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

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring scenery and buildings 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 electricity became more common 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 frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, 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.

Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still 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 from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale set.

Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few years, many toy rail operators will 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 an image, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.

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