For a time in the 1950s, the defunct Louis Marx & Company was the largest toy company in the world. Marx’s headquarters was at 200 Fifth Avenue in New York City, in what is commonly known as the International Toy Center. But where were Marx toys made?
Not in New York City, it turns out. Marx had three factories in the eastern United States that it operated for more than 40 years in the region we today call the Rust Belt.
The Fifth Avenue Building, New York CityMarx set up shop in the Fifth Avenue Building, at 200 Fifth Avenue, in the early 1920s. This building housed numerous toy companies and still does. Today, people more commonly call this building the International Toy Center. Many of Marx’s rivals, including Wolverine, also worked out of this building.
In 1981, the Fifth Avenue Building had 600 tenants, who accounted for 95 percent of the toy transactions in the United States that year.
Marx didn’t make toys at the Fifth Avenue Building. It had executive offices there. The Fifth Avenue Building is not generally open to the public, and Marx’s offices were not either, though Marx didn’t necessarily turn away people who came to the office.
A longtime Marx train hobbyist, Al Schindler, relates a story of taking the subway to 200 Fifth Avenue with a broken Marx 999 locomotive in tow. He found the Marx office in the directory and took the elevator up. A friendly secretary asked if she could help him. He explained that his train didn’t work and asked if someone would fix it. A friendly man standing next to her said, “I will take care of this young man and we will get his train fixed.” All of the employees treated the man with great respect as they walked to a small repair facility where a technician fixed the train. It turned out the man who helped him was Louis Marx himself.
Erie is a city in northwestern Pennsylvania along Lake Erie. It’s the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania. It’s about 128 miles north of Pittsburgh and 100 miles northeast of Cleveland. Erie’s population peaked in the 1960 census at 138,000.
Marx first set up manufacturing facilities in an existing plant operated by Carter Toys in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1921 at 1133 W 18th Street and operated there until 1975. For a time, Erie residents called this building “the monkey works” because Marx produced so many tin lithographed toy monkeys there. The factory primarily made wind-up toys, and after Marx’s focus shifted from windups, it became a research and development facility. It closed in 1975 after three unprofitable years under Quaker Oats management. The Erisco Wire Company purchased the plant in 1976 and liquidated its contents at a now-legendary auction. Erisco still produces wire out of the old Marx factory today.
Glen Dale, West Virginia
Glen Dale is a small town in northern West Virginia, along the Ohio River and about 65 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Its population today is about 1,500, down from its 1970 peak of 2,150.
In 1934, Marx purchased a 250,000-square-foot facility, originally used for making Fokker aircraft in Glen Dale, West Virginia at 601 Baltimore Avenue and put it to work producing toys. Production at Glen Dale ended when Marx Toys closed for good on February 5, 1982, appropriately, the day founder Louis Marx died. The Marx logo is still visible on a water tower in the parking lot. Marx made about 240 different toys in the Glen Dale plant, which employed about 1,500 workers, half of them women.
In 1977, Richard Beecham, a manager for Dunbee-Combex-Marx, discovered about 8,000 vintage toys, most of them boxed, in a storeroom behind a locked door nobody had visited in 20 years.
Warren Distribution purchased the former Marx facility in January 2006, where it uses it to package lubricants.
Here’s some vintage footage of the Glen Dale plant.
Girard is a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania with a population of about 3,000. Unlike Marx’s other factory towns, it is slightly larger now than it was in Marx’s day. Girard is about 16 miles southwest of Erie.
In 1934, Marx purchased Girard Model Works, a maker of windup and electric toy trains. It continued to make trains at 227 E Hathaway in Girard, Pennsylvania until the end of train production in 1974. But Marx didn’t close the factory then. Marx made slot car sets at Girard after train production ended.
The former Marx plant experienced a fire in July 2016 but the damage wasn’t extensive and has been repaired. Today the building is an incubator housing about 30 small businesses.
A number of photos of the Girard facility as it appeared in 2013 are available here. The woodwork and a conference table from the Marx era are still present and visible in the photos.
Here’s a vintage commercial for a Marx train set, produced in Girard.
After World War II ended, Marx expanded into overseas production. Louis Marx’s friend, General Dwight Eisenhower, believed that if countries were making and selling toys, they would be less inclined to build weapons and start wars, which serves as yet another argument in favor of trade deficits. At its peak, Marx had factories in 10 countries outside of the United States, including Swansea, Wales; Hong Kong; and Mexico City. The Swansea facility was demolished in 1981.