History Of The Toy Ant Farm

Milton Levine may have died earlier this month at 97 years old, but he has left behind a legacy that will continue on for a long time. That legacy is the toy ant farm.

If you had asked Mr. Levine whether he invented the ant farm, he would have said no. It is a pastime that has been around for ages. His original ant homes were made when he was a kid, while visiting his uncle’s farm. It was there that he made mini-terrariums out of Mason jars, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Ant Farm was initially sold by mail and later through retailers nationwide. Each Ant Farm came with a coupon for a vial of ants that was mailed separately, since ants don’t have a long shelf life.

The ants themselves–red ants known as Pogonomyrmex californicus–were collected in the desert by workers armed with shovels and vacuums. At first they were paid a penny per ant, and the Christian Science Monitor reported in 1967 that the most productive of them made $3,000 weekly.

In 1965, Mr. Levine bought out Mr. Cossman, who went on to become a marketing consultant and author of “How I Made A Million In Mail Order.”

Mr. Levine renamed his company Uncle Milton Industries–he said it was “Uncle” Milton because people often asked him if he was in the ant business, where was the uncle?

“I love ants,” Mr. Levine told Smithsonian magazine in 1989. “They’re the greatest things on Earth. I’ve got three kids, and ants put them all through college. I never even step on ants, I tell you. Never.”

Photo by Brandi Sims

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