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

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing enabled tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equivalent toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold 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 from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent from 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 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; later trains were frequently 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 by kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, 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 are still considered toy trains by their own adherents and are often accessorized with semi-scale model buildings by Plasticville or 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 price, one is more inclined to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than a O scale collection.

Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote control trains on one loop of course. In recent 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 screen, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.

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