Toy trains are for kids of all ages! While real trains go back to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, toy trains emerged later. Wooden and metal toys resembling trains were first made in Europe in the 1860s.
By 1901, Lionel made its first electric train for use in store display windows. A number of famous manufacturers, including Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, Marx, Marklin, and LGB have made toy trains. Some of the most historic ones are on display in the National Toy Train Museum. These are commonly referred to as tinplate trains.
"Tinplate" is a term applied to toy trains originally built of thin stamped metal, but more broadly it includes trains composed of plastic parts as well, their over-riding characteristic being that they were built for mass-market enjoyment rather than the precise scale that some of today's model railroad craftsmen build and enjoy.
Model Railroader magazine began in 1934, and by the 1950s, seemingly every boy had a train set. Around then, there arose a differentiation between cheaper production trains for kids and much more detailed and accurate reproductions pursued by adult train collectors. Some reflect actual trains, while others display general themes. For some, the delight is in the joy of collecting and operating, while for others the focus is on absolute scaled accuracy.
Today, many of the Baby Boomers have embraced toy train collecting and operating. They can be seen in basements, at Christmas exhibits, running in gardens, and in special displays. Many toy trains today feature the latest in authentic sound and electronic control features.
Increasingly, toy trains use digital technology both onboard and at the control panels. This allows greater control, introduction of new features, and new challenges. In fact, wiring has always been a task requiring planning and skill when creating a train layout.
Toy trains prices range from economical to very expensive. Some are repaired, restored, traded and sold, with careful standards applied to their condition and worth. The Train Collectors Association is the largest and oldest group of toy train enthusiasts in the world.
Toy trains come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges and scale. Here are some of the more common.