The first toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains orange county
Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with 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 buildings and scenery along with a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more common in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time moved on, these electric 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 cargo. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; later trains were frequently made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to grab on.
Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still 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 produced by Marx from the 1950s into 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 store than a O scale collection.
Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment 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 years, 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 an image, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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