The first toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels that turned, but these needed to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made of tinplate, like the large, durable, stylized locomotive toys in the U.S., that were painted red and gold and decorated with hearts and flowers. model trains with steam
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 firm 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 years after the first purchase. Along with boxed sets comprising a train and monitor, Märklin offered additional track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to an operating train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As home use of power became more common in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electrical trains grew in sophistication, gaining light, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling noise, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload freight. Toy trains by the first half of the 20th century were often 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 children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, especially teenaged boys.
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 even K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx in the 1950s into the 1970s). However, due to their high cost, one is more likely to locate an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy shop than an O scale set.
Many modern electrical toy trains contain sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and permit the operator to safely and easily run multiple remote control trains on a single loop of track. In the last few decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train using a TV camera in the front of the motor and hooked up to a screen, such as pc monitor. This will show a picture, like that of a genuine (smaller size) railroad.
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