The first toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model train quilting fabric
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery along with an operating train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little distinction between toy trains and model railroads–model railroads were toys by definition. Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to catch on.
Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains even by their own adherents and are often accessorized with semi-scale model buildings by Plasticville or even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale collection.
Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment that emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run several remote control trains on one loop of course. In recent decades, many toy rail operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the motor and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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