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Some had wheels which flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made of tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains ny

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German firm which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equivalent toy for boys in which a constant revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for years after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and track, 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 an operating train.

Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made by 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 moved on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to catch on.
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 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 in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale collection.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on one loop of course. In the last few decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera at the front part of the motor 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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