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The first toy trains were made from 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 trains were made from tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains maine

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings in addition to an operating train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more common in 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 direction, 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; later trains were often 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 by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began 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 created by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than an O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on one loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators will operate a train using 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 real (smaller size) railroad)

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