Uncle Milton, King of the Anthill, Passes Away.

Uncle Milton
with some of his nieces & nephews

Milton Levine, better known as Uncle Milton, passed away January 16, 2011 at the age of 97. He died of natural causes at an assisted living facility.

Uncle Milton was the co-inventor of the Ant Farm and a legendary contributor to the toy industry and pop culture. He was the co-founder of the company that would become Uncle Milton Industries.

He founded the company in 1946 selling novelties and introduced the ant farm in 1956. The company has sold more than 20 million farms and it’s been recognized as one of the top 100 Toys of the Century by the Toy Industry Association.

Uncle Milton was at a Fourth of July picnic in 1956 and was watching some ants. He started thinking about collecting ants in a jar as a child and announced "We should make an antarium."

He and his brother-in-law, E. J. Cossman then invented the iconic plastic habitat with the little barnyard that everybody is familiar with. They hired collectors to obtain red harvester ants from the Mojave Desert and paid them a penny apiece. One supplier showed up at Milton’s office with a jar of ants and when he couldn’t get paid the amount he wanted, he opened the jar onto his desk, releasing ants all over the office.

They were faced with some unique challenges when they began their business. The first was setting up the two-stage sale process so that customers could receive their live ants. They also needed to get permission from each state to ship live ants. You still can’t get them in Hawaii, where they are considered an infestation danger (you have to find your own).

The ant farm hasn’t changed much over the years. They had to use a different glue when they discovered that it was toxic to some ants. And in recent years they have replaced the sand that they used to use with volcanic ash, which makes it easier to watch the ants.

Uncle Milton has said that he thought the ant farm would sell for about two years and he sometimes joked that the ants’ most amazing feat was putting his three children through college. Two of those children, Steve and Ellen have been actively involved in Uncle Milton Industries since Milton’s retirement. The company now sells a wide range of products.

Goodbye Uncle Milton, we’ll miss you.

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