The earliest toy trains were made of 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 rails were made from tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains roseville ca
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be scraped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklin, a German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed by purchasing add-on accessories for years after the first purchase. In addition to boxed sets comprising a train and track, Märklin offered extra 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 followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more prevalent in 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 direction, 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 frequently made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s 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 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 created by Marx in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale set.
Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment which emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on a single loop of course. In recent years, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the motor and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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