Bing was a German toy company founded in 1863 in Nuremberg, Germany by two brothers, Ignaz and Adolf Bing, originally producing metal kitchen utensils. They began toy production in 1880 and by the early 20th century, Bing was the largest toy company in the world, and Bing's factory in Nuremberg was the largest toy factory in the world. Although Bing produced numerous toys, it is best remembered today for toy trains. However, in addition to toys it made a huge range of kitchen wares, office equipment, electrical goods and so on.
Bing's first trains hit the market in the 1880s. When Märklin formalized several standards for track gauges in 1891, Bing adopted them, and added O gauge (1.25 inches by 1895 and gauge III (2.5 inches), causing confusion as Marklin Gauge III became Bing gauge IV (3 inches). In the early 1920s, under the auspices of Bassett-Lowke, Bing introduced a still-smaller gauge, half that of '0' at 0.625 inch, which it called OO. However, Bing's OO gauge at 4mm scale became a British standard, larger than the 3.5mm scale on the same gauge of track favoured elsewhere.
The "Nuremberg Style" of manufacturing toys on steel sheets with lithographed designs that were stamped out of the metal, formed, and assembled using tabs and slots, was perfected by Bing. This manufacturing method remained in widespread use well into the 1950s, long after Bing had disappeared.
Bing produced numerous items for export which were then sold either under its own name or for other companies. Bing produced trains styled for the British market for Bassett-Lowke and A. W. Gamage, and it produced trains for the North American market, which it exported and marketed on its own. Early in the 20th century, Bing jockeyed for market share with the Ives Manufacturing Company, who did not surpass Bing in sales for good until 1910. Throughout their histories, the two companies would frequently copy one another's designs. In some instances, the two companies even used the same catalog number on their competing products. Due to cheap German labor and low shipping and duty costs, Bing was often able to undercut the prices of its U.S. competitors. By 1914, Bing had 5,000 employees. By comparison, Märklin employed 600.
World War I forced Bing out of the export market at its peak. In 1916, Ives and the A. C. Gilbert Company formed the Toy Manufacturers Association and lobbied to protect the growing U.S. toy manufacturing industry, which had grown in the absence of foreign competition. As a result, tariffs on German toys rose from 35 percent to 70 percent. Additionally, German wages rose after the war, as did shipping costs and inflation. This created an unfavorable climate for German exports. Additionally, Lionel Corporation's advertising that criticized the manufacturing methods of its competitors' trains, targeted mainly at Ives, also hurt Bing's image because Bing's methods were so similar. Bing struggled to sell through its old inventory and misjudged demand. When the market evaporated for its 1 gauge trains, it re-gauged some models to O gauge, where they looked oversized, and other models to Lionel's Standard gauge, where they looked undersized. Yet by 1921, Bing had re-established itself in the U.S. market, largely through sales through catalog retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. However, by 1925, Lionel was also selling through Sears, and Bing quickly found itself squeezed out of the market. Bing attempted to compensate by increasing its presence in Canada, where it competed with mixed success with American Flyer.
By 1927, Bing was in serious financial trouble and the company's president, Stephan Bing, and his son, left the company. Initially going to work with another Nuremberg-based toy firm, the Bings, who were Jewish, soon fled to England because of the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Bing items can be identified and dated by its trademark. Items bearing the letters "GBN" (for "Gebrüder Bing Nürnberg" — "Brothers Bing Nuremberg") in a diamond date before 1923, while items bearing a sideways "B" next to a "W" (for "Bing Works") date from 1924 to 1932.
- Wills, Keith (November 1997). "Bing Trains in America." Classic Toy Trains, p. 118.