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

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling 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 sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery along with a working train.

Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more common from the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, 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 often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently 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 towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to catch on.

Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still 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 created 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 at a toy shop than a O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote control trains on one loop of track. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the motor and hooked up to a display, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.

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