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Mold-a-Rama Machines Still Alive and Kicking 70

theodp writes "The Chicago Tribune reports that bubble-topped Mold-a-Rama machines are still delighting folks, cranking out kitschy get-em-while-they're-hot plastic Abe Lincoln busts, triceratops, and charging rhinos. Some vintage figures are commanding over $150 on eBay — a Paul Bunyan figure from a Minnesota machine no longer in operation recently fetched $210."
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Mold-a-Rama Machines Still Alive and Kicking

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  • by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <ag-slashdot@@@exit0...us> on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:22PM (#16039814) Homepage
    ...on NeoMonster Island!!! [neomonsterisland.com]


  • Will someone please post the article text??
    • Article Text (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:41PM (#16039901)
      Old technology proves a modern-day classic

      By Eric Benderoff
      Published September 4, 2006

      One of my favorite things in the technology universe doesn't surf the Web or plug into your ears. The end result doesn't do anything actually, yet the process has thrilled millions of people for four decades.

      Odds are strong that if you've visited a zoo or museum since the Johnson administration, you've bought at least one of the delightfully kitschy and colorful products these bubble-topped time machines create: an Abe Lincoln bust, a triceratops or a charging rhino.

      The best part is they look the same today as they did back when Elvis ruled Las Vegas. Perhaps better, at $1.50 a pop they remain the most affordable souvenirs one can buy during an afternoon marveling at elephants or a World War II-era submarine at the Field Museum.

      The Mold-a-Rama machine still delights because you watch the made-on-the-spot process before gingerly picking up your still-warm memento.

      I bought five Mold-a-Rama creations this summer, an elephant and rhino from a recent trip to Brookfield Zoo and three dinosaurs from a visit to the Field Museum.

      "The Field Museum is all dinosaurs. We used to have a gorilla mold there, but it wasn't selling very well, so we turned it into a T-Rex mold," said Bill Jones, who, with his two sons, keeps the 21 Mold-a-Ramas in the Chicago area humming. (A gorilla from the Field Museum recently sold for $85 on eBay, by the way.)

      Keeping the machines working is no small feat, considering a Mold-a-Rama machine hasn't been built in 40 years.

      There are 11 Mold-a-Ramas at Brookfield Zoo, two at the Lincoln Park Zoo, four at the Field Museum and four at the Museum of Science Industry, where you can buy Bill's favorite, a replica of the U-505 submarine.

      The William A. Jones Co., based out of Bill's home in Brookfield, operates 68 Mold-a-Rama machines across the Midwest and in Texas. You can buy a bat mold at the Milwaukee County Zoo, a Komodo dragon in San Antonio or an "antique car" at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

      "We couldn't do a Model A or a Model T, so it's a combination," said Bill, who got into the business in 1969. "I thought the machines were 40 years old then."

      As the end of summer looms this Labor Day, the efforts of a 70-year-old man who gets to the Field Museum before 6:30 a.m. once a week to make sure a toddler and his dad still can enjoy the spectacle of making a plastic T-Rex should be applauded.

      "We'll all be working Monday," said Paul Jones, Bill's 40-year-old son. "We just don't know where yet."

      The charm of the Mold-a-Rama is its mesmerizing and simple technology. In the left-hand corner of each machine, you see the mold each makes. If you want one, and Bill figures roughly one of every 10 people who pass a Mold-a-Rama do, you pop your money in to activate the machine.

      Four hydraulic cams start to move. The first and last closes the two sides of the mold together. Then another cam pushes plastic between the molds, followed by one that blows hot air in to make the figure hollow. Coolant then chills the mold because the figure was cooked between 225 and 250 degrees.

      After roughly a minute, the two sides of the mold open, revealing your dinosaur or dolphin, before the final cam, that operates the scrapper, pushes your mold forward and drops it into the holding bin. But you need to wait a moment: It is still too hot to pick up right away, as my son always warns.

      The dolphin at Brookfield Zoo is Jones' top producer.

      "It outsells everything," he said, noting that machine produced 350 molds in one day during the height of summer.

      Across the country, there are 130 machines working at 28 locations, said avid Mold-a-Rama collector Brennan Murphy, who owns 600 to 700 of the figures.

      Murphy, 45, who grew up in Riverside but now lives in Florida, has 30 different colored T-Rex molds.

      "The colors are different than the ones today," he said.

      A Paul Bunyan figure f
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:31PM (#16039853)
    The age of new media that was so greatly proclaimed in the early days of the internet eventually turned out to be news stories with plain text and NOT A SINGLE FUCKING PICTURE of the thing they were talking about. NOT ONE SINGLE FUCKING IMAGE of a 'Mold-a-rama' machine.

    No, I'm not googling for an image. The story should include an image or three, one of the machine, one of an expensive bit of plastic from a long time ago, and another of a new bit of plastic.

    Get with the technology. People demand visual satisfaction. No wonder everyone eventually ends up looking at porn online. Visual Satisfaction.
  • by lunartik ( 94926 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:36PM (#16039878) Homepage Journal
    As the article notes, they have them at the Henry Ford Museum [hfmgv.org].

    I have Abe Lincoln's head (the museum has the chair he was sitting in when he was shot), a figure of Henry Ford and a locomotive.

    I think they also have machines that make the Wienermobile and other museum attractions as well.

    Not the best reason to check the place out, but HFM and Greenfield Village are great places to go. It is an amazing and sometimes weird collection of the industrial era.
    • I have Abe Lincoln's head

      Did you dig it up all by yourself, or did you have some help?
    • My first experience with Mold-A-Rama was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, at the age of six. I carried that little gray U-505 around in my pocket for months before it was lost in a tragic clothes-dryer accident. (Teach me not to check my pockets before throwing my clothes in the hamper.)

      I haven't been to Henry Ford in a long time. Might be a good reason to go. :)

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      As the article notes, they have them at the Henry Ford Museum.

      The way things are going for Ford, the Ford company itself will be in a museum soon.
    • San Antonio Zoo (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dawnzer ( 981212 )
      They still have the machines at the San Antonio Zoo. I think the smell of hot wax is supposed to offset the animal smells or something. It was a lot of fun getting one of those wax castings as a kid. The best part is watching it get made. You put in your money, then you get to watch the two halves of the metal mold come together and get filled with hot wax. after a couple of minutes, it pops out your wax bear, giraffe, lion, elephant, etc. - still warm. You had to hold it just so to allow it to cool a
  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:44PM (#16039918) Homepage
    You know what they say.. One man's trash in the hand is worth $200 on eBay.

    Or something like that.
  • hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Shrubbman ( 3807 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:45PM (#16039926)
    wonder what a smoosh-faced wax lion goes for...
  • Milwaukee County Zoo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Paisley Phrog ( 685921 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:49PM (#16039948)
    The Milwaukee County Zoo still has many, many Mold-A-Rama machines still in operation, and enough different molds that I'm still able to find the occasional new one. (I have 20 or so in my collection from around the country). My daughter now shares my fascination with them, and loves the whole thing. I just hope that the places that make the parts that keep these things running don't go away any time soon.

    Mold-A-Rama is more than a cheap souvenir, it's a minute-long event. The noise, holding them upside down, the almost-too-hot plastic, the smell...they're a flash to childhood that only costs $1.

    • Hmmmm it's been a few years. Doeas the MCZ still have the penny smooshing machines too? *remembers fond memories*
      • Yup, last time I was there they had two of those, but hidden inside near the cafeteria/gift shop, by the main gate. Good times.
      • Elongated cents (what the 'penny smooshing machines' produce) are almost the only souvineers (I also like felt pendants) that I look for when I am out touristing. There is one in Nashville, Indiana.

        I was recently up on the North Shore of Lake Superior (north of Duluth in Minnesota) and couldn't find ANY of the old felt pendants. All the souvineer ships are full of yuppie fare, and all kinds of expensive 'authentic high quality crafted items' and other awfulness. Where's the cheap felt pendants??? Grante
    • These sound totally cool. I have never seen a Mold-A-Rama machine. I do like those machines that flatten pennies. These seem more interesting, though.

      Does anyone know of a Mold-A-Rama machine in NYC???
    • by Zorque ( 894011 )
      The Hogle Zoo here in Utah had a lot of machines that were still operative up until 2 or 3 years ago, when much of the zoo was renovated. Nobody really has a clue what happened to the machines. It's sad to see something that brought us so many childhood memories thrown away because they were "old".
    • Mold-A-Rama is more than a cheap souvenir, it's a minute-long event. The noise, holding them upside down, the almost-too-hot plastic, the smell...they're a flash to childhood that only costs $1.

      The smell ... thats what I remember most from around 25 years ago.
      Why, I have no idea...but its well-imprinted.
      Can't even remember what grey plastic animal it was, just the smell.
    • by leko ( 69933 )
      Last time I was at the Milwaukee County Zoo (a couple weeks ago) I thought about trying to get one of the molds from mold-o-rama machine there, but there are just too many.

      I'll be totally depressed if they ever get rid of them.
  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:50PM (#16039954)
    Just as long as the lion with the smooshed face doesn't start talking to me...
    • So, on the odd chance someone is missing the reference (which would be a shame)... the wax lion with a smooshed face (from a Mold-a-Rama machine), features in the first episode of Wonderfalls [wikipedia.org], a quirky gem of a show that Fox cancelled after four episodes. Worth tracking down and watching...
  • From the article summary:
    plastic Abe Lincoln busts

    Well, naturally, that's something everybody should have: a plastic mold of Abe Lincoln's busts on their desk.
    • by wiml ( 883109 )
      Is that as in, "*kick door down* Freeze! Abe Lincoln!" or as in, "My humps, my lovely lady lumps, SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH." ?
  • Shoot... I used to EAT those things. Kids just don't know the value of the stuff they're chewing on.
  • Wow, I have a small collection of these --somewhere(I think) --from when I was a kid from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. I didn't realize the machines were already 20 years old at the time.

    I wonder if someone could make these machines today, if they chose to.
  • Nothing says "enlightenment" like a statue of a meditating Siddhartha Gautama Buddha with the word "Hollywood" inscribed in his robes. Next time I'm down that way I'll see if the Mold-A-Rama machine that made it is still in working order. Ommmmmmmm.....
  • Many years ago I had a Lion made at the San Antonio Zoo.

    I seem to remember it being a plastic that was slightly bronze colored, but the things I remember most about it was it being hot after the machine spit it out, and how amazed I was that it was hollow.

    I have no idea what ever happened to that thing.
  • Mattel's Vac-U-Form [spookshows.com] was kind of like Mold-A-Rama, the Home Game!
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      That toy sucks in the literal sense
    • I had a Mattel Vac-U-Form when I was in grade school back in the 1960's. I think I still remember how it worked. I would select a metal mold and place it on one side of the unit. On the other side I would insert a thin rectangular piece of plastic which I would would heat over the heating plate until the plasic was soft and warm enough to start to sag slightly. Then I would flip the plastic sheet over onto the mold and press the vacuum lever to suck the plastic tight against the metal mold. After it co

  • Going to the bowling alley as a kid with my parents, this was the most amazing machine to me. Think this might be why I got into robotics.
  • Just plastic? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frisket ( 149522 ) <peter@silmaCOWril.ie minus herbivore> on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:55PM (#16040283) Homepage
    Should modify them to mold chocolate...
  • Mold A Rama history (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here's a good link http://www.replicationdevices.com/about_us.html [replicationdevices.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you go to Niagara Falls, be careful of the one at Wonderfalls [wikipedia.org] is still broken. All it ever puts out are smooshed-face lions.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      If you go to Niagara Falls, be careful of the one at Wonderfalls is still broken. All it ever puts out are smooshed-face lions.

      Smooshed? You clobberhead, that is the Sphinx [wikipedia.org]. It's nose got blown off in a battle.
  • Here's an interesting article about the Mold-a-Rama from the Business & Finance section of the Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1962: http://www.billyseven.net/mar/images/timesarticle. jpg [billyseven.net]

    My favorite part is the final quote:

    In the future. O'Dorisio said, the consumer will be able to purchase everything from a set of dishes to pocket combs, vases, goblets, ash trays and wearing apparel in the Mold-A-Rama.
  • Hey, does anyone know where there is a mold-a-rama girlfriend mold? $1.50 is pretty low cost, plastic is emotionally stable, and I bet she might fit in my coat pocket.
  • I had a ton of them and tossed them out! Dang. I had like a space shuttle (Challenger), Abe Lincoln, and a bunch of other stuff.
  • I take my not-so-narrow ass down to the Field Museum today for the King Tut exhibit (ALWAYS go as early as possible, it gets brutal later on).

    As I'm hitting all the exhibits, I happen by the Mold-a-Rama machines downstairs near the McDonalds (the one with suitably outrageously inflated prices) and am thinking "Wow! They still have these things! How cool is that!"

    And now you're reading my damn mind again!

    Grrr. Lemme grab my tinfoil hat...wait, those would actually AMPLIFY the signal. CRAP!
  • I've never seen one of those (that I remember). They don't seem to be very common on the west coast. I read where there is one in Hollywood, but I've never seen it (but haven't checked out every tacky little shop either).
    • Seems there used to be one at the Los Angeles Zoo in the mid 80s. I believe it made a little orange Rhino. I haven't been there in years so I don't know if it is still around. Might be worth a trip to find out . . .

  • The best thing about these Mold-O-Rama machines was scouring entire parks for the ONE machine that you hadn't gotten a mold of yet.

    When I was a child, my family used to visit Chicago each summer and we'd usually make a trip to the Brookfield Zoo. We'd always end up with one or two of these molds each time... but sometimes we'd see one that we didn't have, and then the rest of the day seemed like an adventure to search out the aroma of molded plastic, trace it to a machine, and see if it was the particular

  • I remember when I was a youngin' going to the MOSI in chicago and getting, a submarine, and a tractor, and abe lincolns head, and i don't remember the other one :), but I loved watching the machine inject the goo and plop, out comes a buring hot plastic toy for fun to be had by all. In January my girlfriend and I went to the MOSI for my first time since those tike years, the machines were still their, in almost exactly the same spots (i had muscle memory of their exact locations :)), and once again I got a
  • My desk neighbour has a U-505 submarine sitting on his monitor that he got last year at the Museum of Science and Industry [msichicago.org]. The mold for it is probably 50 years old and still going strong. (By the way, the new exhibition space for the U-505 is worth a trip to Chicago just to see that.)
  • Space Needle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pjwhite ( 18503 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:42AM (#16045002) Homepage
    I remember watching a Mold-A-Rama make me a yellow Space Needle when my parents took me to the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. I was 5 or 6 years old at the time. My big sister got an orange Space Needle. For some reason this memory is as strong or stronger than actually riding the elevator to the top of the real Space Needle, or any other memory I have of the fair. I remember the smell, the hot plastic that had to cool upside down, and the seemingly interminable wait while the machine did its thing.
    My Space Needle got thown away some years later, and though it would be nice to have one now, it wouldn't be worth $150 to me. $5.00, maybe...

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?