The earliest toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains helix plan
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed 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 make an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing 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 sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings along with an operating train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more common in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were frequently 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 teens, especially teenaged boys.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be 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 produced by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, 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 electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single loop of track. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad)
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