At the end of each school year, Bay View’s Korinthia Klein and Ian Weisser sit down with their children, Aden, Mona and Quinn, and identify something they would like to do before the end of the summer. In 2013, Klein said she wanted to collect all 13 figures available from the Mold-A-Rama machines at the Milwaukee County Zoo. (Quick refresher: Mold-a-Rama is a brand name for a Space Age-looking vending machine that makes on-the-spot, injection-molded plastic figurines. They were invented in Quincy, Illinois in the early 1960s.)
Klein and her family carried out the vision and, by the end of the summer, had a Baker’s Dozen of colorful figurines of zoo animals on their mantel.
“We had so much fun collecting them that my son Quinn, who was seven at the time, asked where else they have Mold-A-Rama machines, so we looked it up online and discovered a map that showed all of them are in the United States, primarily located in the Midwest and Florida,” says Klein. “He then said to me, ‘We could collect all the Mold-A-Rama (figurines). . . IN THE WORLD!’”
Klein and Weisser agreed it sounded like a fun family goal, and so they started to collect the figurines based on the Mold-A-Rama online map. They started with day trips to places in the Chicago area, then branched out farther to other Midwestern locations. In 2014 they did a whirlwind trip to Florida where they collected 60 in one haul.
“Our last big adventure was a drive a couple of years ago for spring break where we collected the figures at the zoo in San Antonio. The list of locations is always changing, so we never run out of places to go,” says Klein. “Mold-A-Rama collecting has taken us to so many interesting places! And when doing something with kids, it’s nice to have a goal built into an activity.”
Currently, the family has more than 180 Mold-A-Rama figurines on their mantel. They also own a machine that was once in the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee.
“When we stopped there to collect figures on our big family trip down South, we were really saddened by the state of those machines. They had been neglected for a very long time, and only two of nine machines were working,” says Klein. “I write a blog, and in that space I referred to Knoxville as the place Mold-A-Ramas go to die.”
Readers of Klein’s blog contacted the Knoxville Zoo and convinced them to sell the decrepit machines at a deep discount. Once the zoo agreed, Klein was contacted by the Mold-A-Rama “rescuers” and they asked if her family was interested in buying one of the machines.
“We said yes and chose the ‘Corythosaurus’ because first of all, dinosaurs are cool, and second, it sort of, kind of, sounds like my name (Korinthia),” says Klein. “So that’s fun.”
The machine arrived in August 2014, but had numerous issues, including that it leaked. So the family, who also run a violin shop in Bay View called Korinthian Violins, put the project on hold.
“This year we decided to make it our pandemic project, since even though the violin store is still busy, everything else has been canceled,” says Klein.
With the help of a Mold-A-Rama technician from Chicago and a local electrician they’ve been able to get the plastic dinosaur maker working again. The machine – which is no longer officially associated with Mold-A-Rama, Inc. – is in their garage and they occasionally wheel it out to a busy Bay View corner so the public can use it. (They will be out again in the spring of 2021.)
“The response in our neighborhood to finally wheeling out our machine for use was amazing. More than 100 people came out over two days to make dinosaurs,” says Klein. “We like being able to provide something fun for our neighborhood, and seeing how much little kids light up when they get to watch their own dinosaur get made is wonderful. Who doesn’t want to spark that kind of joy?”
The molds costs $2 and the machine accepts quarters only.
Mold-A-Rama machines have become less popular at museums and zoos over the years because most are more than 50 years old. Half of the machines are operated by the Mold-A-Rama company in Brookfield, Illinois. This company owns the machines in the Milwaukee County Zoo.
“Milwaukee Zoo has the only bat we’ve ever seen and also the only moose,” says Klein.
Other family favorites include a seahorse from the Seaquarium in Florida and mermaid molds from Weeki Wachee, also in Florida. The most common molds that they find everywhere are waving gorillas, the three monkeys in a “see no evil-hear no evil-speak no evil” pose, and pairs of giraffes. Someday, the musical family hopes to have their machine make little violins.
“Mold-A-Ramas are fun because they are just interesting enough to be impressive, but silly enough not to be taken too seriously,” says Klein. “We’re really excited to have one and hope to be good caretakers of it. Outside of the Milwaukee County Zoo, and possibly one other machine in The Dells, we have the only other mold-making machine in Wisconsin. That’s pretty special.”