Do you remember Mold-a-Rama?

The Mold-a-Rama U-505 Submarine from Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

If you encountered one, you probably do. The Jetsons-esque space bubble over the mechanical press and the gauges. The carnival barker letters announcing “MOLD-A-RAMA” in primary colors with a demo figurine displayed as if on a pre-flatscreen TV in COLORFUL PLASTIC. (Yes, plastic as a selling point!) If your parents coughed up the coins (I date myself here), the smell of warm plastic pervaded the area as you waited. You watched the sides of the mold press together. If you were with me, you were probably at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and feeling more scientific than usual, so you may have watched the pressure gauges while I remained caught up in the mechanics. Unseen, injected molten plastic coated the mold and, after an interval, set. The pistons pulled the mold halves apart, revealing the newly made figurine in whatever color — a gray submarine, a green dinosaur, a black train engine — whatever was that machine’s specialty. (If you wanted something different, especially in the Mold-a-Rama heyday, another machine with a different something in a different color was mere steps away). Then a small spatula slid forward to unstick it from the surface, pushing it into receptacle with the tilt-up door where you’d fetch your warm prize.

Here’s a video of one in action, but I warn you: You’ll miss out on the unmistakable scent, the wayward chance of a drop of hot plastic dripping out the bottom onto your skin (you’ll notice in the video a sign’s been added to the machine warning of this possibility), and the supreme pleasure, when you get home, of picking the extraneous flecks of plastic from the holes in the bottom (until you go a step too far, ruin it, and it’s time again hunt down that Mold-a-Rama machine).

If you’d like a slightly deeper dive…

Orange Bean has a lovely feature on the history of these machines, and I recommend you check it out:

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