Milton M. Levine died last week at age 97. The name doesn’t ring a bell? Think “Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm”, that great invention of the late 50s that mesmerized millions of children and parents alike. Well, at least it mesmerized my brothers and me. We spent hours watching those little worker ants tromping back and forth through the sand.
I can’t remember who actually received the ant farm as a gift, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the boys. At $1.98 a shot, it was a relative bargain in terms of Christmas gifts. Since laws prevented queen ants crossing state lines, there was no reproduction. But hey, if they all died, you could order more ants…or dig them out of your back yard.
Levine, who says his “aha” moment struck when he “saw a mound of ants” at a family picnic and suggested they create an “antarium”, similar to the ones he made in jars as a kid. What came out of that idea was the original 6- by 9-inch plastic rectangle with sand. Ants arrived separately and the antkeeper would pop them into the sand-filled container.
Levine’s company even created an executive version later on — Executive Antropolis – but it was never as popular. Can’t imagine why, given the popularity of executive toys.
Fifty-five years later, Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms are thriving and still a bargain at $10.99 each. Levine never expected his novel idea to last so long, let alone put his three children through college. Not bad for a bunch of Pogonomyrmex californicus.
*Note to my husband and children: I’m turning 55 this year. Guess what I want for my birthday?