The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these had to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of 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 international
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 Märklina German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the first purchase. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more prevalent from 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 management, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to catch on. Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has undergone 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 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 inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale collection.
Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote controller 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 motor and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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