Mold-A-Rama - A division of Automatic Retailers of America (later became
Aramark) in the 1960s and their unique product, Mold-A-Rama vending machines.
These machines were automated producers of monochrome injection molded
souvenirs statuettes that were often, and can still be found at
amusement parks and roadside attractions,
especially vintage ones like Weeki Wachee Springs.
The machines resemble large old fashioned Wurlitzer jukeboxes most of
the front being a huge glass bubble dome that lets you see the works inside.
Above the dome, behind the back glass, they have a small shelf that contains a
sample of the souvenir statue that the machine will vend and the brash company
logo. Under the dome there is a Frankenstein lab's worth of machinery: two
horizontally opposed halves of the mold at the end of a set of hydraulic rams, multiple flexible hoses attached to the mold, a small
hydraulically actuated spatula and a couple of dials showing temperature and
pressure. In the belly of the machine, a hopper contains pellets originally of
wax, later of plastic as the wax pellets would melt in the sun (most of the
machines were originally out in the open) and foul the hopper. When you put your
money in (originally a quarter but nowadays a dollar), the great beast wakes up as
compressors, motors, fans and heaters come
alive. The mold halves come together pushed by the hydraulic rams and the hoses
vibrate as the molten material is pumped into the mold, air under pressure is
inserted to fold the media onto the walls of the mold and coolant is circulated to
set the statuette. Dials spin showing you the pressures and temperatures involved
and some machines even have accompanying sound effects. After a minute or so, the
molds separate and the spatula would shoves your still warm prize down into the vend
slot. The original wax figures smelled wonderful and had a great tactile feel,
though they were easier to damage than the plastics used nowadays.
The machine was developed in the 1950s by Tike Miller. Most of the machines
were produced by the Los Angeles based Mold-A-Rama company between 1960 and
1965. The first prototype machine was installed at the Seattle World's Fair
where it vended thousands of replicas of the Space Needle. At one point the
machines were hyped by the company as the vanguard of a revolution in the
production of retail goods at the point of sale where vases,
dishes, combs and even clothing would be available on-demand. This
has of course gone the way of the aircar and home atomic reactors
and become the retro future that never was. The concept of universal distributed
manufacture on demand has recently been revived in sci-fi novels
though. The classic example is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age where
home nanofactories connected to The Feed provide custom durable goods
fabrication with the ease of a microwave oven.
The business did not last long after 1965 as the division was first spun out
and then sold. Many machines are in service to this day though now mostly in
science museums, zoos and other educational venues. There are a number of
dedicated enthusiast-businessmen that maintain them and keep them running, often by
fabricating parts or retrofitting off-the-shelf components. A company called
Replication Devices out of Florida owns the rights to the brand, sells refurbished
vintage machines and is working on a modern version.
If you have a chance, go see one of these machines in action, a genuine piece of
nostalgic Yankee ingenuity.
Special thanks to Dawggy whose wu Brookfield Zoo was the spark that
brought the wonder of Mold-A-Rama back to my consciousness
het points out that a botched Mold-A-Rama statuette has an important role in the pilot for the short lived Fox series Wonderfalls
Aramark, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramark, 7/25/2004
Bossman, Martin, Machine Molds Items While Customer Waits, Los Angeles Times,
Mold-A-Rama road trip,http://www.mar-road-trip.com/, 7/25/2004
Replication Devices,http://replicationdevices.com/, 7/25/2004