If you’ve ever melted a crayon, you know the smell of a Mold-A-Rama figurine. Mold-A-Rama—the 1950s vending machines made in Lyons—are the apple of many kitsch-collectors’ eyes. To make a $2 figurine, hot plastic is shot into a metal mold and then blasted with air to shape it. After a minute, the warm, tiny treasure—a Lincoln bust or T. rex—drops to the machine’s bottom. Want in on the nostalgia? Here’s where to find Mold-A-Rama¬ machines in Chicago. And save your figurine—Paul Bunyan goes for more than $200 on Ebay.
• Outside the entrance of Australia House: pink kangaroo
• Nature Stage: gray elephant and white polar bear
• Tropic World: black gorilla at the exit
• Living Coast: white penguin
• The Swamp: green alligator
• At the entrance to the underwater viewing area of Seven Seas: blue dolphin and orange lion
• Great Bear Wilderness: brown eagle and brown bear
• Stingray Bay gift shop: red stingray
• In the basement by photo booths: blue triceratops and pink T. rex
• In the basement near the stairs: orange stegosaurus and green brontosaurus
Lincoln Park Zoo
• Main Barn, Farm-in-the-Zoo: blue cow
• Primate House: green gorilla
Museum of Science and Industry
• Henry Crown Space Center: white space shuttle
• Outside the entrance of U-505 exhibit: gray U-505 submarine
• Outside the entrance of the “Farm Tech” exhibit: green tractor
• In the back of the Transportation Gallery: black steam engine
Kirby Kerr, co-owner of Rotofugi, is rehabbing an old Mold-A-Rama machine for the store. It will be available for use when the store opens at its new location (2780 N Lincoln Ave) in August. The “Roto-a-Matic” will feature molds made by designer toy artists.
5 minutes with…
Paul Jones, business manager at the William A. Jones Company, which makes Mold-A-Rama products
If Mold-A-Rama is a family business, do you, your brother and your 74-year-old dad maintain all the old machines?
Usually we’re out in the field until around lunchtime and then we have a warehouse where we work on and rebuild machines. They haven’t made new Mold-A-Rama machines since ’64.
Are there new molds?
It’s kind of a lost art. For the Henry Ford Museum, we had a Wienermobile made for them and a Rosa Parks bus. An artist makes a statue and then you cast off of that.
Why do you think Mold-A-Rama has stood the test of time?
We try to stay as inexpensive as possible. But also, there’s just something about the process of watching it being made. A lot of people love the smell of the hot plastic when it comes out.
What gives it that smell?
It’s very low on the plastic scale—it’s almost a wax. The melting temperature is very low. The machines were originally made to use wax, and they converted to plastics in the late ’50s or early ’60s.
What’s the weirdest figurine you’ve made?
The Lincoln Park Zoo wanted a green gorilla and blue cow. So, we jokingly call them the Chicago Blues (like the music) cow and the Irish gorilla.