The Knapp Electric and Novelty Company was founded in 1895 in New York, N.Y. by inventor David W. Knapp.
The company made electic motors, toy electric automobiles, board games, magic kits, shocking coils, dynamos, fans,
toy lathes, machine tools and electric specialties. They were located at 47 Warren Street in Manhattan.
As early as 1898 advertisements appeared announcing the combination of the Knapp C and D type
motors with cell batteries made by the Gordon Burnham Co. to produce the 'Electrical Engineer' cooling fan.
The ads stated that, "the fans were fitted with a pulley for running toys".
In 1902 the company marketed a Kenco Trade Mark No. 1 Electric Toy Train kit which
consisted of a trolley car and 9 feet of track that could be assembled into an oval. The trolley measured 8
inches long by 5 inches high. The motor was powered by a two watt source.
The company later introduced a full line of 2" gauge 2 rail electric trains in 1904 making them one of
the earliest producers of electric toy trains. Trolleys and trains in 2" gauge were manufactured between 1902
and 1913 only.
2" gauge (also called II gauge) is a model railway gauge originally 64 mm (2½ inches), later standardized in
1909 at 2 inches (50.8 mm), a 20% reduction and
a change in definition: from mm to inches. The 2 gauge was introduced by Märklin
at the Leipzig toy fair in 1891. 2 gauge was equivalent to a 1:22.5 scale. This gauge has since fallen
into disuse, as Lionel's
introduction of Standard gauge became very popular in the 1920's.
Around 1900 Knapp also produced a miniature electric powered toy automobile.
The Knapp Electric and Novelty Company's patented small, 3 pole armature based 'Little Hustler' DC motors were
acquired by the AC Gilbert Company and used in their famous Erector Sets. Three pole armature motors start easily without
assistance when current is applied.
Knapp is most noted for making the popular and long lived board game titled "The Knapp Electric Questioner".
It was manufactured from the 1890's through the late 1940's. The Knapp Electric Questioner had various sets
of quiz cards ranging from flags
to animals to trivia. Upon completing the circuit by touching the two probes to the correct question
and answer a buzzer would sound.
The game also included a Morse code key with the code printed on the inside lid for your convenience. The
game came with blank cards for creating
your own quizzes and the company would actually pay you $5.00 for quizzes you submitted to them for use.
Sets of 11 cards cost $.50 and included
such topics as Conundrums, True-to-Life, and American History. At its height, the game sold over 150,000
units a year.
The company relocated a few times, first to 126 White Street, then to 509-517 west 51st Street in Manhattan, then later
moved to a factory in Port Chester New York. David W. Knapp brought in his son David A. Knapp to help run the business.
Knapp was the only 2" gauge 2 rail electric train company that made locomotives that had cast iron
bodies. Knapp also did not manufacture as wide a variety of electric trains that the other train makers
(Voltamp, Howard, Carlisle & Finch) of that era made. All of their
locomotives used the 0-4-0 wheel arrangement. Carlisle & Finch acted as a distributor and marketed
toys made by Knapp Electric. Like Carlisle & Finch trains, the Knapp electrics utilized wet cell batteries for DC
operation. They also manufactured a cast-iron double wheeled hand cranked electric dynamo generator to create current for
operating the electric trolleys and trains.
Train production ended in 1913, but Knapp later marketed cast brass, copper and aluminum
HO scale trains from 1931-46. They offered both ready-to-run HO sets as well as kits. These sets were passenger sets headed
by a 4-8-2 Mountain steam loco. Set #300 was the R-T-R set with the 4-8-2 loco, a tender numbered #400, a #600 heavyweight
type baggage car and a #601 heavyweight type passenger coach. It included 16 pieces of curved 2-rail track to facilitate a
24" radius circle. Set #301 came with the same cars and loco, but in kit form. In both sets the track came completely built
up. Knapp HO track was 9" long and had solid rails laid on a Bakelite roadbed. Although the sets
were pictured in the catalog with 'Knapp Lines' livery, they came with decals for 10 different railroads for the loco and 9
different road names for the passenger cars. The DC motor supplied in the locomotive featured an Alnico permanent magnet.
Set #300 was priced at $34.50 and set #301 sold for $27.50. The 4-8-2 loco and tender were offered for separate sale at
$19.50 (catalog item #400) or in kit form for $15.00 (catalog item #401). Interestingly, all the wheels on the locomotive
were flanged. Knapp also offered separate sale curved and straight track, lefthand and righthand switch kits, a reversing
contol switch/speed rheostat, low-voltage lever action snap control switches, and Ohmite controls.
Knapp Electric Inc. moved from New York to Indianapolis, IN
around 1937. The company was first located at 3029 E. Washington Street, and according to their 1939 catalog, at
739 East Market Street in Indianapolis. The Knapps, in association with P.R. Mallory, also manufactured a range of
electric items other than magic sets and games while in Indianapolis including automobile fans, electric popcorn poppers,
irons, coffee pots, small electric motors, toy motors, vaporizers, blenders, mixers and electric blankets. The HO train
parts inventory and designs for the brass Knapp 4-8-2 Mountain loco kit were acquired by Bill Bowser for his
Bowser Mfg. Company, of Redlands, CA. in 1946. Knapp closed permanently in the late 1940's.
Because of their scarcity and age, Knapp 2" gauge trains are highly collectible and sought after by
hobbyists. At the November 2, 2023 Stout Auction of the collection of Bill Paul, TCA member #65-1186, an early Knapp #217
0-4-0 steam outline electric locomotive sold for $1,200. At that same auction, a Knapp unpowered N.Y.C. & H.R. gondola went
for $1,500. At a previous Stout Auction conducted on April 6, 2023, a restored Knapp Electric Limited Trolley in 2" gauge
sold for $1,100 and a repainted Knapp Steeple Cab Mining Locomotive in 2" gauge sold for $725. At that same auction, an all
original 2" gauge Knapp No. 238 Limited Express Passenger Car brought a closing price of $2,200, a Knapp Limited Express
Baggage Combine Car No. 237 was sold for $1,800, and a Knapp Electric Traction Power Gondola Car obtained a gavel price of
$2,100. Also at this auction, a 2" gauge Knapp Electric Traction Powered Trolley brought a gavel price of $1,600, a Knapp
No. 236 Fast Freight Red Caboose brought $1,850, a restored Knapp Kenco Electric Traction Trolley garnered a price of $2,300,
and a Knapp Kenco Pleasure Ave Trolley brought a $3,300 selling price. The highlight of that auction for Knapp items sold was
a 2" gauge Steeple Cab N.Y.C. & H.R. No. 4 with 3 No. 232 N.Y.C. & H.R. 4-wheel mining cars that sold for $6,700. A very
scarce, partially restored, Knapp 2" gauge No. 221 black with red roof and gold trim steeple cab 0-4-0 loco brought in a
similar $6,700 sale price at the November 19, 2022 Stout Auction in Middlesex, PA.