The earliest toy trains were made of 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 from tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains fresno ca
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. Along with 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 along with a working train.
Electric trains adopted, 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 went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to 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; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started 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.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains by their 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, due to their high price, one is more inclined to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale collection.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In recent decades, many toy train operators may operate a train using a TV camera in the front part of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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