By Chuck Smith, Harlan, Iowa
Last spring I wrote an article about collecting farm sets for the Iowa Barn Foundation Magazine. I now want to take some time to visit about different farm sets that are in my collection that were available from the 1930’s until 1948.
During the 1930’s many of our toys were made from paper. We refer to these as paperboard or cardboard toys. Our government had drives to recall metal for ships and military armament which made metals very expensive. Nineteen-twenty-nine was the start of Great Depression, so paperboard was also more affordable. Some of the toys made from paper and cardboard were doll houses, dolls and doll clothing. Train stations, grain elevators, military forts, gasoline stations and many puzzles were made from paperboard.
Built-Rite Toys were developed in the 1920’s by the Warren Paper Company of Lafayette, Indiana. Many of the farm buildings, tools, equipment and animals were developed from 1936 to 1948 and marketed and sold by Montgomery Wards through catalog orders. The farms are often referred to as the Built-Rite Stock Farms or Wards Stock Farm. See a Built-Rite catalog page.
These toy farm buildings were developed from plans of actual buildings, available to farmers who wanted to build their own (full-size) buildings. Farmers could order building plans for barns, sheep sheds, and brooder houses from Midwest Plan Service in Ames, Iowa, and from Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, who supplied hog house, granary, and chicken house plans. The second paragraph on the right side of the advertisement (below) indicates which plans were used by Built-Rite for their buildings.
Our editor of the Iowa Barn Foundation, Jacqueline Schmeal, would like to know, “Do you know of a family or individual that actually built a barn from the Midwest Plan?” The Iowa Barn Foundation would like the information.
As we look at the inside the Built-Rite Buildings, one would picture details as we would look into a doll house. You will notice farrowing pens, brooders and laying nest, horse stable, bull and calf pens, feed bins and stanchions for a small number of dairy cows. Many of us lived with these features in our own farm buildings. Each of the buildings have considered the placement of feeding troughs and hay bunks or racks, waterers and water tanks, brooders and laying nest and feed storage bins.
The following picture is from the Built-Rite Toy instruction sheet: On the instruction sheet it reads, “So real because of scaled detail.”
The Built-Rite Stock Farms came with all the modern breeds of animals and poultry of the 1930’s. An animal booklet was written expressly for Montgomery Ward by J. C. Holbert, Assistant professor of Animal Husbandry, Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Ames, Iowa. The books are called “Stories and Pictures of Living Blue Ribbon Winners,” with one book adds the words, “and Modern Buildings”.
Al Christian was a well known Swine Herdsman, and Ag Specialist at Iowa State University. Al remembers J. C. Holbert as an Animal Husbandry Professor, a livestock judge, and a purebred livestock breeder on the Sunset Knoll Farm. J.C. was a purebred Duroc and Angus breeder on a farm near Ames, Iowa. Al Christian was very helpful offering information about the booklet and J.C. Holbert’s background.
The Whitman Book Company made two animal farm sets using many of the exact animals that we see in the “Stories and Pictures of the Living Blue Ribbon Winners.” The stories are different and in one set are written on the back side of each animal. Whitman animals have a wood backing which makes each animal more sturdy than the Built-Rite animals.
Whitman Publishing was a children's book publishing company that was very popular with the Little Golden Books. The next four pictures were published in Racine, Wisconsin.
The Anchor Toy Company also has many of the same animals as we see with Built-Rite and Whitman Publishing. One would think that J. C. Holbert had a real influence with toy companies during the 1940’s. I’m aware of one more farm set that has used some of the same animals. In all cases they are very colorful and show the real shape and condition of animals for their day.
Let’s look at several of the Ward Stock Farms. You will notice the box for each set becomes the platform to assemble the farm set. The farms show a family, a house wife, farmer, and usually 2 children. This farm has a fuel tank, sacks of feed, sacks of corn and oats, a shovel, hay bales and milk cans. Sometimes we think that these farms are for display purposes. They all were made to assemble and have fun “playing farm.”
This Built-Rite farm has farm equipment. There is a tractor, a wagon, a plow and a grain drill all made of paperboard. The axles on the farm equipment happen to be wood. The animals on this farm have never been punched out and assembled.
For individuals who want to display a colorful toy, they often prefer smaller items because of shelf space. There are two sets of miniature farm sets made by the Warren Paper Co. The first set is a set of 6 buildings while the second set shows 8 buildings.
The barn, hog house, corn crib and chicken house are the same buildings as you see from the 1939 large farm set. A tool shed and grain elevator have been added. There are two houses on the set of 8 buildings.
In the 1940’s, Built-Rite sold a set called the Built-Rite Grain Elevator and Livestock. This is one set that is not in my collection.
Built-Rite started marketing farm sets in the 1940’s that show farm families getting involved with farm activities. They were involved with milking cows, feeding animals and grooming prized animals to get ready for show. We enjoyed showing our animals to neighbors, relatives and friends. There are several animals in the next two sets with halters and some of the cattle are groomed. Several families belonged to saddle clubs and riding trails. Counties were building livestock buildings for 4-H and FFA members. All of these activities were fun family events.
The 52 piece farm set shows a tractor, plow, wagon and grain drill. This set has farm tools, bagged oats, corn and wheat. There is hay, fuel, fertilizer and a large roll of barbed wire. The animals are listed as 38 blue ribbon animals. This beautiful farm set is very difficult to find in good or excellent condition.
Built-Rite started marketing plastic animals along with their paperboard barns. It’s hard to keep the animals standing. As a livestock judge would say, “the quality and general appearance just is not there.”
You have just observed and read about thirteen farm sets in my collection. These farms are now retired and for observation. It’s been fun to have a hobby and reflect upon my farm experience. I have many more farms to share with you in the future. It’s now time to play farm.