Is it just us or does it seem like kids' activities just keep getting more and more expensive? A simple outing to the zoo or museum, for example, racks up a price tag that goes way beyond the cost of admission: parking, tickets to special exhibits, expensive snacks and food court lunches, and don't even THINK about setting foot in the gift shop.
Thankfully, at many attractions across the country, the very best souvenir still only costs $2. We're talking, of course, about the Mold-A-Rama.
A full 56 years after the first machine wowed visitors at the Seattle World's Fair, Mold-A-Ramas are still a huge draw for kids (and adults) who love watching the injection molded plastic toys being created right before their eyes. But the souvenir-making machines might never have been born had it not been for one man's frustration over a broken holiday display piece.
In 1937, a man named Tike Miller was putting out his family's Christmas decorations when he discovered that one of the nativity scene pieces was broken. On a quest to replace the broken figurine, Miller traveled to department store after department store, but couldn't find anyone willing to sell him anything other than a new full set. Instead of giving in to sales pressure, Miller and his wife began making their own plaster nativity pieces in the basement, and, finding success, soon started their own factory, eventually moving from plaster to a newfangled substance known as plastic.
As business increased, Miller searched for an easier way to crank out his product, leading him to invent a plastic-injection process that helped him produce a line of dinosaur figurines with relative ease. He eventually sold his idea to the Automatic Retailers of America Inc., a company based in Chicago, and worked with them to develop the machine we now know as the Mold-A-Rama.
Today, the machines have gained a cult-following with collectors chasing a nostalgia high (that melted plastic smell!), which makes it all the more surprising that no comprehensive list of surviving Mold-A-Rama machines exists. Chalk it up to business. In 1971, the ARA disbanded and sold off most of its machines—some to independent buyers, but most to two different corporations: Mold-A-Rama, Inc. in Brookfield, IL and Replication Devices, who rebranded their machines as Mold-A-Matic, and operated mainly in the South.
But while it may be impossible to track down every single machine still in operation, we were able to pull together this partial list of Mold-A-Rama locations to get you started on your collector's journey. And, lucky, for you, we also happen to have deals for quite a few of them. Might there be a colorful plastic-themed road trip in your future?
Brookfield Zoo | Brookfield, IL Click here for a deal at Brookfield Zoo
Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL
Field Museum | Chicago, IL Click here for a deal at the Field Museum
Lincoln Park Zoo | Chicago, IL
Willis Tower | Chicago, IL
Imagination Station | Toledo, OH
Milwaukee Zoo | Milwaukee, WI
Binder Park Zoo | Calhoun County, MI
Henry Ford Museum | Dearborn, MI Click here for a deal at the Henry Ford Museum
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory | St. Paul, MN
San Antonio Zoo | San Antonio, TX Click here for a deal at the San Antonio Zoo
Busch Gardens | Tampa, FL Click here for a deal at Busch Gardens
Lowry Park Zoo | Tampa, FL Click here for a deal at Lowry Park Zoo
Museum of Science and Industry | Tampa, FL
Zoo Miami | Miami, FL
Seaquarium | Miami, FL Click here for a deal at Seaquarium
Central Florida Zoo | Sanford, FL
Mote Aquarium | Sarasota, FL
Gatorland | Orange County, FL
Knoxville Zoo | Knoxville, TN
Third Man Records | Nashville, TN
Oklahoma City Zoo | Oklahoma City, OK
Pacific Science Center | Seattle, WA Click here for a deal at Pacific Science Center
Good luck on the hunt! If you’re lucky, someday you might have a Mold-A-Rama collection as impressive as this one!