The earliest toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these had to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model train quincy il
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings in addition to a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to 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; later trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has undergone resurgence since the late 1990s due in large part to the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even by their adherents and are often accessorized with semi-scale model buildings by Plasticville or K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, 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 electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of course. In recent years, many toy rail operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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