Wilbert Vere Awdry was born on 15th June, 1911 to Vicar and railway enthusiast Reverend V. Awdry and his wife Lucy in Ampfield, Hampshire U.K.
In the English countryside, a young Wilbert listens to the puffing of nearby steam engines and as he imagines their conversations, he doesn’t doubt that these engines have their own unique personalities.
Now a father himself, the storyteller is inspired to “engineer” tales about these steam engines to entertain his own young son when he was in bed with the measles.
These original stories were told over and over again until, pressed by Christopher to be more consistent with the details, the Rev. W. Awdry finally scribbled the stories on scraps of paper.
At Christmas, Awdry built Christopher a model of Thomas and Edward, and some wagons and coaches out of a broomstick and scraps of wood.
Upon the persistence of his wife, Margaret, Awdry wrote the first book of “Railway Series,” entitled “The Three Railway Engines.” Within a few months, 45,000 copies were sold.
During a visit to the Isle of Man, Wilbert discovers the official title of the Bishop of the Isle of Man was “Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man.” Rev. W. Awdry wonders whether an island between the Isle of Man and the mainland would be suitable location for his stories. He decided upon the name “Sodor” which lies between the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and Barrow-in-Furness on the British Mainland.
The first consumer products come to market, released alongside “The Railway Series” books. Four full-colour printed cardboard kits or “pre-cut model engine books” were produced whose pieces could be pressed out, folded and glued together to make realistic models of the engines. The engines included Thomas, with Annie the Coach, Percy with Clarabel the Coach, Gordon the Big Engine and his Tender and James the Red Engine and his Tender.
Meccano becomes one of the first companies to release a train toy set featuring a clockwork model of Percy (with a likeness to Percy in the books) with some trucks and a circle of blue plastic track.
“Tramway Engines” becomes the last book to be published and the Rev. W. Awdry retires from writing children’s fiction. He has written 105 stories in a 26-volume series.
Rev. W. Awdry meets television producer, Britt Allcroft at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex during the recording of a short documentary and having read the books, is inspired to bring the stories to television.
Television rights are negotiated with publishers Kaye & Ward and funds are raised to finance the production of the series. Britt Allcroft viewed a number of animation styles and settled upon an innovative new “live action model animation” process she felt would do justice to “The Railway Series.”
A chance encounter with an engine driver presented Christopher Awdry an opportunity to continue the series. The train driver’s tales of an ill-fated train rescue inspired Christopher to duly turn this into a “Thomas” story for his son, Richard.
Three more tales were created by Christopher Awdry and “Really Useful Engines” was published in the autumn. A book was written and published every year until 1995.
Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, a new animated production for preschoolers , makes its broadcast debut on ITV in the U.K. and enjoyed instant success, attracting an audience of 8.5 million children and adults.
A very special passenger hops aboard as former Beatles member, Ringo Starr, joins the Thomas the Tank Engines & Friends television series as storyteller for 52 episodes – the first of several famous storytellers to come.
Hornby acquires the license for Thomas and produces two electric railway systems and a series of engines, tracks and accessories.
Next stop, America! Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends pulls in to the U.S. and debuts on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).
Japan is the next international stop for Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.
Michael Angelis takes over from Ringo Starr as storyteller and narrates 13 series of Thomas for the U.K.
Thomas the Tank™ Engine travels all the way to Wisconsin for the first U.S. Day Out With Thomas™ family event. Day Out With Thomas offers aspiring young engineers and their families the opportunity to take a ride with a 15-ton replica of their classic storybook friend, Thomas the Tank Engine, and enjoy a day of Thomas and train-themed activities and entertainment.
Thomas finds his way online as www.thomasandfriends.com launches.
Rev. W. Awdry is awarded an OBE in the 1996 New Year’s Honours List.
Rev. W. Awdry died peacefully on 27th March.
Thomas goes off the rails as a Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends theme park, Thomas Land, opens at Fujikyu Highland Theme Park in Japan.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad, the property’s first feature-length film release, rolls into movie theaters worldwide.
Another famous voice takes a ride with Thomas when actor Alec Baldwin narrates new Thomas episodes in the United States.
Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is shortened to Thomas & Friends.
Thomas & Friends celebrates its 60th anniversary with a year of activities, including the national Day Out With Thomas 2005: The Celebration Tour, a feature-length home entertainment release, “Calling All Engines,” new television episodes, and limited edition toys and books.
Thomas takes to the stage when Thomas & Friends Live! On Stage launches the first U.S. live theatrical tour of Thomas & Friends. Following its U.S. run, the tour travels internationally to Asia, Australia, Europe and Canada.
Thomas Town, the first U.S. theme park attraction for the Thomas & Friends brand opens at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in San Francisco and Six Flags New England.
Actor Pierce Brosnan announced as new special guest narrator of Thomas & Friends.
Thomas Land, a $10 million theme park featuring 12-themed rides, opens at Drayton Manor in the U.K. This Thomas Land attraction, replicating the Island of Sodor, is the first in Europe and the second in the world.
Thomas enters the Guinness Book of World Records for The World’s Longest Toy Train Track set by TOMY and HIT Entertainment at Thomas Land at Drayton Manor in the U.K. The track took two weeks to design, two days to build, and two and a half hours for Thomas to steam around 1.8 kilometers of track!
Hero of the Rails debuts as the first feature-length Thomas & Friends home entertainment release in CG animation and to celebrate, celebrity premiere events are held in London for the first time at VUE Cinemas in Leicester Square.
Thomas & Friends™ Live! On Stage: A Circus Comes to Town debuts in the U.S. visiting more than 50 cities from January through August.
Thomas & Friends celebrates its 65th anniversary around the world with new CG-animated television episodes and a new CG-animated website. The special event was also marked with a year-long “Making Tracks to Great Destinations” campaign, including a special limited edition 65th anniversary book published by Egmont U.K., a 65th party extravaganza at Thomas Land and a special “Thomas month” at Hamleys where a Guinness World Record was broken for The World’s Longest Cake Train.
New global master toy partner Fisher-Price and new master construction partner Mega roll out new lines of Thomas & Friends toys.
Thomas & Friends launches its first mobile applications for iPhone® and iPod touch® and its first application dedicated to the iPad®. The apps chart in the top 10 paid apps for kids in their first weeks of launch.
Random House releases e-book versions of favourite Thomas & Friends titles.
The CG-animated feature Day of the Diesels is released spotlighting the classic rivalry between the Diesel engines and the Steam engines on the Island of Sodor.
The musical stage show, Thomas & Friends Live! Thomas Saves the Day visits more than 33 cities in the U.S.
Thomas steams into the record books again as Japan takes back the World Record for the Longest Train Track at Fuji-Q Highland theme park using track from Tomy’s toy railroad Plarail Thomas series.
Thomas & Friends is acquired by Mattel, Inc. and becomes one of Mattel’s top five core brands.
Thomas & Friends moves to a new national daily schedule on PBS KIDS® in the U.S. reaching nearly 110 million households. Thomas & Friends also launches a microsite on PBSKIDS.org and on the PBS KIDS mobile app.
A new Thomas Wooden Railway™ line is launched worldwide by Fisher-Price®.
Thomas Town opens in China.
Thomas & Friends wins ‘Best Classic Licensed Property’ at The Licensing Awards in London, UK beating some tough competition including Barbie, Doctor Who and Batman.
A 50 foot long Thomas holding 20,000 cubic feet of helium takes part in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for the first time ever!
Percy joins Thomas at selected Day Out With Thomas events across North America.
Thomas & Friends celebrates 70 years since the very first book of the series, "The Three Railway Engines" was published on 12th May 1945.