History and Key Aspects of Kalmbach Books Success

History and Key Aspects of Kalmbach Books Success
Table Of Content

The History and Impact of Kalmbach Books

For over 80 years, Kalmbach Books has been a leading publisher of books and magazines focused on railfanning, model railroading, and railroad history. Since its founding in 1934 by Al C. Kalmbach, the company has made an immense impact in the train hobby community and beyond.

Al C. Kalmbach and the Early Days

Al Kalmbach first began publishing in 1934 when he decided to turn his passion for trains into a business. Based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kalmbach's first offering was a modest one: a 64-page, saddle-stapled magazine called “The Model Craftsman.” The content focused on model railroading techniques, current news items, and reader submissions.

This inaugural publication reached 500 subscribers in the first year. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response, Kalmbach expanded the company’s offerings over the next decade. He began publishing books focused on railroad history and added more magazines, including “Trains” and “Model Railroader,” which quickly became flagships of the Kalmbach catalog.

Growth and Diversification

By the 1950s, Kalmbach Books had become the undisputed leader in railroad-focused publishing. Under the leadership of Al’s son Robert, the company continued to grow not just its book and magazine catalog but also its reach and influence in the hobby.

One major way Kalmbach expanded was through its dedicated research arm, which conducted extensive surveys to better understand customers’ needs. The market research enabled Kalmbach to diversify strategically into new product lines that complemented existing offerings.

For example, the company capitalized on model railroaders’ interest in authenticity by beginning to publish book series with highly detailed technical drawings of locomotives and rail infrastructure. These proved enormously popular among hobbyists and railroad historical societies alike.

Modern Products and Initiatives

Today, some of Kalmbach’s most beloved titles include “Great Railroad Photographs,” “Classic American Railroad Terminals,” and the “Tourist Trains Guidebook.” Recent initiatives have focused on multimedia formats, leading to series like the award-winning “Model Railroad Planning” videos.

Kalmbach is also investing deeply in online platforms, aiming to connect the train hobby community in new ways. These efforts include live videos, web forums, interactive maps, digital editions of print publications, and ebooks. Embracing digital not only expands Kalmbach’s reach but also enables new possibilities for enthusiasts to engage with content.

Key Aspects of Kalmbach’s Success

When looking at the Kalmbach empire today, spanning books, magazines, videos, research reports, events, online platforms, and more, it’s clear the company dominates the railroad hobby niche. But how did a humble 64-page magazine turn into a multimedia powerhouse?

Laser Focus on Customers

From the very first issue of “The Model Craftsman” in 1934, founder Al Kalmbach kept readers and subscribers firmly in mind with every business decision. He solicited constant feedback to understand customers’ needs and interests across model railroading, prototype railroads, railfanning, history, and related topics.

This insight guided strategic expansion into new product areas as well as investments to improve content quality. Kalmbach continues this customer-centric approach with extensive market research to this day.

Careful Targeting of Verticals

While some publishers seek growth by extending into loosely related or potentially lucrative markets, Kalmbach Books takes the opposite approach. Leadership deliberately focuses investments within clearly defined verticals where enthusiasts crave high-quality content.

Targeted verticals include model railroad modeling and construction, collectible toy trains, railroad photography, locomotive technology, railway preservation efforts, historical societies, railfan groups, railroad museums, and more. Keeping focus tight enables unparalleled depth, quality and longevity.

Embracing Innovation

From adopting early four-color printing technology in the 1950s to today’s multimedia transformation, innovation plays a key role across Kalmbach’s history. Leadership constantly seeks ways technology advancements can improve content quality, reader experience and connections within the railroading community.

Digital formats like interactive maps, model railroad planning software, animated diagrams of locomotives, video tutorials, web forums, podcasts and ebooks make content more useful, inspiring and accessible for enthusiasts.

The Future of Kalmbach

As Kalmbach Books looks ahead to the next decade and celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2024, what might the future hold for this stalwart publisher?

Deeper Community Building

From virtual meetups and social feeds to collaborative projects, Kalmbach's online platforms foster connections within the train hobbyist community. Expect continued expansion of community-building initiatives to support enthusiasts in interacting, learning, creating and exploring content together.

More Immersive Content Formats

Emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality open exciting possibilities for more immersive railroad-focused content. Kalmbach’s strong technology focus positions the company well to create interactive, virtual experiences that educate and inspire within specialty verticals.

Platform Content Personalization

As platforms grow sophisticated, Kalmbach can leverage data to customize content suggestions, learning paths, forum recommendations and other experiences to each reader’s specific interests. This personal touch strengthens loyalty while allowing enthusiasts to delve deeper into beloved topics.

For over eight decades, Kalmbach Books’ unwavering dedication to the railroading niche has made it a category leader. With innovative thinking, close customer relationships, and strategic investments, Kalmbach seems poised to continue connecting and cultivating the railfan community for many years to come.


When was Kalmbach Books founded?

Kalmbach Books was founded in 1934 by Al C. Kalmbach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first publication was a 64-page magazine called “The Model Craftsman” focused on model railroading techniques and news.

What are some of Kalmbach's most popular book series?

Some of the most beloved Kalmbach book series over the years include "Great Railroad Photographs," "Classic American Railroad Terminals," the "Tourist Trains Guidebook," and series with highly detailed technical drawings of locomotives and rail infrastructure.

Does Kalmbach Books publish magazines?

Yes, Kalmbach has published several popular railroading magazines over its history including "Trains," "Model Railroader," "Classic Trains," and "Garden Railways." These flagship publications helped establish Kalmbach as the leader in railroad-focused publishing.

What innovations has Kalmbach Books embraced?

Kalmbach has a history of embracing innovations like early four-color printing and a current focus on multimedia formats. Recent efforts include videos, web forums, digital editions of print publications, ebooks, interactive maps, model railroad planning software, and podcasts.

Advertisement 1

Advertisement 2

More from Category

Customizing Nike Shoes at Nike By You in Seoul, South Korea

Customizing Nike Shoes at Nike By You in Seoul, South Korea

Learn about the Nike By You custom shoe studio located in Apgujeong, Seoul, South Korea. Get tips for booking an appointment and see sample customizations like names and logos added to sneakers.

The Best Gift for Your Girlfriend - A Versatile Bracelet to Ring Artificial Jewelry

The Best Gift for Your Girlfriend - A Versatile Bracelet to Ring Artificial Jewelry

Learn why a versatile bracelet that can easily be transformed into a ring makes such a thoughtful and treasured gift for your girlfriend. This classic yet stylish jewelry item is perfect for any occasion and budget.

These Unique Hats Prevent Your Sunglasses from Falling Off with Clever Built-in Slots

These Unique Hats Prevent Your Sunglasses from Falling Off with Clever Built-in Slots

Learn how the viral Glasser’s hat design by EZ Home solves the common problem of glasses falling off hats with a simple yet ingenious built-in holder that securely anchors your eyewear.

Michael Jordan Collection: A Deep Dive Into His Iconic Chicago Bulls Inspired Style

Michael Jordan Collection: A Deep Dive Into His Iconic Chicago Bulls Inspired Style

The late great Michael Jordan is considered by many as the greatest basketball player of all time. Beyond his incredible accomplishments on the court which include 6 NBA championships, 5 MVP awards, and many other accolades, Jordan also left an indelible mark on basketball style and culture.

An Analysis of John Bonham's Groundbreaking Drumming Technique

An Analysis of John Bonham's Groundbreaking Drumming Technique

John Bonham is widely considered one of the greatest rock drummers of all time due to his powerful and distinctive style. Even decades after his tragic and untimely death in 1980