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

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing 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 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 power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, 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 continue to be 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 created by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than an O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on one loop of course. In recent decades, many toy rail 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, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad.

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