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The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made from tinplate, such as the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains large scale

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a constant revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial 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 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 electricity became more common from the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, 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 mainly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little differentiation between toy trains and model railroads–model railroads were toys by definition. Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys.
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.

Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains even 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 created by Marx in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote control trains on one loop of course. In recent decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad)

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