Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century drive toy trains were made of tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains displays pennsylvania
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. Along with 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 in addition to a working train.
Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. 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 towards children, while electric 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 continue to be 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 produced by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than an O scale collection.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of track. In the last few years, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera at the front of the motor 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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