The first toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these had to be pushed or pulled. 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., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains electric
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional 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, produced from the U.S. company 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 light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little differentiation 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, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to catch on. 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.
Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even 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 into 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 store than a O scale collection.
Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few years, many toy train operators will operate a train using a TV camera at the front of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad)
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