A Simple History of Model Railroading

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A brief history of model railroads. The earliest examples of model railroads are almost as old as railroads themselves. The early model railroads were made in Britain, as it was the first country to have steam powered railroad engines and passenger trains.

Some of the earlier toy trains seem to have been made to promote the new railroads and particular train companies. These would feature the logos of companies and were display models instead of being made as children’s’ toys. However, these ‘iron horses’ were often used as toys once the railroad companies no longer needed to use them. The popularity of the railroads and the steam engines meant that iron horses were purposely made as toys.

Early model railroads and toy trains were usually made of iron or tin, been either steam powered or relying on clockwork systems to move. This meant that the early toys and models tended to be expensive and therefore not commonly owned, or mass produced. Those models that were steam powered had to be larger in order to burn coal or wood to generate the steam to move the model. The clockwork model railroads of the 19th century were larger than later toys, especially the electrically powered ones. Larger models had to have larger tracks, and people were able to buy more things such as model stations and buildings to make playing with model railroads more fun and allow children and enthusiasts to recreate actual train stations or parts of real railroads.

Mass production techniques would eventually be adopted to support the cheaper production of model railroads especially from the 1920s. Mass produced models, made by the likes of Hornby led to model railroads becoming affordable. It also became more possible for models to be brought as more homes in Europe, North America and Australia got mains electricity supplies. As the models got smaller and cheaper they also generally became more accurate. Toy trains and model railroads made in the Inter – War periods also began to make greater use of plastics, which were still relatively new. At this time the majority of models would have been of steam powered locomotives. Perhaps the best known range of model trains from this period was the Dublo range made by Hornby.

In the Post – War era toy trains and model railroads have changed as railroads have change as steam trains were replaced by diesel electric and electric trains. The model makers like Hornby kept up with the developments with railroads, with the introduction of the Tri – ang range reflecting the switch to diesel electric trains form the 1950s. The models featured in the Tri – ang range were notable for having more plastic parts than metal parts. Model railroads were still among the most popular toys into the 1970s. However, since then many traditional toys have been less popular, especially among older children. Computers, games and phones have become increasingly popular and important for children and teenagers.

Still model railroads though now more of a specialist niche still attract enough buyers to keep model shops in business.