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Some had wheels that flipped, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made from tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains and accessories

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized 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 selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra 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 from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more common in the early 20th century, electric 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 cargo. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mainly of plastic.
Before the 1950s, there was little differentiation between toy trains and model railroads–model railroads were toys by definition. Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to grab on. 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 even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than an O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment which exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few years, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera at the front 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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