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National Museum of Play

The world has benefited from a variety of wealthy eccentrics who decided to spend their lives collecting. This is the case with the National Museum of Play located in Rochester, New York which was created with the collections of Margaret Woodbury Strong. Margaret Woodbury Strong was the only child of well to do parents and grandparents one of which was Edmund Frost Woodbury who created a fortune in the buggy business and then invested in a new company which became the Eastman Kodak Company. Margaret’s parents were inveterate travelers and took her with them on trips all over the world. According to local stories, Margaret was allowed to buy anything she wanted as long as it fit into her small bag. She learned early on that she could be buy more things if they were small and so started her lifelong interest in miniatures.

In addition to a love of dollhouses and miniatures, Margaret also collected dolls, and other toys. She continued her love of collecting over the years and after her marriage to Homer Strong. The couple eventually moved into a palatial home in the Pittsford area of New York. Margaret filled every nook and cranny of her home with her collections. She also raised a daughter and became an avid golfer, bowler and amateur photographer. After losing both her daughter and her husband to illness, Margaret dedicated her life to her love of collecting miniatures, dollhouses, dolls, and a variety of other items. By the 1960’s her doll collection was up to 27,000 dolls and the number of dollhouses were in the hundreds. Under the auspices of the Rochester Historical Society, she began opening her home on a regular basis so that the public could see her collections.

Margaret wanted to eventually make her home into a museum and she went ahead and applied from the New York State Board of Regents for a provisional museum charter for the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Fascination. After her death at 72, it was soon obvious that her home would not lend itself to being a museum and with her endowment a new museum was created in down Rochester located at One Manhattan Square. The name was shortened to The Strong and the 282,000 square foot space was divided up into four areas of interest including the National Museum of Play which is home to Margaret’s collection of dollhouses and dolls, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, and the Archives of Play and the Brian Sutton Smith Library. The National Museum of Play is the only museum in the world which invites hands on play, is dedicated to play and is based on an individual’s collection. The museum has more than 20,000 miniatures and 200 miniature rooms and dollhouses. The collection includes hand crafted antique Victorian homes to vintage printed metal dollhouses and large size plastic dollhouses. In addition there are more than 12,000 dolls and 2,800 paper dolls to view. The museum is open year round and offers both permanent collections and visiting shows.

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