Those of us who came of age at a certain time will fondly remember one of the traditional joys of our youth: setting up the electric train beneath the Christmas tree. Not just any train, though - it had to be a Lionel train set, big and loud and bright, complete with billowing smoke from the locomotive and all manner of animated trackside accessories.
Joshua Lionel Cohen, the man at the helm of Lionel, was more than just a toymaker. NYC native Cohen was also a bona-fide inventor who developed a fuse that the U.S. Navy adopted for underwater demolition; he was the first owner of the American Ever Ready Company (precursor to today's Eveready batteries), played a part in the development of the dry cell flashlight, and in 1901 founded the Lionel Manufacturing Co. to make electric trains. The rest, as they say, is history.
Lionels are so ingrained in the Christmas season that each year, New York City's Transit Museum erects an operating Lionel layout in Grand Central Terminal (a wonderful video of this year's layout, a model Manhattan, is posted here). If you have fond memories of your childhood trains, you can see them again at Charles Wilber's extensive Lionel Index site. And don't forget to unplug the transformer from the mains when you're done.