The popularity comes for many reasons, but the primary reason is probably because it is large enough to have realistic detail and small enough that you can create a reasonable nice, complex layout without having to knock a wall out of your house.
HO is pronounced by saying the letters “H” “O”. It gets its name from “Half of O” scale. O scale trains are 1:43. That means a O scale train is 1/43rd the size of a real life train. At 1:87, HO scale trains are indeed about half of the O scale. Putting this in perspective, a 70-foot locomotive would be about 9-5/8″ long in HO scale.
Initially introduced in the 1920’s in Europe, it took some time for the HO scale to be accepted. It was only in the 1950’s that it really started to catch on, as model trains started to change from a play toy to a serious hobby. Hobbyists demanded more of sense of realism in the layouts and the because of size limitations, the larger scales couldn’t re-create that in most people’s homes. Thus, the HO boom was on.
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So great was the demand for HO Scale model railroad trains in the United States that even restricted manufacturers of other scales such as Lionel and American Flyer were forced to begin producing HO model railroads simply to stay competitive.
HO’s popularity stems from its mid-size. HO scale provides the balance between the detail of larger scales and the lower space requirements of smaller scales. HO scale trains are small enough to create larger and more complex and elaborate layouts than you could with the larger scales, but large enough to fit in much more detail than the smaller sizes. The HO scale also lessens concerns about small children handling and potentially swallowing small parts.
HO model trains are also usually less expensive, partially because of its popularity, but also because the smaller scales have more exacting manufacturing processes which tend to raise their costs, whereas the larger S, O, and G scales cost