The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that turned, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains claremont showgrounds
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a constant revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and track, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings along with a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more common 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 as well as load and unload cargo. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, particularly teenaged boys. Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has experienced 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 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 in the 1950s to 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 set.
Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment which exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run several remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few years, many toy train operators may operate a train with a TV camera at the front of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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