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Model Railroader (MR) is an American magazine about the hobby of model railroading. Founded in 1934 by Al C. Kalmbach, it is published monthly by Kalmbach Media of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Commonly found on newsstands and in libraries, it promotes itself as the oldest magazine of its type in the United States, although it is the long-standing competitor to Railroad Model Craftsman, which - originally named The Model Craftsman - predates MR by one year.
MR is considered to be a general-interest hobby magazine, appealing to a wide range of hobbyists, rather than specializing in a particular scale, or facet of the hobby (such as prototype operations or scratch building and kitbashing). Model Railroader covers a variety of scales and modeling techniques for engines, rolling stock, right-of-way, structures, and scenery. It reviews products including ready-to-run models as well as kits, tools and supplies. The magazine presents blueprints and photographs of prototype equipment, as well as photographs of models and layouts.
A longstanding philosophy of modeling is manifest in its orial features of layout design and operation, in which the model is viewed as a three-dimensional and temporal compression of the real world, so that, for example, the motive power, freight, trackage and scenery of a real-world railroad are formed into a layout which captures the spirit of not only the equipment and region of the railroad but also its purpose and how it operates.
The Model Railroader began publication in the summer of 1933, with a cover date of January 1934. A press release announcing the magazine appeared in August 1933, but did not receive much interest. The bank refused to loan Kalmbach any money, many felt sorry for him, and a few told him he was crazy.
His first wife, Bernice, herself a journalist, encouraged and helped Al put The Model Railroader together. Though they originally saw it as a sideline business to their commercial printing operations, soon they were devoting seven days a week to the venture.
The magazine was well received by model railroaders, and the young publisher carried the entire first press run (272 copies) by streetcar to be mailed. By July 1934, paid circulation exceeded 1,000 copies. Growth continued, but the magazine was not an immediate success. The magazine became profitable after three years. It took Kalmbach seven years to pay off the loans used to launch the magazine.
World War II introduced paper rationing, which dampened the growth of the Kalmbach Publishing Company. At the end of the war, MR's circulation was about 20,000. By 1950, MR's circulation had grown to more than 100,000, thanks in part to a boom in interest in model railroading. As of 2007, the magazine had a monthly paid circulation of more than 160,000.
The magazine, and Kalmbach Publishing (now Kalmbach Media), celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2019.
Typical feature articles in each month's issue include:
Regular monthly columns and departments include:
Model Railroader publishes two annual special issues:
Other special issues on various aspects of the hobby are released on an irregular basis. Titles have included 102 Track Plans for Model Railroaders, How to Build Realistic Layouts, and How to Build More Layout in Less Space.
A weekly Web video show, Modeler's Spotlight Video - Inside Cody's Office, is available to magazine subscribers via MR's website. The show introduces new products, offers modeling tips, and interviews notable people in the hobby.
Many of the blueprints, layout plans, articles on operation and signaling, and methods of construction of bridges, structures and scenery are also collected in books published by Kalmbach Books. These are useful to modelers in general, railroad historians, and are valuable references on the steam and diesel eras.
Past MR articles are also collected in PDF form and distributed via the magazine's website.
Model Railroader staff members participated in the production of the Dream-Plan-Build video series, which was offered by subscription. The DVDs focused on prototype railroading information, layout visits, and modeling techniques.
Model Railroader also has several other "sister" magazines, also published by Kalmbach, including such titles as Trains magazine, Classic Trains, Garden Railways, and Classic Toy Trains. They are often advertised in Model Railroader, and on occasion, an article will refer to these other magazines.