The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which flipped, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century drive toy trains were made from tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains uk only
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 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 years after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and track, Märklin offered additional 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, produced from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of electricity became more prevalent in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains by 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 kids, while electrical trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys.
Today, 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 K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high cost, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than an O scale collection.
Many modern electrical toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics that emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run several remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy train operators will operate a train with a TV camera at the front part of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as computer monitor. This will show a picture, similar to that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad)
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