The Joys of Toys

The Marx Museum in Moundsville is Rock'Em Sock'Em Magnificent



When I was a kid, I never cared about what company made my toys. They could be Mattel or Milton Bradley, Wham-O or whatever. I just wanted them to be fun and cool and not too tedious to put away.

Then a month or so ago, I went to Moundsville, W.Va., and someone told me to be sure to check out the Official Marx Toy Museum. It's located in a bright yellow-and-green storefront, a former grocery story right in downtown Moundsville, and it's simply a world-class collection of toys all made by Louis Marx & Co. I am impressed. It's the Smithsonian of plastic army men and mighty metal trucks! It's the Guggenheim of goofy old wind-ups and vintage dollhouses. It's the Carnegie of Big Wheels and plastic dinosaurs.

A friendly and unassuming guy named Francis Turner and his son Jason are the owners, the curators, the masterminds behind the place. A salesman for a machine shop, Francis started collecting mint-condition toys around 1989 after he bought a few from a friend. By 1992, he had so many Marx products that the Stifel Fine Arts Center at Oglebay Institute in Wheeling asked him to put together a show. Soon he started plotting and planning for his own museum, and by then his son was old enough to help rehab the old building and help figure out the layout of the display cases. They opened the museum in 2001.

"We have no toys that have been repaired," Francis points out. "No toys that have been repainted. Everything is original. We try to have the original box." Of course. Marx started making toys in 1919, and the first cases feature some early, wacky wind-ups, including butter-and-egg salesmen and a jaunty mouse jazz band (see above).

Early Marx wind-ups like the Merry Makers (above) were metal. Later, toys like the Robots and Flintstones were plastic.

Jason says most visitors are amazed. That's because "they're seeing a timeline of toys from the 1920s up to the 1970s." Adds Francis, "About 80 percent of them were made one mile from here in the Glen Dale factory."

That's a nice local connection. In 1934, Louis Marx took over the old Fokker airplane factory beside the Ohio River in the nearby town of Glen Dale, W.Va., and converted it into his largest factory. By the 1950s, he was the most productive toy manufacturer in the world. Time magazine put him on the cover in 1955 and dubbed him "The Toy King." At the height of the post-World War II baby boom, Louis Marx was making many of the best-known toys in the world and creating huge demand for them via TV commercials. He eventually sold the company in 1972, and by 1980, it was out of business. "Now there's nowhere in the world you can go and see this many Marx toys under one roof," Francis tells me.

There's a gift store and 1950s-style café with refreshments and small treats at the front of the place, but most of the space is full of beautiful creations: tiny figures, trains, planes and even a great green-and-gold robot named Big Loo. There is one room full of original prototypes and original art from designers who worked at Glen Dale. There's another room called Dodge City, which is full of cowboys and Wild West playthings, and there are several displays where Johnny West stands proudly as one of the first action figures for boys.

The Marx Co. also specialized in "playsets," collections of tiny figures in various settings from Fort Apache to Cape Canaveral, from medieval castles to the Civil War. I am happy to see a Flintstones set just like the one my Aunt Mary bought for me in the early '60s: Fred and Barney figurines, Wilma and Betty, Dino and a number of little Stone Age houses. Oh, woe, who knows whatever happened to mine?
But seeing those little characters, their cars, their plastic palm trees and their Bedrock world makes me realize what fine works of art they really were, what a terrific toymaker this guy Marx must have been.

The Official Marx Toy Museum is open April through December, Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $8.50; seniors, $7.50; students, $5; under 6, free. Info: 304/845-6022, MarxToyMuseum.com. Moundsville is about 70 miles from Pittsburgh, 12 miles south of Wheeling, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Definitely worth a visit.

Rick Sebak produces, writes and narrates documentaries for WQED tv13, as well as national specials for PBS. His programs are available online or call 800/274-1307.

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Sneak Peek: What's on the Menu at The 2016 Best Restaurants Party

Sneak Peek: What's on the Menu at The 2016 Best Restaurants Party

One of the chefs is bringing a secret weapon.
5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

When you compare what it cost to build the coaster in 1920 to what it would cost today, it's obvious Kennywood's owners got their money's worth.
Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

The upscale seafood eatery is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pens-Sharks Cup Final Lacks Mystery But Not Intrigue

Pens-Sharks Cup Final Lacks Mystery But Not Intrigue

Game 1 turned out to be as revealing, potentially, as it was riveting, for the Sharks and for the Pens.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

An electrician by trade, designer Thomas Verscharen creates custom lighting out of repurposed pieces.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

Reviews of "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "A Bigger Splash" and "Love and Friendship."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

The event will connect hundreds of small business managers and owners and provide useful information to help them take their enterprises to the next level.

Comments