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The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy trains were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains ho scale for sale

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and track, 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 a working train.



Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more common in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload cargo. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; later trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Before 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 by kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s 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.

Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be 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 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 in a toy store than a O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run several 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 a picture, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.

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