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Portrait Of A Great American Entrepreneur And Toy Train Maker: Horace E. Boucher

By Jim Kelly, with the kind assistance of Betty Childs Klaviter, Horace Boucher's great, great niece and the great granddaughter of Eugene Boucher, Horace's brother, who has graciously provided many of the photographs and documents, and much of the historical information contained herein.

Horace Edward Boucher

1874-1935

(photo provided to Ms. Klaviter by a Boucher grand nice)

J. L. Cowen, W. O. Coleman, Harry C. Ives, and Julius and Milton Forchheimer...these are a few of the great names associated with the wonderful tinplate toy trains manufactured in the United States during the early part of the 20th century. We know much about many of them, but there are a few others who played an important role in creating the toy train treasures we admire today about whom not as much has been written. Horace E. Boucher, who manufactured tinplate toy trains from 1923 until the mid-1930s is one of these important American toy train giants.

Boucher was born in Messina, Italy, on April 24, 1874, to parents Henry and Sarah An. Horace's father Henry was born in Naples, Campania Italy of an Italian Mother and a Belgian father, and Sarah An Rogers was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England. Henry, along with other family members, invented a machine which put cork tips on cigarettes. The family lived in England for a number of years, but moved to Italy in 1873. This accounts for Horace being born in Italy. Henry Boucher emigrated to the United states in 1884 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1890. Horace and several other brothers came to the U.S. at about the same time as their parents. Horace became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1890 by virtue of his father's naturalization that same year.

Horace Boucher graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Ct, and in 1890 he began studying to be a naval architect at the naval base in Washington. Soon he was put in charge of the United States Naval Model Shop.

Marriage Certificate of Horace and Zelia Anna Boucher

Boucher married Zelia "Zig" Anna Schumacher on March 2, 1897 in Brooklyn. She was born on May 21, 1877 in St. Thomas, West Indies (d. 1949). "Zig" was French by birth and became a naturalized U.S. citizen upon her marriage to Horace.

Photo ca. 1898

Standing in back: Horace E. Boucher

Front: Horace's niece Gertrude Boucher; Sara Ann (nee Rogers) Boucher, Horace's mother; Henry Negus Boucher (Horace's nephew); and Henry Boucher, Horace's father.

In 1905, Boucher established his own naval model-making studio in Manhattan at 95 Maiden Lane, in the financial district. He started small with just two assistants, but demand for his services quickly resulted in expansion. Boucher eventually widened the scope of his business beyond making models of ships and boats into making models of buildings and structures, such as a sectional model of the great steel and concrete caissons that support the famous Woolworth Building in New York. In 1930 he made a highly detailed model in ceramics of the massive George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River and the surrounding vicinity that was superior to maps, photos, or blueprints. The model included details like traffic lanes, houses and trees. One of Boucher's famous series of naval models was a series of 175 warship models that traced the entire history of U. S. Navy vessels from the Bonhomme Richard to the latest modern battleships of his day. Boucher was also an avid yachtsman and served as an officer in at least two yacht clubs.

At some point in the early part of the 20th century Boucher incorporated and moved his business to 415 Madison Avenue, still in New York City. He conducted both a wholesale and retail business from that site. In addition to naval and other types of professional model making, Boucher manufactured wooden scale model boat kits of sailing yachts and power boats that were popular with boys of the time, and their fathers.

Boucher's business mottos in 1927 were "Get Your Boy One (For Yourself"), and "Toys That Are More Than Toys." Some of the models were intended for display only, while others could be powered by the live steam or electric motors offered in the Boucher catalog, along with a complete line of nautical fittings and model maker's tools.

Boucher's love of finely detailed scale models of all types led him, in 1923, to acquire the electric toy train line manufactured by the Voltamp Electric Manufacturing Company, of Baltimore, MD. Voltamp electric trains were large, impressive models, and their authentic appearance probably appealed to Boucher. "Perhaps you wonder why other companies have not designed their "toy trains" to look like real ones. It is chiefly because they think of products as toys, while Mr. Boucher builds models," proclaims the Boucher catalog.

Boucher initially manufactured and sold the Voltamp designed electric trains without modification, but soon changed the gauge from 2" to 2-1/8" Standard gauge, and modified the trains to run on three-rail track, insuring that his trains would be more compatible with those of the other major electric toy train manufacturers of the day. Boucher made few changes to the Voltamp line until about 1929, when the company offered the spectacular new and improved "De Luxe" 2500 locomotive and the nearly scale and beautifully painted Boucher Blue Comet cars.

In 1930, Boucher apparently split his company in two, with Boucher Playthings, Inc. becoming the part of the business having to do with toys, including electric toy trains.

Boucher Playthings Papers Of Incorporation Page 1 excerpt

 

Page 2 excerpt

 

Page 15 excerpt

However, the economic downturn resulting from the stock market crash of 1929 affected every toy train manufacturer, and the days of big, expensive Standard gauge trains were numbered. Boucher returned to concentrating on his primary model making and scale model boat business, and, in 1932, just nine short years after acquiring the Voltamp line of electric trains, he wrote to Manes Fuld, the owner of Voltamp, to ask if Fuld wanted to buy back the electric train line. This was not to be, however, and by 1935, Boucher ceased manufacturing electric toy trains. The spectacular railroad models made first by Voltamp and then improved upon by Boucher were gone forever, save those examples from the period that survive.

Horace Boucher died on April 27, 1935 of a heart attack at his home in Manhattan. He and his wife are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings CO., New York. The company he founded continued in business many years after his death. There is even a company in business today that can at least partially trace its existence back to Horace's company. The fine models he made are in important collections, and generations of children and adults enjoyed his model boats. A few lucky boys enjoyed his wonderful electric trains. Today, collectors treasure model boats and trains with the Boucher name, the name of a truly great American entrepreneur.

Horace & Zelia Boucher Grave Site

 

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