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The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these had to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made of 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 best in show

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered 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 purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to a working train.

Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent from the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; later trains were frequently made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly 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 continue to be 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 produced by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale collection.

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 a single loop of track. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train using a TV camera at the front part of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad)

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