Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains in movies
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 Märklin, a German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for years 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 an operating train.
Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to 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.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to grab on.
Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still 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 produced by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale collection.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run several remote control trains on a single loop of course. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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