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Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made from tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains michigan

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, 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 equivalent toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising 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 adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; later trains were often 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 towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, 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.

Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even by their own 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 to the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than an O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and permit 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 with a TV camera at the front part of the engine 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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