Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Three Rivers Champion: Cecile Springer

A self-proclaimed “loudmouth,” Springer says her favorite part of volunteering is meeting other people and persuading them to do what she wants them to do.

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Restaurant Review: or, The Whale

The Downtown restaurant is a captivating, if costly, catch.

Celebrating 5 Pittsburghers Who Built Careers Behind the Bar

Pittsburgh is a city that celebrates its neighborhood bars. In some of those spots, second- and third-generation regulars are pulling up their stools to be served by someone who started pouring drinks decades ago.

Second Chances: Crossroads in the Kitchen

People working to overcome substance abuse problems and ex-offenders discover a welcoming environment in restaurant kitchens.

How to Pamper Yourself in Pittsburgh

Looking to beat the winter doldrums? We round up the best places and experiences for a little personal indulgence.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

The Growing Popularity of Shooting a Clay Pigeon

Skeet shooting is taking off as a favored western Pennsylvania hobby.

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Andrew McCutchen: Thanks for the Memories

It's hard to overemphasize McCutchen's impact on the Pirates and its fan base.

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Comments

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

Comments

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Chefs Becca Hegarty and Rick Easton to cook comfort food to help Hegarty’s mother.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Comments

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Here are some of our favorite ‘Burgh-inspired gifts for him, her, kids, foodies and more.

Comments


The Battle of The Hollywood

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Comments

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

The bar, which hosted a bizarre incident involving a top Steelers coach, is fine enough for the post-collegiate set.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

Comments

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

The Patriots are to the Steelers what Moby Dick was to Captain Ahab and that kind of obsession can backfire.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Comments

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

Reviews of "The Post," "I, Tonya" and "The Commuter," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.

Comments

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

Thinking of popping the question? Take a note from these grooms-to-be who set the bar high.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Downtown is booming as plans develop for yet another new apartment building.

Comments

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Frustrated by his sterile white classroom, teacher Greg Geibel earned an A+ from students when he transformed the space into something resembling a modern coffeehouse.

Comments