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The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made from tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model train shows queensland 2017

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
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 constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to an operating train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more common from the early 20th century, electric 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 couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload cargo. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to catch on.
Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has experienced resurgence since the late 1990s due in large part to the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains 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, due to their high cost, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than a O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In recent years, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera at 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 genuine (smaller size) railroad)

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