The earliest toy trains were made from lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. Some of the early 19th-century push toy rails were made of 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 wisconsin
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 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 ensured by selling add-on accessories for decades after the initial purchase. Along with boxed sets containing a train and monitor, Märklin offered extra 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, made from the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As residential use of power became more common in the early 20th century, electrical trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change management, to emit a whistling noise, 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; later trains were frequently made mostly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little differentiation between toy trains and model railroads–model railroads were toys by definition. 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 grab on.
Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has experienced resurgence since the late 1990s due in large part to the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine.
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 even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings created by Marx from the 1950s into 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 shop than a O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronics which emit digitized sound effects and permit the operator to securely and easily run multiple remote controller trains on one loop of course. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the engine and hooked up to a display, such as pc monitor. This will show an image, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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