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The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pulled or pushed. A few 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 red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains baton rouge

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed 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 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. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings offered 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, produced from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more prevalent from the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely 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; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, 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.

Now, 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 created by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than an O scale collection.

Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of track. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera at the front part of the motor and hooked up to a display, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad)

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