North America – At least we had 4.5 Volt (1982)

Back in the 1980s, 12 Volt trains reigned supreme in the UK, continental Europe and Australia. Meanwhile, across the pond we “Yankees” were less fortunate and missed out on the joys of 12V trains. Fortunately, we were able to get push trains and 4.5V battery-operated trains.

This hard-to-find brochure is from 1982 and advertises the 4.5V system for the North American market. The front cover features a charming illustration of set #7720, displayed with a mix of LEGO and traditional model railroad landscaping. We might not have had all the bells and whistles, but at least we had trains!

4 thoughts on “North America – At least we had 4.5 Volt (1982)”

  1. Thanks for another great article about historic LEGO trains! Does someone from the USA/CA has information about which other train sets from the grey era were sold in North America in die 1980s? Were all train sets which had no 12 Volt rails included available?
    Holger

    1. You’re welcome, Holger! We are glad you enjoyed it. LEGO historian, Gary Istok might be a good person do ask. I do have his LEGO history CD and will check what he says.

      I do have some resources, which might help answer part of the question. The answer is, I am not 100% sure. I do not think the train sets were readily available in North America until 1982 because this 4.5V brochure is from 1982, and it doesn’t look like trains appeared in any other American advertising for this year – not even the 1982 dealer/retailer catalog.

      I have the first edition of the book, LEGO Collector’s Guide. It provides a good starting point but may not be 100% correct. For example, it says the 12V passenger train 7740 was available in North America (I think this is an error).

      According to the collectors guide, the following 1980s train sets without 12V rails were available in North America.

      Sets Originally Released in 1980 (but not necesarilly released in North America until 1982 or later):
      7720, 7814, 7816, 7818, 7820, 7822, 7834, 7850, 7851, 7852, and 7853.
      Sets Originally Released in 1980 that did NOT appear in North America (and did NOT have 12V rails or motors):
      7710 and 7810

      Sets Released in 1983 that appeared in North America:
      7824
      Sets Released in 1983 that did NOT appear in North America:
      7815, 7819, 7821 and 7838

      Sets Released in 1985 that appeared in North America:
      7722, 7817, 7715 and 7835

      1986 sets NOT Released in North America:
      7813, 7823, and 7839

      After reading the LEGO Collector’s Guide, I decided to search through my North American LEGO literature files. Some of these items challenge information from the LEGO Collector’s Guide. It is also possible some items were not available in stores but could be purchased direct from LEGO Systems, Inc. via the Shop at Home/mail order catalog. Here is what I found…

      1983:
      A North American dealer catalog shows set 7821, Service Wagon, suggesting it was available in the U.S. & Canada (or was planned to be).

      1984:
      A Canadian catalog (boxed with a LEGO set) shows set 7710, suggesting it was available in Canada. I am not sure about the U.S. because the U.S. did not advertise trains in its main catalog that came packaged with sets.

      1985:
      The Canadian catalog packaged with sets shows set 7710 again. The U.S. catalog packaged with sets still doesn’t show trains.

      1987:
      The 1987 U.S. Shop at Home/Mail Order catalog shows the following sets that the Collector’s Guide claimed were not available in North America: 7839, 7823

      1988:
      The 1988 U.S. Shop at Home/Mail Order catalog shows the folowing sets that the Collector’s Guide claimed were not available in North America: 7823 and 7839. It also features 5075, the battery rail car, and 7857, the 12V crossing track!

      1. Good list. I specifically remember seeing 7722 and 7824 in stores (I think it was Lionel Playworld). Had them in my cart on a 50% off sell but they wouldn’t honor it on the 7722. It was still in stores in the early 90s. I remember others like 7813, 7814, and 7838 in catalogs. Until 1997, my only knowledge of other LEGO sets was limited to US catalogs and idea books. I often wondered where the sets were that had the parts they used in some of the idea books.

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