In the mid-1950’s, Milton Levine was enjoying Fourth of July festivities in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, when the ant minions that he was watching jogged his memory back to the days he spent on his uncle’s farm as a boy.
He liked to watch the ant colonies do their thing back then, and now, as a novelty-minded adult, he found himself captivated still.
Why not put the little guys in a faux farm setting and let their endless hard work captivate others?
“Watch them dig tunnels! See them build rooms! Marvel as they erect bridges and move mountains before your very eyes!” read the ads. “The Ant Farm is a living TV screen that will keep you interested for hours!”.
Originally it could be yours for only $1.98 and during the next two decades, Levine would sell over twelve million of them.
Once a Farm is purchased, the expectant Ant Watcher sends away for his or her live ants, which can be shipped to the USA and Canada only, many apologies to the rest of the insect-loving world. Once the live cargo arrives, just fill the Farm with its special “Clean Tunnelling Sand” and watch the magic unfold.
Your new friends will tunnel, build bridges, move mountains, make caves and gratefully eat what you drop down into the Farm. And yes, a Manual-abiding Watcher (an instructional Manual is included) is just supposed to use the designated food that comes with the kit, but we’ve all conducted a few ant taste tests of our own.
We had to know, for instance, which the little guys liked better – marshmallow bits or the coloured sprinkles that were supposed to top Grandma’s birthday cake. And if you thought they moved at a pretty good clip with plain old water as refreshment, why not use the liquid dropper (also included) to treat them to a little sugar-high-inducing Kool-Aid – Now that’s activity!
The Farms are “break-resistant” and “escape-proof” – important adjectives for leery mums. They’re commonly billed as “educational toys” too (more persuasive language to throw at Mum) and sold in museums and teachers’ supply stores.
As the marketers at Uncle Milton’s declare, an ant watcher learns a great deal about the insect kingdom, about the value of teamwork and tenacity, about all that goes on beneath some of the dirt he has Big Wheeled over all his life without giving a second thought.
Over fifteen million Farms have been sold since Uncle Milton dreamed them up. There is an award-winning board game based on the Ant Farm, in which players navigate their ants through chamber after chamber and try to collect baby ants to bring back to the Queen.
A giant walk-through model was constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, and a twelve-foot Plexiglass farm for the 1965 World’s Fair in New York.
There is the regular green-framed, clear plastic Ant Farm classic, but there are Giant and Mini Farms, Ant Islands, and Antvilles, which are modular and can connect to other models if your spoiled little arthropods are demanding a lot of square footage.