Hafner Mfg. Co. founded by W.F. Hafner in Chicago, Illinois, and operated from ca. 1900 to 1950 and was specialized in 'O' gauge trains.
The company joined with Edmunds-Metzel Co. in 1907 to manufacture mechanical toys and trains, became American Flyer Manufacturing in 1910 and was sold to Wyandotte in 1950.
Early trains had the Overland Flyer brand and resembled competing offerings from American Flyer. As late as 1917 a car appeared in American Flyer's product line that closely resembled a Hafner design. This suggests the two companies worked together in their early days, or that one or both companies copied designs from the other. Since American Flyer was known to have purchased rolling stock from German competitor Bing, it is possible that American Flyer also purchased from Haefner, or vice versa.
Unlike its competitors, the Hafner company survived the Great Depression without making significant changes to its product line, since it always specialized in cheap train sets that sold for only 3 USD or less. WWII proved a greater challenge, because toy production was prohibited after 1942, and toy companies had to adapt. Hafner lacked the tooling and manufacturing expertise to secure government contracts to manufacture items with military use, like Lionel and the A. C. Gilbert Company. Hafner survived by producing bottlecaps for the Fox Brewing Company.
After son John Hafner took over the firm in 1933, he also faced these difficulties, and by 1956 it was out of business and in liquidation. Louis Marx and Co. purchased the Hafner tooling, then shipped it to its subsidiary in Mexico, where it was used to produce inexpensive windup and battery-powered sets. Many Marx collectors believe Louis Marx's primary motivation for the purchase was to eliminate a competitor from the marketplace.
The clockwork locomotives and colorful lithographed tinplate rolling stock placed Hafner at the low end of the market. Unlike most of its competitors, Hafner never created an electric train. Any Haefner electric trains that exist today were retrofitted with a motor from another manufacturer. Electrifying Hafner locomotives by outfitting them with surplus Marx electric motors is a somewhat common practice.
Both Hafner and Marx were known to use 'recycled' lithography, a cost-saving practice where the tinplate from defective print runs was flipped over and printed on the blank side and used. The result of this is hidden graphics on the interior of cars and accessories. In addition to re-using its own defective sheets, Hafner would sometimes buy defective sheets from other companies as scrap and use it. Some Hafner collectors specialize in collecting these variations. Additionally, some metal products from the mid-20th century such as flashlights have surfaced with Hafner lithography inside, which indicates that Hafner sold its surplus or unusable print runs for use in the manufacture of products that would be painted.
What's your 'Hafner' worth? Here are some recently sold items (USA):