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

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing enabled 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 guaranteed by selling 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 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, produced by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more prevalent from the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload cargo. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mostly 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 children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to grab on.

Now, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains even by their adherents and are often accessorized with semi-scale model buildings by Plasticville or K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s into the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than an O scale collection.

Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single loop of track. In recent decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera at the front part of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad)

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