Vintage Large Marx DC-4 Pressed Steel Toy Airplane

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Vintage Large Marx DC-4 Pressed Steel Toy Airplane
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This Guide is for those seeking information concerning these gentle giants of the mid-century. Louis Marx was an avid promoter of toys through most of the 20th Century. His various companies created many types of metal toys and even plastic toys through the 1970's. One of the most sought after toys is the Large Marx DC-4 Pressed Steel Toy Airplane. When World War II was ending so was the War Board's Policy of  Materials Rationing. With the stocks of steel becoming readily available and inexpensive, the Louis Marx Co. jumped ahead of their competition (mostly Wyandotte) with this impressively sized toy airplane. It was massive with a 27-1/2" wingspan and a fuselage length of 22".

This toy airplane was actually a design based on the original Douglas DC-4E (see Google images) that featured upper berths in the fuselage that required small windows in parallel with the main cabin windows. It also featured 3 vertical fins and a somewhat swoopy fuselage making it susceptible for confusion with the later and more famous Lockheed Constellation.


Since the only DC-4 known before the war was the DC-4E, toy designers used its layout to create their own 4-engined passenger airplane toys. We can see this with ToostieToy's Mainliner, Wyandotte's Mainliner as well as Marx "Mainliner"-to a degree. The actual DC-4E was a marketing failure and only one was produced (It was sold to the Japanese who in turn used it for bomber design concepts). Douglas wisely listened to airline operators and created the simpler, less costly DC-4 which became widely used. Note that most of these later DC-4's all wound up in the United States Army Air Forces during the war and only a few were seen by civilians until the war was over. By that time the airlines, starving for aircraft, scooped them up quickly making the design very popular. 

 Later DC-4

In the early '40's Marx geared up for production creating new, expensive punch and press dies to produce the now defunct DC-4E. Eventually they realized a lot less steel would be needed if they converted the airplane to the later style DC-4 with a single fin. So the economic choice was easy to make. Thus the famous Marx DC-4 has the general fuselage style of the DC-4E but featured the single Fin configuration of the later, more popular, DC-4. Generally those upper berth windows do not detract from this  airplane's pleasing sentimental appearance.

There were actually a group of four basic Marx airframe styles. To identify these, I will use these designations Mk 1, Mk 2, Mk 3, Mk 4a and b.  Before I continue, let me answer a common question. What's with that hole in the starboard wing? Well, that hole was stamped during production and was simply there to hang the wing during the spray paint portion before assembly. There is one in the stabilizer for the same purpose but is hidden when assembled with the fuselage.

Now onto the various production types...

The Mk 1: is the most numourous and consists of the basic steel airplane with free wheeling 3-bladed, 3" diameter stamped steel propellers and free wheeling wheels for the undercarriage. The props were made using various dies so subtle differences are typical. They were riveted into place using low tensile strength brass grommets. It was decaled in either Pan American or American Airlines. It also came in either silver (Pan Am) or red (American Airlines-only). Some "specials" were created allowing some variation in the colors on the wings and fuselages.  

Mk 1- American Airlines livery...   

Mk 1 finished as a USAF C-54  

The Mk 2: This model's one important feature was the addition of a cabin door that opened and closed on the port rear side of the airplane. Otherwise the airplane was finshed like a Mk 1. During the Mk 2 production, Marx introduced a pressed steel set of "Air Stairs" or loading ramps. Note that these have become more rare as time goes on probably due to the misunderstanding of their role as a toy accessory.   

Mk 2 topside with airstairs and figures          

Mk 2 Propeller and landing gear configuration    

The Mk 3:  The next innovation was the option to have wings with a wheels-turn-props transmission so that as the airplane was rolled over a smooth surface the props would rotate. New main landing gear brackets and axles were introduced as was a special set of elongated prop shafts (see pics under Mk 4 below). The wheel axles and prop shafts were connected via a spring which transmitted the wheel rotation to turn the props. Each wing would have props rotating in opposite directions but what kid cared about that! These airplanes normally were assembled using the Mk 1 fuselage without the opening cabin door option. They were generally fitted with 3-bladed, 2-1/2" diameter gray plastic props. Ironically, most of the props free wheeled on the prop shafts as the ID of the prop's shaft hole was bigger than the OD of the prop shaft. So while the wheels turned the props shafts, only occasionally would the props actually rotate. These were, in  theory, to represent the new Douglas design known as the DC-6 (or Super 6).

The Mk 4: This airplane was the ultimate and now most rare combination. It featured both the opening cabin door of the Mk 2 as well as the wheels-turn-props transmission of the Mk 3. Some of these came with 3-bladed props (Mk 4a) and some came with 4-bladed props (Mk 4b) The high-class set-up was a Mk 4 with a Marx set of Air Stairs and the then recently introduced Airport Figures of people found at the airport. These were in light colored soft plastic that included pilots, stewardesses, service personnel and passengers. The picture below depicts such a set-up with a Mk 4 airplane, stairs and people. A few had a tail decal that said "Douglas  SUPER 7" to reflect the latest in the DC series that of a DC-7C

  Mk 4b with open cabin door and 4-bladed props 

Underbelly shows drive system 

The production lasted for all versions through the late 1950's which also saw the change to less glamorous livery markings especially for Pan Am. In addition, throughout production, Marx would take orders for specific combinations for certain retail outlets. Odd combinations would be packed in a box due to various over runs and "specials". Cream colored fuselages with blue wings, Cream colored fuselages with red wings, silver and blue, red and blue, red with silver etc., etc.

 Rare red and cream AA version

A past employee once stated, "[That] just about anything would end up in "specials" which ultimately meant that there are no restrictions to the combinations. If a customer wanted it, they got it, for the right price of course!"

Eventually, tin airplanes from overseas swallowed up much of the marketplace. In fact, Marx had a hand in using the cheaper labor in Japan under the "LINEMAR" banner. Because the Large Marx DC-4 is so, well, large and robust, they retain the popularity even today. Most that are unrestored will have lots of surface rust , missing decals and a few dents. Many props and nose gear assemblies are missing as well. None-the-less, they make great candidates to be overhauled/rebuilt/restored as the owner sees fit. There seems to be a support market for either original parts or high quality reproductions especially here on eBay so buying one is a worthy investment for a collector- especially for those concerned with preserving all "Toys Americana". If you have questions or suggestions to update this guide, please contact me as ohmyflyguy here at Ebay.  

     Typical "Before and After "  ----- 

Some last thoughts about the Marx company and this iconic Large DC-4.....One of the bonuses that Marx had planned was that these airplanes were actually designed in O-Gauge scale. This was an additional marketing opportunity for retailers to capitailize on and many Large DC-4's were displayed hanging over the large Marx train displays during the Christmas holidays.  The other advantage was for families with two young boys. There were less issues concerning sharing when both trains and planes were available for play around the Christmas tree. It also meant that passengers for trains could also be staged waiting for the airplane as well.  Encouraging imaginative play always a social goal for the Marx family of companies.

For more info on metal airplane overhauls, just Google "Sandman Overhaul"

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