Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of tinplate, such as the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains uk
Around 1875, technological advancements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to make an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be guaranteed by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and track, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings offered separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to a working train.
Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. firm 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 light, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to couple and uncouple cars as well as load and unload freight. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were frequently made of lithographed tin; afterwards trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electric trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads continue to be considered toy trains by their 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 in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, due to their high price, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy shop than an O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics which exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of track. In the last few years, many toy rail operators may 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 an image, like that of a real (smaller size) railroad.
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