The earliest toy trains were made of lead and had no moving parts. Some had wheels which turned, but these had to be pushed or pulled. A few of the early 19th-century drive toy rails were made from tinplate, like the big, durable, stylized locomotive toys from the U.S., that were painted gold and red and decorated with hearts and flowers. train model trees
Around 1875, technological improvements in materials and manufacturing enabled 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 equivalent toy for boys where a continuous revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial 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 scenery and buildings along with a working train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, made from the U.S. company Carlisle & Finch. As residential 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 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 frequently made of lithographed tin; later trains were frequently made mainly of plastic.
Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards kids, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading began to catch on.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even by their own 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 in the 1950s to the 1970s). However, as a result of their high price, one is more inclined to find an HO scale or N scale train set at a toy store than an O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains comprise sophisticated electronic equipment that exude digitized sound effects and allow the operator to securely and easily run several remote control trains on one loop of course. In recent decades, many toy rail operators may operate a train with a TV camera in the front of the motor 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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