Matchstick Marvels Museum – Gladbrook, Iowa - Atlas Obscura

Matchstick Marvels Museum

Gladbrook, Iowa

A single artist is behind these large-scale models made of hundreds of thousands of two-inch wooden matchsticks.  


Patrick Acton of Gladbrook, Iowa has been building detailed scale models with wooden matchsticks for nearly 40 years. In that time he’s created around 70 elaborate designs, from the Notre Dame Cathedral to the Wright Brothers’ Flyer.

The Matchstick Marvels Museum is where these painstaking creations are displayed. At any time, about 20 models can be viewed by the public, most of which are large scale creations. Acton’s model of Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings, for example, is over six feet tall, while his model of the battleship USS Iowa stretches a full 13 feet. Other models include the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, the Hogwarts castle from Harry Potter, the Space Shuttle Challenger, and a fire-breathing dragon.

Each model is comprised of hundreds of thousands of two-inch matchsticks, which Acton has spent hours shaping, warping, and gluing together with careful precision in an impressive one-man operation. For those interested in the all the work that happens ahead of construction, Acton’s drawings and plans for the models are also on display, as well as the tools he uses, and a short video documentary on his process.

Matchstick Marvel Museum isn’t the only place to see Acton’s work; while most of his creations aren’t for sale, he did create several matchstick models for Ripley’s Believe It or Not locations around the world. An interactive steampunk-style locomotive with wings now lives in Ripley’s Times Square location.

Know Before You Go

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 5 to 12, and under 5 is free. The museum is open from April 1 through November 30, seven days a week from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is handicapped accessible.

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