Monday, February 07, 2011

Milton M. Levine, Inventor of Ant Farm, Dies at 97

Milton Levine's Eureka moment came in 1956, when he spotted a mound of ants during a Fourth of July picnic at his sister's poolside in Southern California.
 
Recalling how as a boy he had collected ants in jars at his uncle's farm in Pennsylvania, he told his brother-in-law and business partner, E. J. Cossman, "We should make an antarium."
 
The resulting product — Uncle Milton's Ant Farm — has been a staple in children's bedrooms ever since. It offers a bucolic panorama of a farmhouse beside a winding path to a barn and windmill above a warren of ant tunnels, all encased in plastic. More than 20 million have been sold.
 
Mr. Levine died Jan. 16 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., his son, Steven, said. He was 97.
 
Selling for $1.98, the original 6-by-9-inch ant farm was an immediate hit, soon selling thousands a week by mail order to children persuaded by commercials on after-school television shows. They were entranced by the idea of staring at Pogonomyrmex californicus — red ants from California — digging those tunnels in boxed-in sand.
 
But the plastic cases, which two years later included a 10-by-15-inch version, arrived uninhabited. A coupon had to be mailed back to the company so that a vial containing 25 worker ants could arrive several weeks later. Because federal law prohibited shipments of queen ants across state lines, no mating ensued on the farms, so another vial of ants had to be ordered within several months — unless the owner dug some up outside.
 
For maturing ant farmers, the company later introduced "Executive Antropolis," a mahogany-framed farm-cum-desk-set with a black and gold Manhattan skyline. It never sold as well as the original models.
 
Still, Mr. Levine once said of his company's success: "Most novelties, if they last one season, it's a lot. If they last two seasons, it's a phenomenon. To last 35 years is unheard of." That was in 1991.
 
Today, the original-size ant farm sells for $10.99, something of a bargain in the world of children's toys.
 
 
full @ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/business/30levine.html

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