July 13, 2017

FARLEY'S FIGURE OF THE WEEK #157: Earth Invaders aka Miller Aliens by the J.H. Miller Company

The J.H. Miller Company of Quincy, Illinois began making individual plaster nativity figures in 1938. In 1950 the company also started to produce plaster toy soldiers. While experimenting with plastic (a so called "waxy" plastic, which was actually polyethylene) they came up with a blow mold injection system to produce the "Earth Invaders" line. More commonly known as "Miller Aliens" the series consisted of 18 characters - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Orion,Ceres, Milky Way, Big Dipper, North Star, Betelgeuse, 2 Eyed Moon Man, 3 Eyed Moon Man, Nebula M31 and the Purple People Eater. The original sculptors were Ruth Dudley (Ruth and her sister Gladys were known local artists) and Frank Dutt. Pictured here is the Mars Man who looks suspiciously like the hit cartoon  star Megamind

Even as kids we knew these aliens didn't last too long. The so called "waxy" plastic, which was actually polyethylene, would easily break, melt or totally disintegrate with the help of a good firecracker...

In the 1990's a man by the name of Julius Lopes recast the aliens in a resin and painted them in brighter colors. The new rubber silicon molds cost him $10,000 and he hired two museum conservators for the process. The set sold for $375 plus $10 shipping and were advertised in Toyshop magazine. 
A Miller Alien collection
The Purple People Eater
DYK?
John Miller, aka "Tike" and his wife Shirley started making individual plaster
nativity figures when, as the story goes, only sets were available and he just wanted one figure. Their figurines, cast and painted at home, became popular items in gift and novelty stores. This led to an expansion of the business and several moves to larger facilities with a crew of employees. The leading manufacturers of Nativity sets were in Germany and Japan, so when World War 2 broke out the J.H. Miller Company took over as the leader in the field.

"Tike" produced thousands of figurines a week, which gave him the capitol to open a large facility in Quincy, Illinois. In 1950 the company also started to produce plaster toy soldiers. While experimenting with plastic he came up with a blow mold injection system which he switched to. In the "Boomer" '50's he made a good move by producing jungle animals, dinosaurs and an array of holiday figures with his famous "waxy" plastic. Mr. Miller also worked with the ARA (Automatic Retailers of America) to come up with a factory in a case called the "Mold-A-Rama". For 25 cents you could watch this machine, the size of a jukebox, produce your own miniture animal. These were placed around the country in amusement parks and zoos. Amazing as it may seem, many are still turning out these souvenirs to this day.

The J.H.Miller company produced millions of small items, including the beloved aliens. Tike eventually moved on and invented other machines, including "The Golden Goat" which would turn your old aluminum cans into cash in hand. This was years before the "Green" trend. He was truly a guy with some good ideas and the smarts to carry them out.
Original Mold-A-Rama machine
Miller Plaster GIs circa 1950s
FYI...
In the 1990's a man by the name of Julius Lopes recast the aliens in a resin and painted them in brighter colors. The new rubber silicon molds cost him $10,000 and he hired two museum conservators for the process. The set sold for $375 plus $10 shipping and were advertised in Toyshop magazine. 

FYI...
Mold-A-Rama machines are still in use across the USA. Check out the Facebook page for Mold-A-Rama Inc. and their website for a list of locations with active original machines. 

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