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Some had wheels that flipped, but these had to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy trains were made of tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains vancouver island

Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing allowed tin to be stamped, cut, wrapped, and lithographed faster than ever before.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklina German company that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equal toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by purchasing add-on accessories for decades after the first purchase. In addition to 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 along with an operating train.

Electric trains adopted, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of electricity became more common from the early 20th century, electric 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 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; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed by children, while electrical trains were marketed towards teens, especially teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to catch on.
Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has undergone resurgence since the late 1990s due in large part to the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even 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 a O scale set.

Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run several remote controller trains on one loop of course. In recent years, many toy train operators will operate a train using 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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