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The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that flipped, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains mittagong

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery along with a working train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to 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 often made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys.
Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has experienced 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 K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more likely 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 electronic equipment that emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single loop of track. In recent years, many toy rail operators will operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad)

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