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Some had wheels which turned, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push 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 nj

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered extra 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 adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, made by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change management, 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 frequently made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, particularly 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.

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

Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on one loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy train operators may operate a train with a TV camera in 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 genuine (smaller size) railroad.

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