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The earliest 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 rails were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains sets

Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were altered when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to an operating train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more common 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 management, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars and even 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 mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys.

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 K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than a O scale collection.

Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of course. In the last few years, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera in the front part of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.

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