The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that turned, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains backdrops
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing 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 in addition to an operating train.
Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains from 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 kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys.
Today, 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 K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than a O scale set.
Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on one loop of track. In recent decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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