story telling techniques used here are quite different to those seen in the German advertisements previously seen. It does, however, focus on the varied hustle and bustle of life at the railway station.
LEGO Railways: The 9 Volt Trains Roll Out
In 1991, we saw the introduction of another train system: the venerable 9V system. Destined to keep running for another 16 years, we see the introduction of the 4558 Metroliner as well as the 4563 Load and Haul Railroad. With these advertisements, the image is starting to focus on action and drama.
This one is already written in English! It is also of an era where the advertisement is beginning to show a large town like layout, incorporating the set numbers next to their images. Unlike our ads from the early 80’s, these are three dimensional environments.
The next trains were not released until 1996:
This advertisement demonstrates another three dimensional layout, perhaps unlikely to actually be functional in real life. But it is full of action, showcasing many different sets of the era.
The German version of this advertisement features a call out advertising the Arnold Schwarzenhegger Film ‘Jingle all the way’: How a superhero gets the ultimate Christmas Present. I do not know if there was a specific crosspromotion with the LEGO Group at the time. Can you recall? Why not let me know.
The ‘Cartoon’ dialog in German reads a little differently to the English.
In 1997, the LEGO World Club also features on the advertisement.
There we have it. I hope you have enjoyed this quick ride through the advertising material surround LEGO Trains from 1980 to 1997. I found it interesting that during the early days of the 12 Volt train systemm, the tag line “The trains with unlimited possibilities” seemed to have a consistent English meaning, even if the exact German phrasing was subjected to a bit of regular variation. For many AFOLs today, these represent the trains of their childhood. I’ll have to admit all off these were off my radar: in 1980, I was still playing with Set 181, which I must have received towards the end of its run, and was starting to move towards the new Technical sets at the time, before ultimately entering my dark ages around 1983. The legacy from this period of time is important: as the trains move around a city layout, they bring life to the city – moving people to and from work; delivering supplies and providing a technical challenge for the engineer controlling them as they move in and out of sidings, collecting carriages and rolling stock. The move from the 4.5 volt to the 12 Volt and ultimately the 9 Volt system set up a legacy preferred by many LEGO Train enthusiasts to this day. The 9 Volt system remained on the market for fifteen years, until 2006 when the RC Train train stood in as an interim measure before the release of the Power Functions system, which is now being replaced by the newer ‘Powered Up’ trains today.
Come back soon: we have some more documents from the archives to investigate. and who knows what else we might find. Until then,