A toy museum may not seem like the most obvious place to learn about the rich history of agriculture in America, but it might be the most fun.
The National Farm Toy Museum was founded in 1986 as a space for the National Farm Toy Show, an annual event held in Dyersville, Iowa. With three major farm toy companies headquartered in Dyersville, it also became the perfect place to showcase the town’s celebrated industry.
The area’s relationship with farm toys started humbly in nearby Dubuque, Iowa, by one man, Fred Ertl, Sr., trying to make some money to feed his family after being laid off from his job. He made a toy replica of a horse-drawn sickle mower, now on display in the museum, and that was the beginning of the Ertl Company in 1945. It moved to Dyersville in 1959.
Since then, other farm toy companies, like Scale Model Toys and SpecCast Collectibles, have sprung up in Dyersville, creating toy replicas of all kinds of tractors and other farm equipment. Die-cast representations of brands like John Deere and Case IH are created by the companies and included on the shelves in the museum’s displays. The intricate detail in these replicas, which feature tiny hoses and chains, is one of the wonders of the exhibit.
The museum has farm toys made in Brazil and Russia, as well as toys dating back to the late 1800s. John Deere, naturally, has an important place among the museum’s pieces, and one highlight is a replica of a 1919 All-Wheel Drive tractor, the first to bear the John Deere name, that looked ahead to the future of farming but was not widely produced at the time. A John Deere tractor replica made out of trash by children in Zimbabwe, and sold on the roadside there, represents the far reach of the appeal of such toys.
The toys are on the second floor of the museum. The first floor includes a play area for children, an exhibit on how toys are made, and a 10-minute video about the history of toy manufacturing in Dyersville, featuring collectors. In addition to the yearly Farm Toy Show, the museum regularly puts on new exhibits to celebrate different kinds of farm toys and highlight the contributions of companies like Ford, not always associated with agriculture, to the farming industry.
Museum visitors from older generations often find themselves recalling fond memories of their farming days while examining the displays. Children just love the thought of playing with the toys.