Some had wheels that flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., which were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains show
Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, rolled, and lithographed faster than previously.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German company which specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys in which a constant revenue stream could be guaranteed 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 scenery and buildings along with a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced from 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 lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload cargo. 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 electrical trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains even 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 to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more inclined to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than an O scale collection.
Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy train operators may operate a train using a TV camera at the front of the engine and hooked up to a screen, such as computer monitor. This will show an image, similar to that of a real (smaller size) railroad)
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