The earliest toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains flagstaff
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German firm which 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 years after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising 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 followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more prevalent from 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 cargo. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; later trains were often made mainly of plastic.
Before 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 electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys.
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 created by Marx in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale collection.
Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single loop of course. In recent years, many toy train operators will operate a train using a TV camera in the front part of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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