Ives, founded in Plymouth, Connecticut by Edward Ives, initially produced paper dolls whose limbs moved in response to hot air, but soon began producing a wide range of toys. Its emphasis shifted to trains as its designs were copied by other toymakers who were willing to sell them more cheaply. Ives' trains were made of tin or cast iron and initially powered by clockwork, but like later electric trains, some models could whistle and smoke. A fire in its main factory destroyed its tooling in 1900, which prompted a re-design for 1901 that resulted in Ives' first toy train that ran on track.
Ives released its first electric trains in 1910, partially in response to less-expensive clockwork trains from other manufacturers. Ives produced trains in a variety of gauges, including Wide gauge and O gauge.
Edward Ives died in 1918, but the company's fortunes improved due to World War I, which significantly reduced imports from Germany. Ives' son and successor, Harry Ives, had a heated professional relatonship with Lionel founder Joshua Lionel Cowen, in which they traded lawsuits and Lionel criticized the quality of Ives' offerings in print advertisements. By the mid-1920s, Ives was losing money. Harry Ives relinquished his presidency, but problems continued and Ives' largest creditor sued in 1928. Ives filed for bankruptcy, reporting liabilities of $188,303.25.
On July 31, 1928, Ives was purchased by Lionel and American Flyer, who operated the company as a joint venture until 1930, when Lionel bought out American Flyer's share. Lionel considered the reverse unit in Ives trains superior to its own, and adopted the design for its own offerings. The Ives brand was discontinued, however, except for the occasional re-issue, in 1931.
Ives toys and locomotives are sought after by collectors today.