One Tank Trip: The National Museum of Industrial History


Toys were meant to be played with and that's why a toy ox is missing his horns and the driver of a toy cart is missing. All that is left has been loved and worn.

"So, those pieces are missing. You know you can see the paints a little chipped but that's part of the story of these artifacts is that they were made to be played with. They were made to be toys," said Glenn Koehler, marketing and outreach coordinator at the National Museum of Industrial History.

Some are the family heirlooms of former Representative Charlie Dent and his wife Pam. Toys for the family, made by the family.

His great grandfather Henry H. Dent started the Dent Hardware Company in Fullerton, part of Lehigh County in the late 1800s. Dent Hardware cast its first toy in 1898. Cast iron toys that now sell on eBay for $10,000.

"This wasn't an expensive process. The reason why these toys were made and used all over the place is that anybody could buy them," said Koehler.

You can see two dozen of them from Dent and a private toy collector in a special holiday exhibit on display now through the end of January at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem.

Those from the private collector are a little less played with and some even have the boxes they came in giving insight into how they were marketed. Some were very gender specific. There are planes, trains, automobiles, a dirigible and the Toonerville trolley.

The Toonerville folks were created by cartoonist Fontaine Fox. There are two of the trolleys, one is the original casting piece and you can see the seam where the matching halves were fit together. The toys were painted with a thick oil-based paint, often by teams of women. Not all the toys would match. They could choose what colors they wanted to use to paint.

The toy wheels were modeled after the real thing.

"Learning about the cast iron process is pretty interesting because these toys were made using the same process that very, very large tools and different patterns were made with at Bethlehem Steel," explained Koehler.

At the time, cast iron was the go-to for toys. It was heavy, but inexpensive.

Imagine the damage some of these iron toys created? Manufacturers were sand casting and die casting and then plastics became a part of the conversation.

That's when we really took a closer look seeing them as not just toys, but works of art.