My Fascination with the Mold-A-Rama

Mold-A-Rama
By Michael C. Hsiung

When I was working by the LA zoo I’ve been collecting the zoo animal figurines. The red giraffe, the yellow elephant, the green seal, and the T-rex. Every time I was able to go to the zoo for more than my allotted thirty minute break I would and walk around, I’d search for these wax devices to see if I could collect all 12 or so. With the help of some co-workers and friends, I managed to get eight out of the 12. There’s one I refuse to get, but after researching for a bit I think I’ll change my mind. My earliest memory of the LA zoo, besides being the introduction to Three’s Company, was these wax figurines — the smell of the wax, the warmth of them, and the strange colors they came in. I remember thinking that these machines must have been cheaply made, why else would the colors be so off. Whoever heard of a silver Kuala Bear? Ocassionally there’s a pink elephant or maybe I’m just drunk..

Around the time of the Griffith Park fire, I overheard a co-worker that he really needed a wax figurine. “Which one?” I asked him. “The lion, I’m looking for the lion, “and he responded, “but I think the zoo is closed because of the fire.” “I’ve got that one upstairs. Just come by,” I offered, “and take it. I can get another when it opens.” Anyhow we both chatted and became curious about what these machines were all about. Who made them? Who maintains them? The next week my co-worker came by and he sent me some links to what I know now as Mold-A-Rama machines.

Created in the 1950’s by a Mr. Tyke Miller, the Mold-A-Rama machine was licensed to Automatic Retailers Association, the only company who was able to see their devices reach it’s greatest distribution of over 200 Mold-A-Rama’s all around the country. It even made it to The New York 1964/1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park. While the General Motors Corporation, whose Futurama show proved to be the Fair’s most popular exhibit, one had to imagine that the Mold-A-Rama made some type of impact with the attendees. If anything it was true to what Robert Moses’ intended – to make a major recreational playground for New Yorkers.

The design was pretty basic with the help of the magical qualities of polyethylene plastic, the same components of the Hula Hoop. The Mold-A-Rama pumped polyethylene plastic at 250 degrees into the mold through a pipe at the bottom. A second auxiliary pipe blew cold air, forcing the plastic into the detailed crevices of the mold. In order to cool the plastic quickly, plastic hoses pump automotive antifreeze into the mold. And then the door opens up and a Silver Kuala Bear appears for $2.  Check out http://www.moldaramaville.com/

After eight years of pouring red Abraham Lincoln busts, white mermaids, and light blue Eiffel Towers, the company sold it to an employee Robert Ward. After two years of operating these machines with a few other operators, Mr. Ward sold his business to Bill Jones around 1969. Mr. Jones continues to own about 70 Mold-A-Ramas to this day. Most are located in zoos or museums in Chicago, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma. The other large operator of Mold-a-rama is located in Tampa, FL by a third generation of the Irvin family who owns and operates them.

While there’s no reference to Mold-A-Rama’s existence on Wikipedia.com or how the archaic device actually works on Howstuffworks.com, the Mold-A-Rama has its fans. People not only collect all the figurines, but in each available color. A $2.00 polyethylene plastic green butterfly has an ebay value of $9.99 for those who are out of state. Machines themselves run for about $12,900 and a 1960’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater sold for $224.50 on eBay, not including shipping. There are web pages devoted to the love of this plastic dropping this machine makes, Moldaramavilles and communities, bulletin boards dedicated to the collection of its multi-colored animals, and photo albums dedicated to displaying these plastic past times. I’ve once been asked what my favorite polyethylene zoo animal was … and my answer is still I don’t know – I think I love the machine more than its creation.

Here’s a listing of the complete collections of MAR memorabilia:

Zoo Animals

Elephant, Alligator, Otter, Lion, Macaw, Panther, Giraffe, Cougar, Koala, Rattlesnake, Chimpanzee, Bear, Cockatoo, Flamingo, Aardvark, Cow, Przwalski Horse, Pelican, Gorilla (Caricature), Cobra Plaque, Kangaroo

Aquatic Animals

Manatee, Sea Horse, Porpoise, Sailfish, Alligator, Sea Turtle, Shark, Orca, Sea Otter, Whale, Octopus (Caricature), Seal, Sea Lion

Dinosaurs

T-Rex, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Corythosaurus, Trachodon

Buildings And Monuments

Eiffel Tower, Stone Mountain Georgia, Unisphere (Globe), Bank Building

Aerospace

Space Shuttle With External Tanks On Launch Platform, Space Shuttle In Flight, Gemini Capsule, Titan Missile, Astronaut, F-16 Fighter Jet, Lunar Landing Vehicle, Russian Soyuz Space Station, Robot (Caricature)

Birds

Macaw (Spread Wing), Cockatoo, Flamingo, Pelican, Macaw (On Perch), Cardinal

Presidents

Washington, Kennedy, Johnson, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Benjamin Franklin, Truman

Holidays

Angel, Reindeer, Santa, Pumpkin, Skull, Frankenstein, Devil

Miscellaneous

Tank, HMS Bounty, 57 Chevy, Bowling Pin Plaque, Canadian Maple Leaf, Clown, Water Skier, Mermaid, Girl On Beach, Miami Seaquarium Monorail, Canadian Mounty

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3 Comments

Filed under art

3 responses to “My Fascination with the Mold-A-Rama

  1. steve

    Curious…which mold did you refuse to get…and why?

  2. mikechsiung

    At the LA zoo there’s one that is the See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil. For some reason, I find that one corny, but then again we are talking about Mold-A-Ramas. haha.

  3. Eric H.

    On ebay right now there is a Kewpie doll mold-a-rama and a Big Bear CA bear, snowman, dolphin, penguin, rhinoceros, eagle, panther, bat, moose, John Deere Tractor, Triceratops, Polar Bear, Museum Science Industry Chicago MSI U-505 Submarine, SILVER TROLL (Halloween 2011 Brookfield Zoo), Henry Ford Museum Blue Locomotive Train Engine, and reference to an Ankylosaurus dinosaur

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