Did you have a favorite toy or game while growing up? My youngest daughter asked me this question recently. It opened a boatload of great memories, from my six-shooter that used actual caps to make a popping sound, along with a plethora of cowboy hats and holsters, to a collection of GI Joes and Johnny West action figures. I also recall playing with Rock 'em, Sock 'em Robots. Great memories of my childhood.
Those memories and more are shared at nine classic toy museums around the Midwest. Here's a look at some of the vintage toys and games you'll rediscover during your visits.
1. National Museum Of Toys And Miniatures
Kansas City, Missouri
Opened in 1982, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a fun walk down memory lane. With exhibits showcasing popular toys from each decade from the 1950s onward, you’ll find some favorites from your childhood, such as the Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie, Slinky, and even a teddy bear. You’ll find games such as Yahtzee, Scrabble, and Ants in the Pants. The museum, located on the campus of the University of Missouri - Kansas City, also features a collection of miniatures, including models built at 1/12 scale. Exhibits include art, furniture, houses, and music, with instruments that fit in the palm of your hand and actually work.
2. World’s Largest Toy Museum Complex
From Barbie to Darth Vader, the World’s Largest Toy Museum Complex in Branson, Missouri, features about 1 million toys on display in two buildings. It may be more of a challenge not to find a childhood toy during your visit. With GI Joe, Hot Wheels, and Pez dispensers calling the museum home, you’ll have a blast reliving your childhood. The toy museum is part of a six-museum complex that includes museums showcasing BB guns and checkers.
3. National Farm Toy Museum
For more than 30 years, the National Farm Toy Museum has showcased miniature models of tractors, trucks, and other farm equipment. With about 30,000 models available, the museum features a variety of farm toys, from cast iron antiques to more contemporary toys. It’s the perfect museum for Dyersville, which is home to three companies that produce farm toys. You can combine a visit to the toy museum with a trip to the Field of Dreams, a baseball field located on a farm made famous in the movie of the same name, which was filmed in Dyersville.
4. Toy And Plastic Brick Museum
With one of the world’s largest collection of LEGO models, the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire is often referred to as the “unofficial LEGO museum.” Home to the world’s largest Lego mosaic, the museum’s collection features characters from The Simpsons and Spider-Man, as well as ships and buildings. The museum is open seasonally, from May through September.
5. Fennimore Doll And Toy Museum
With an ever-changing collection of exhibits, you’ll find vintage dolls and toys from the 1800s through today at the Fennimore Toy and Doll Museum. For about three decades, the museum has featured cast iron toys, as well as modern ones from companies like Fisher-Price. The museum features dolls made from corn cobs, dried fruit, papier-mache, and wax. You’ll find dolls resembling celebrities such as Elvis and George Burns.
6. LARK Toys
Tucked away along the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota, LARK Toys in Kellogg is a must-visit for classic toy enthusiasts. A combination toy store and museum, LARK Toys opened in the early 1980s. As you visit the museum, with exhibits lining the walls of the store, you’ll find classic games, including one based on the television series All in the Family, as well as vintage toys, such as dolls, action figures, cars, and robots. You’ll even find handmade wooden toys that resemble toys from your youth.
7. Elmer’s Auto And Toy Museum
Fountain City, Wisconsin
Even with more than 700 pedal cars and several miniature vintage models on display, Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum is home to much more. More than 100 classic cars and motorcycles are also on display. Elmer’s combines a love for real vehicles and childhood memories. Open weekends during the summer, the museum is located about 10 miles from Winona, Minnesota.
8. Spinning Top And Yo-Yo Museum
With more than 2,000 tops on display, the Spinning Top and Yo-Yo Museum will have you wanting to try your hand at seeing how long you can make the tops spin. You’ll learn about the history of tops, from wooden to metal, from the antique tops and yo-yos in the collection. Interactive exhibits allow you to try your hand at several yo-yo maneuvers, such as Walk the Dog and Around the World.
9. United Federation Of Doll Clubs
Kansas City, Missouri
Doll collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. Collectors tend to focus on a specific type of doll, be it their construction, fashion, or decade of origin. The United Federation of Doll Clubs has its headquarters and national museum in Kansas City. You’ll find dozens of dolls on display at the federation’s museum. From Victorian-era dolls to ones created from porcelain and wood, dolls can be used to teach history based on their outfits and accessories. The museum also includes examples of doll heads used to create some all-time favorites.
You’ll want to plan to spend two to three hours at each of the museums to really appreciate the experience. As nostalgia tends to become more prevalent as we age, I’ve found that I enjoy visiting these museums where we can recall our childhood and the toys and games with which we played. So plan accordingly to soak in the fun, history, and nostalgia that each of these museums brings.
While you're in the mood for fun: