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Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made from tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains flemington nj

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equivalent toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings in addition to a working train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent from the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload cargo. Toy trains from 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 by kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to grab 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.

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 K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more inclined to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than a O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In recent decades, many toy rail operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.

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