Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains hobby
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent 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 additional track, rolling stock, and buildings offered 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, produced by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As home 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 lighting, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload cargo. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often 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 kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to grab on.
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, as a result of their high cost, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than a O scale set.
Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of course. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train with a TV camera at the front part of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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