I was eleven years old the day I jumped for joy to find the ant family I had ordered in our mailbox. I and thousands of other inquisitive children were introduced to the tiny wonders of the ant world through Uncle Milton's classic Ant Farm brand of live insect habitats. In 1956, the Uncle Milton toy company began to market its iconic green Ant Farm to the American public. These habitats included clear plastic walls and flat pastoral scenery, as well as a mail-away coupon for a tube of industrious carpenter ants. Upon arrival, the ants would build their colony tunnels in the narrow spaces between the walls of their new "home." One had to hope, of course, that they didn't get loose in the larger home of their new owners.
While Uncle Milton may have marketed the Ant Farm, Frank Eugene Austin, a professor of electrical engineering at Dartmouth University from 1902 to 1921, is the man who actually invented the ant habitat. Professor Austin also assisted in taking the first medical x-ray in the United States, so it's appropriate that the man who helped us look deep within the body also gave us a view into the soil under our feet. He hit upon the idea of a glass ant house in 1921 to satisfy a young friend's curiosity about the hidden lives of insects. Professor Austin patented his Ant House in 1931, and, a few years later, hundreds of Ant Houses were being produced and shipped out of Hanover.
In the years since the Uncle Milton toy company purchased the Ant Farm idea, according to some estimates, more than twenty million ant habitats have been sold worldwide, and the company has expanded upon the original design. Now, the curious young naturalist in the family can buy an array of colorful habitats for other insects, too, as well as for tadpoles and frogs, caterpillars and butterflies, and hermit crabs and fish. These learning environments continue to keep scores of hopeful children eagerly waiting for the parcel delivery each day, ready for their introduction to the creepiest, crawliest, tiniest wonders of the natural world.
Copyright 2006© Angela Schlein
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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 14:49:19 EDT