The earliest railroads used internal combustion gasoline powered engines to power a locomotives. By the mid-1890's, Dr. Rudolf Diesel rescived a patent for his first compression ignition engine, which was designed for railway propulsion. By the mid-1950s, with economic recovery from the Second World War well underway, production of diesel locomotives were in full force and became the dominant type of locomotive power. It offered greater flexibility and performance than the steam locomotive, as well as substantially lower operating and maintenance costs.
The first Lionel diesels of the postwar era made their debut in 1948 and included the now famous Santa Fe F3 along with the ever popular New York Central F3. In an era when steam locomotives were the mainstay of most railroads -- including Lionel's own motive power fleet -- the move to dieselization by Lionel followed the real railroads. By the mid 1950s, diesel and electric motive power began to share the spotlight with the steamer. With smooth sides and the opportunity to display colorful graphics and logos, the popularity of a diesel soon domimated the world of Lionel.
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