Empire Express is widely know as a low-priced line of trains that American Flyer marketed in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  But how did the brand come about?

It is theorized that the Empire Express name was originally was used by JC Penney as their store branded trains in 1927 & 1928, prior to their use of Nation Wide Lines as their store brand, which occurred beginning in 1929.  There is some evidence to support this, in the form of original boxed sets marked with Empire Express labels and JC Penney price tags.  

Here is a c. 1928 Empire Express set.  It is not the typical wind-up set associated with the Empire Express name and it is not the typical Little American set.

The typical Little American set featured an 1120 coach and an 1120 observation.  This set came with two 1107 coaches, no observation.

More to come...


Original Post

Another c. 1927 set.  Note the top label, which is a different design than the previous top label.

This top label is interesting as there appears to be 2 Empire Express labels on the top (as evidenced by the missing portion on the bottom of the label, which exposes the label underneath).

This set is interesting, as the cars are missing the "Broadway Limited" lettering below the windows.


I have observed, but do not own, Empire Express labeled 1927 Bluebird and Jeffersonian sets.  Therefore, I suspect that the full 1927 electric line was likely sold as Empire Express labeled sets.  

Have not observed very many of the 1928 electric sets with Empire Express labels.

One obvious Empire Express set from the 1927-1928 era is the Standard gauge set, which I do not own.  I have seen a couple of these sets in their original boxes and oddly, the boxes featured regular American Flyer labels.  These sets are associated with JC Penney.  

Another obvious 1928 era Empire Express item is the airplane, which to my knowledge was not associated with JC Penney.


The Empire Express airplane, which appears to be a direct result/copy of Lindy's famous flight, is interesting in its own right.

Not sure why this got the Empire Express name, but it marks the first split from JC Penney.  

In 1929, JC Penney would start using its store brand "Nation Wide Lines" on their American Flyer produced sets.


Here is what I consider to be one of the hardest to find Empire Express items.  

This boxcab electric engine dates to 1927, as evidenced by two pantographs on the top and no bell.  So this engine appears to have been made during the JC Penney era of Empire Express.  I have only seen a few of these engines sell over the years.  

Again, the cars have no identifying American Flyer labeling.  In fact, although it does not show in the photos, one can faintly read American Flyer at the top, underneath a layer of red lithograph.


There is one last, very obvious Empire Express engine that should be noted.  This engine first appeared somewhere around 1930-1931, so it was not generally associated with JC Penney.

The engine was included in countless uncataloged American Flyer sets, one of which, is in fact associated with JC Penney.

However, there are numerous other set configurations with this engine.


Nation Wide Lines posted:

The Empire Express airplane, which appears to be a direct result/copy of Lindy's famous flight, is interesting in its own right.


wow... and i thought Lindy had it tough with only that small side window to pick up the runway and land! ...

fantastic collection of some rarely seen Flyer liveries (and box graphics!).

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