The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville remembers the region’s colorful past.
When you enter the marx toy museum in Moundsville, it’s hard not to smile. The atmosphere just declares, “This is a happy place.” Colorful toys line every shelf. You walk through a timeline of playthings: metal wind-up toys from the 1920s, plastic action sets from the 1950s, each with dozens of pieces, and the modern Big Wheel. Trains, fire trucks, dollhouses—it’s like visiting Santa’s workshop.
Toys, specifically Marx Toys, have fascinated museum owner Francis Turner since he was a child. Launched in New York City in 1919, Marx Toys was at one time the largest producer of toys in the world. It’s owner, Louis Marx, became known as the “Henry Ford of Toys” among some and the “Toy King” among others. “In 1955 one of every three toys made in America was made by Marx,” Francis says; and most of those were created in Glen Dale, just outside Moundsville in Marshall County. There, in the early 1930s, Marx acquired an old Fokker aircraft plant and turned it into the largest of his three manufacturing facilities. At one point the toy plant employed thousands; but by 1980, after a series of company sales, it closed.
While the plant remains empty today, Francis has kept its memory alive with a museum collection of thousands of Marx toys. Located on Second Street, just minutes away from the Glen Dale plant, the museum is home to toys dating as early as the 1920s and as recent as a Big Wheel once owned by country superstar and Glen Dale native Brad Paisley. “This is the only museum in the world dedicated to preserving the names of Marx Toys and Louis Marx and the people who worked there,” Francis says. He started collecting in 1988, and the toys began to add up. “I decided to open a museum,” he says. That was in 2001, and though Francis is slowing down his collecting now—he’s looking only for a skyscraper and a firehouse from 1954—the museum takes most of his time.
“Big Bruiser was advertised on TV,” Francis notes as he walks through his museum. “A lot of people know about that toy.” He says, “We have a store display of the Johnny West figures. You’d see these in Sears and Roebuck in 1968.” Farther into the museum you’ll find riding toys and even prototypes and adult action figures made for Marx’s closest friends and business partners. “We have three of eight figures Louis Marx made of himself,” Francis says. “He never sold them; he gave them to his friends. We’ve only been able to find Louis Marx as Chairman Mao, as a famous Chinese warrior, and as Napoleon. There’s also Louis Marx the sumo wrestler and Louis Marx as Sherlock Holmes. They’re really difficult to find.”
What isn’t difficult is discovering their stories. For every question about a toy in the museum, Francis has an answer. Likely the world’s foremost expert on all things Marx, a visit to his museum is a must for any toy collector and child-at-heart. “We’re not a private museum anymore,” he adds. About four years ago, Francis had several special visitors to his collection. One was Louis Marx Jr., the son of the “Toy King” himself, who was impressed. “When he finally got done touring the museum he wanted to help us out,” Francis says. The museum became a nonprofit with generous donations, and Francis found what he calls his second childhood.
The Marx Toy Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through December. Call in advance for holiday hours. Tickets start at $8.50 for adults and $5 for children.
Marx Toy Museum, 915 Second Street, Moundsville, 304.845.6022, marxtoymuseum.com
written and photographed by Katie Griffith