Harold Warp’s parents immigrated to America from Norway and setup a homestead on the Nebraska Prairies in 1873. Harold, born in 1903, the youngest of twelve children, grew up as a barefooted farm-boy herding cattle and was enthralled by new inventions like the automobiles, tractors, phonographs, and radio that came to their pioneer home from distant cities.
As he grew up, he began inventing new and useful things himself. He noticed that chickens grew faster and laid more eggs in summer and that sunlight prevented rickets in chickens. The plastics revolution was gathering steam at that time and he spent three years developing a practical, weatherproof, translucent material that unlike glass let in the sun’s ultraviolet rays; he called it Flex-O-Glass.
He moved to Chicago in 1924 with two of his brothers and a capital of $800 and started manufacturing Flex-O-Glass. Flex-O-Glass could be made so inexpensively that in addition to poultry house windows, millions of people began using it for winter protection in their homes in screen doors and window screens. By his forties he had made his fortune.
His wonder at the transformation of America in the short span of a century–through the stream of new inventions of man–had only grown over time, and he decided that he wanted to preserve the record of this incredible transformation. His own invention had given him the means to do so.
He decided to build his Pioneer Village, where one could “See How America Grew.” He dedicated Pioneer Village to the pioneering spirit that settled the prairies.
Unlike many industrialists of his day, who simply gave away their fortune to their favorite causes, he personally spent his own time over three decades of his life to select, collect, catalog, and write about his collection demonstrating American ingenuity.
The result is Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village–the largest private collection of Americana–housing over 50,000 items in 28 buildings on 20 acres in Minden, Nebraska.
He wrote: “For thousands of years man lived quite simply. Then like a sleeping giant our world was awakened. In a mere hundred and twenty years of eternal time man progressed from open hearth, grease lamps, and ox carts to television, super sonic speed, and atomic power. We have endeavored to show you the actual development of this astounding progress as it was unfolded by our forefathers and by ourselves.”
From the pioneer days, you can see a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a country church, a general store, a doctor’s office, a frontier fort, a prairie sod house, a pony express relay station, a railroad depot, and more. You can see the largest collection of farm machinery, a collection of 300 antique cars, an exhibit tracing the evolution of lighting and musical instruments.
My favorite exhibit demonstrates the transformation of the kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms of America, from the 1830s to the present, decade by decade, using full-scale recreations filled with items common to those times–all protected by Harold Warp’s Flex-O-Glass.
For more information about Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village click here.