The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains csx
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and track, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold 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, made 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 noise, to smoke, to 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; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little distinction between toy trains and model railroads–model railroads were toys by definition. Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains 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 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 at a toy store than an O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple 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 of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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