You must see Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook, Iowa.

Patrick Acton likes to glue wooden matchsticks together, one at a time.  But it’s not just a few matchsticks – it’s more like thousands of matchsticks in total.   And the final products are almost unbelievable.  They are scale models with incredible details.  Sometimes they even have lights and moving parts.  

While I was on my way back home from visiting Immaculate Conception Church in Gilbertville, I stopped in Gladbrook, Iowa for a quick self-guided tour at Matchstick Marvels.  The museum is dedicated to the work of Patrick Acton, a long-time resident of Gladbook with a very serious addiction to creating incredibly detailed works of art out of the most simple material.

Several of the models are naval ships including battleships, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.
Check the details of the lifeboats on this destroyer naval ship – just incredible!

When did he get started in building models out of matchsticks?

Take a look at the glass counter/case at the entrance, which is where you’ll pay your admission fee.  The case has a barn and windmill.   This was the second model that Patrick created back in 1977.  It was built as a gift for his father and used 5,000 matchsticks.  At that time, each matchstick had to be touched twice –  once to remove the sulfur tip and a second time to glue it in place.  

It turns out that Patrick continued to touch each matchstick twice for the next 11 years.  Eventually, he was able to purchase the matchsticks directly from the manufacturer without the tips.  This saved a tremendous amount of time which was reinvested into increasing the size and detail of the models.  

The barn and windmill was his second creation in 1977 and was created with 5,000 matchsticks.

YouTube video
A quick visual tour of some of the exhibits at Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook, Iowa.

Is this the only place you can see Patrick Acton’s work?

Patrick’s work is featured in museums around the entire world. Ripley’s Believe It or Not certainly has a passion for his work, as they have purchased dozens of his models which are now placed in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, New Orleans, Houston – and other US cities, as well as in Denmark, Australia, and Indonesia.

In 2012, Patrick retired from his job as a career counselor and started working specifically for Ripley’s. Although his work can be seen around the world, my understanding is that most of the creations are built in his home in Gladbrook, Iowa. Back in 2003, the city opened a new City Hall and movie theatre, which has dedicated space for Matchstick Marvels.

Address: 319 2nd St, Gladbrook, IA 50635


Perhaps the centerpiece of the museum, this is a 1/65th model of the US Capitol. It was created with 478,000 matchsticks and is 12 feet long and 5.5 feet tall.

During our visit, the person running the museum made an announcement that she would be turning off the overhead lights, so you could see the US Capitol model glowing with its interior lights.

Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris: Completed by Patrick Acton in 2012 using 298,000 wooden matchsticks

Space Shuttle Challenger: Finished in 1997 as a tribute to the Americans who lost their lives in the Challenger tradegy. The model stands seven feet tall and was created with over 200,000 matchsticks.

A replica of Terrace Hill, the state of Iowa’s governor’s mansion. Created in 1996 with 193,000 matchsticks and 800 hours of work.

Models also include rockets, dinosaurs, and birds. On the far left is a P-51 Mustang aircraft. It is the ONLY model that Patrick painted. He also regretted that decision right away, as says that ” it cheapened the look of the model and minimized the hundreds of hours needed to create it” After touring the museum, I think you’ll agree. When you can visually see each wooden matchstick glued into place, it adds to the mystique.

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