Amazing matchstick models by Patrick Acton

Matchstick artist Patrick Acton was born in Greene County, Iowa, and raised on his family’s farm near Rippey. After he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1977, he moved to Gladbrook where he began his experimentation with matchsticks. Acton worked professionally as a career and employment counselor in nearby Marshalltown. Making matchstick models remains a hobby he pursues passionately but one that has brought him more fame than his career in employment counseling.


Acton enjoyed working with wood and tinkering since he was a child. When he was ten, his father bought him a new bicycle. He only had it for two weeks when he cut up the frame and put a lawn mower engine on it. Acton would effortlessly breeze along on his “motor” bike over the hills of west central Iowa . He also built a fully-enclosed tree house, complete with glass windows, painted siding, and heating stove. Another childhood project included salvaging an abandoned Ford model T truck from a cow pasture, and restoring it to running condition.

Then in 1977, fresh out of college with no woodworking tools of his own, Acton built a small model of a country church. He used Ohio Blue Tip matches purchased at the grocery store, a bottle of school glue, a utility knife, and a piece of sandpaper. Later he challenged himself by building a model of a ship, the frigate USS Constitution, also of matchsticks.

After nearly ten years of model building and cutting the heads off 100,000 matchsticks, Acton contacted the Ohio Blue Tip Company, where he learned that matchsticks could be purchased without the sulfur tip. After this discovery, Acton was able to work much faster, so that the size of his models increased from inches to feet, and from hundreds of matchsticks to thousands.

Today, Patrick Acton is behind more than 60 highly detailed matchstick models each taking between 400,000 and 600,000 matchsticks and two to three years to construct. But Acton expects to start turning out a new project every year.

Acton has just retired from his job as a career counselor and accepted a deal with Ripley’s Believe It or Not to build models for museum full-time. Ripley’s has already purchased more than a dozen of his pieces. Soon he plans to get started on Ripley’s first request, a model of the new World Trade Center in New York City, a project that should put Acton over the four million matchstick mark.

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