You think you had a superhero action figure or Barbie® collection? Spend an afternoon of your next vacation in the Ozarks at the World’s Largest Toy Museum. Note the capital letters. They reflect the opinion of management. It’s unclear if anyone has ever officially ranked privately owned toy museums by size of inventory, but nobody who visits this one will leave quibbling about its boastful name.
Located along the popular tourist thoroughfare Highway 76, the World’s Largest Toy Museum in Branson has more than 1 million toys, games and dolls. The recent acquisition of a collection from Virginia deepened its historical reach to the 1700s.
Few displays are interactive, so you might plan in advance a strategy to keep your 5-year-old from getting bored and misbehaving as you journey down Nostalgia Lane. Luckily, there’s a well-stocked gift shop onsite to assist you in this area, always available for a visit in exchange for the child’s cooperation.
Among the handful of interactive toys in the main museum, the most popular is a still-working, quarter-operated replica of the mid-60s model Batmobile ride that once kept kids entertained outside a grocery store or drugstore. Kids also are welcome to climb aboard a similar wooden horse and fire truck, but put away the quarters. The Batmobile is the only ride that works.
The rest of the museum might not be hands-on, but if you grew up with toys, it certainly will shift your memory into overdrive. You’re certainly not going to be bored if you grew up with toys.
Remember the original Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots introduced by the Marx toy company? For that matter, remember the Marx toy company? If you’re a late boomer or thereabouts, you probably also remember Mrs. Beasley, the talking ragdoll from TV’s Family Affair that 1960s toy scores couldn’t keep from flying off the shelves? If you’re a little older, you’ll surely recognize Charlie McCarthy by his trademark monocle. The Charlie doll, of course, is a replica of the character created by radio and early TV ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and is one of many famous dummies on display that once were marketed as toys.
The entire inventory within the 10,000-square foot World’s Largest Toy Museum covers every imaginable genre. Most are of U.S. origin, but some came from Canada and a small percentage from elsewhere. The most recent is a 2009 vintage Bob The Builder. The oldest toys are two plaster-like dolls that date to 1740. You’ll find everything from board games with complex rules vintage Happy Meal souvenirs.
Cars and Action Figures
If you’re looking for transportation toys, you’ll find all kinds of cars, planes, trains, bicycles, motorcycles, police cars fire engines, motor scooters and more. Then there are ultimate “play toys.” The exhibits also include two full-size classic autos: a 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, a car formerly owned by the British government that may have transported Queen Elizabeth during a state visit; and a 1927 V-8 Cadillac.
If you once collected superheroes and other action figures, you’ll be fascinated by the mammoth collection of DC and Marvel heroes and villains, GI Joe models, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars figures and the like. Lover of cowboy toys enjoy the Western village. You’ll find over 1,000 toy guns and rifles including more than 900 cap guns alone. All the great Western and cowboy heroes of yesteryear are represented, from Roy Rogers to Gene Autry to Tom Mix. There’s also an area dedicated to sports-themed toys, games, memorabilia and even gear.
Dolls and Games
If you owned Disney Princesses and talking dolls as a little girl, maybe a Shirley Temple doll handed down from your grandmother, you’ll fall in love with the seemingly endless collection in Branson.
The game goes for lovers of board games. You’ll find early editions, and the box tops you remember, of enduring titles like “Monopoly,” “Mouse Trap,” “Stratego,” “Candy Land” and “Chutes and Ladders” as well as rare, out-of-print titles like the “Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows Game” that might set you back hundreds of dollars if you tried to purchase one used online.
Harold Bell Wright Museum
There’s also a whole other museum within the museum. The Harold Bell Wright Museum honors the American novelist and essayist. Wright (1872-1944) was an upstate New Yorker whose 1907 fictional bestseller “The Shepherd of the Hills” is largely credited with exposing the beauty of the Ozarks to the world at large and in essence creating the Branson tourist industry.
In addition to the original manuscript of “The Shepherd of the Hills,” the museum artifacts, donated by Wright’s descendants, include his personal letters, volumes from his private library, and movie posters from Wright books adapted to film.
Various privately owned toy museums might have larger collections of a single genre if they specialize in that genre. Likewise, publicly financed toy museums somewhere might have comparable or maybe even larger overall collections. But among privately owned toy museums, the World’s Largest Toy Museum in Branson might truly be deserving of its name. At any rate, you’ll need more than one visit to see enough of it to judge.