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The first toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these had to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains echuca

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 firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings in addition to an operating train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity 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 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 frequently 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 towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys.

Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains even 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 produced by Marx from the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than an O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single 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 screen, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad)

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