Although trains and accessories of similar gauge and/or scale existed as early as 1927, modern commercially produced N scale models were first launched by the Arnold company of Nuremberg in 1962. Unlike other scales and gauges, which were de facto standards at best, within two years N scale manufacturers defined the gauge, voltage, as well as the height and type of couplers. For example Arnold developed the now ubiquitous "Rapido" coupler to provide a simple and robust releasable coupler design. Although the original Arnold coupler has been joined by more functional and aesthetically pleasing designs (see discussion below), Arnold allowed use of the Rapido design by other manufacturers and so established a common standard to couple together rolling stock from different sources.
N scale has a large worldwide following. Models are made of very many standard gauge prototypes from every continent. N scale's popularity is second only to that of HO. In Japan, where space in homes is more limited, N scale is the most popular scale, and HO scale is considered large. Not all modellers select N because they have small spaces; some use N scale in order to build more complex or more visually expansive models.
N scale in Australia has become more popular over the years. Modellers model mainly US, British and European prototypes because for a long time the Australian market had no N scale models of local prototype. The creation of local prototypes is now a flourishing "cottage" industry, making Australia N scale modelling more popular each year.
N gauge track and components are also used with larger scales, in particular HOe and OO9 scale for modelling narrow gauge railways. N scale models on Z scale track are used to model metre gauge (Nn3). A small amount of 2' industrial narrow gauge modelling in N scale using custom track is done but there are few suppliers of parts. Nn18 layouts use T scale track and mechanisms to represent minimum gauge railways. N scale trains and structures are often used on HO or larger layouts to create forced perspective, or the illusion that an object is further away than it actually is.