The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made from tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains columbia sc
Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and track, 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 an operating train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electric 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.
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 even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx in 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 in a toy store than a O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators will operate a train with a TV camera at the front of the engine 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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