Forget about buying pre-made souvenirs. In the future (and by “the future” we mean the 1950s), true souvenir connoisseurs would make their own, courtesy of a truly ingenious device with an unfortunate title: Mold-A-Rama.
The freakishly cool-looking Mold-A-Rama machine was invented in the mid-50s by a man (nay, a legend) named Tike Miller. The idea was this: injection moulding that you could watch from start to finish, winding up with a groovy plastic figurine, all for a bit of chump change.
A pipe shot liquid hot polyethylene up into the mould, while a second pipe blew a stream of air into the mould’s inside, keeping the melted plastic stuck to the moulded shape and leaving it hollow on the inside.
Antifreeze pumped through coloured hoses cooled the mould down, leaving it slightly warm and still funky-smelling as it dropped down the chute and into your loving arms.
All the while, gauges and coloured lights kept you up-to-date on what was going on inside the machine, and a light-up timer let you know how much longer you had to wait until that moulded gorilla was yours.
Sure, it was nice to have the cheap souvenir, but for most of us, at least half the fun was watching your mould be made. It was a memorable experience for at least three of the senses: the sight of the working machinery through its plastic bubble shell, the smell of the liquefied plastic, and the touch of your still-steaming new toy.
The sound was nothing to write home about, and tasting your plastic sculpture was purely optional . . .
Mold-A-Rama thrived at tourist hot spots like zoos, museums and theme parks. You were more than likely on vacation, after all, and as long as mum and dad were already shelling out major cash for ludicrously overpriced food, you might as well hit them up for a quarter to make your own plastic giraffe, submarine or Frankenstein’s Monster.
Literally dozens of Mold-A-Rama designs were pressed into service over the decades, from zoo animals to steam trains to Abraham Lincoln to the Hollywood Bowl.
The Mold-A-Rama brand changed hands over the years, and the novelty eventually wore off for many.
Despite the downturn, Mold-A-Rama machines can still be found in various locales (they now go by the name “Mold-A-Matic”), still demonstrating the wonders of injection-moulded plastic trinkets.