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The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these needed to be pulled or pushed. Some of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains ocala fl

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 Märklin, a German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings along with an operating 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 from the early 20th century, electric 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 remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mainly of plastic.
Before 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 towards kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began 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.

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 in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more inclined to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than an O scale collection.

Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of course. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train with a TV camera in the front of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.

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