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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 pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains accessories

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings along with a working train.

Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, 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; afterwards trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Before 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 by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, 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 by their 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 from the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on one loop of track. In recent years, many toy rail operators may operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad)

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