The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these had to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made from tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains indiana
Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, 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 equivalent toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. In addition to 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 followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent from the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change management, 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 often made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys.
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 even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more inclined 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 safely and easily run several remote control trains on one loop of course. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators will operate a train with a TV camera at the front of the motor and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad)
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