A Brief History of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

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Thomas the Tank Engine gained the hearts of many children since the Railway Series of books first came out back in 1945, which isn’t surprising considering Thomas the Tank Engine books have sold about eighty million copies all around the globe. As a celebration of the series’ 60th anniversary, here is some history about Thomas the Tank Engine.

Back in 1943, little Christopher Awdry, a three years-old son of an Anglican clergyman named Wilbert Awdry, was suffering from scarlet fever. Due to the nature of the disease he was forced to remain in isolation. As a way to keep him entertained, his father started telling him several stories about a group of trains living out adventures and having fun together, and thus, Thomas the Tank engine was born.

As is to be expected with any child, he demanded his father to tell him the stories over again and again, and of course corrected him each and every time an inconsistency took place. To “protect” himself from his son’s corrections, Reverend Awdry started writing down the stories onto pieces of paper to remember every detail.

To add to the storytelling, the Reverend made small sketches and drawings of cute small steam locomotives on the paper, along with the train stories. He drew a set of steam locomotives in an engine shed and added a human face to each of them, thus showing a “human” expression for each one.

One night, while his father was telling him one of the stories, little Christopher noticed a sketch of a small train with a sad face on the paper from which the Reverend was reading. Naturally, he asked his dad why that little train was so unhappy, and inquired what his name was. The Reverend then said the first name that came to his mind: Edward. That was when the first tale came to life. Since then, about a hundred small moral Thomas the Tank Engine tales came out.

The Reverend’s wife thought that those stories were good enough to be published, so they started looking for an editor. Soon, Mr. Edmund Ward (a retired businessman) showed his interest in those stories, and since then there has been a Thomas the Tank Engine book released almost every year.

Surprisingly, Thomas the Tank Engine himself did not appear in the Railway Series until the second book came out in 1946!

The books came with colorful designs that were attractive to children. With a size appropriate to fit a little kid’s hand, the books contained three stories and the stories were written on the left page, while an illustration of a certain part of the narrated events was on the right page. The first illustrator for the first dozen of Thomas the Tank Engine books was a man named C. Reginald Dalby, who established the appearance of all the characters based on the Reverend Awdry’s sketches and the aspect of real steam locomotives.

Many of the stories are based on real happenings and people. For instance, one of Reverend’s Awdry colleagues was a steam collector and is known to have inspired the character of the Vicar who saves “Trevor the Traction Engine” from the scrap heap. Being the most famous train of all times, Thomas the Tank Engine continues bringing healthy entertainment and marvelous, timeless magic stories to children around the world.

Copyright © Jared Winston, 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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