The blow mold industry is starting to return and the interest in the inflatable market is going the way the blow molds did in the early 90’s. Quality of the new inflatables is declining and materials are getting thinner and cheaper. Blow mold production is coming back with the return of Union Cado and the returned interest from Prime Plastics. Collectors are finding that blow molds are cheaper to buy, last longer and a joy to trade with friends.
I acquired my interested in blow molds in the mid 1960’s as I was growing up and would travel around with my parents and see them displayed in neighbors yards. I always knew that when I could afford to buy them I would have them in my display. I bought my first three characters in 1989 from Kmart and now have over 500 in my display and another 150 new and used ones I trade with others in our area.
The fun of collecting is the thrill of acquiring that next illusive blow mold for your collection. I have two traditions I try to follow each year: always change the layout of our display and hold the annual Pacific NW holiday decoration and blow mold swap meet at my house. Last year we started having classes on identifying the correct manufacture, dates of manufacture, conducting repairs and anchoring down your display. This year I went to Biloxi, Mississippi for Christmas Expo to teach two classes on blow molds: blow molding 101 – history of the blow molds and another class on blow mold preservation and repairs. The 2014 Christmas Expo event was great, hats off to the promoters and planners.
Some Blow Mold History
Let’s step back in time and look at the blow mold manufacturing history. In 1937 Enoch Fergren and William Kopitke developed the first blow mold machine which was designed using the same principles used for blowing glass Christmas ornaments. In 1938 they sold the license and machine to the Hartford Empire Company who perfected the process and started mass producing plastic bottles in 1939. (No connection has ever been found to tie the Empire Blow Mold Co. to the Hartford Empire Co.) The first use of the blow mold process for Christmas character manufacture started in 1962 by Beco. The blow mold process was cheaper to perform because less material had to be trimmed from the finished product and could be re-used. The total process was faster than the old injection molding process and the equipment was easier to clean after use. It also helped that plastic was cheaper to purchase than the polymers that were used in the earlier injection molding processes used by Heller, Mold Craft and Artistic. When Heller Industries burned to the ground in 1966 it opened the doors for the blow molding industry to take off.
Beco produced the first Christmas blow molds in Chicago, Illinois in 1962 and started the blow mold craze that’s still alive today. The first blow mold pictures were published in the 1962 Sears Christmas catalog shown on the next four pages. In November of 1965 Beco sold out to MSL Industries which continued to use the Beco name till July 1968 when they changed to MSL Industries and creating new boxes. In 1970 MSL sold out to General Foam that started the dominance of the General Foam Company.
In 1963 Poloron started Manufacturing Blow Mold characters in New Rochelle, New York and by 1988 they had sold out to Holiday Innovations which continued manufacturing Poloron Characters. Holiday Innovations never produced any new molds of their own and by 1991 the quality control at Holiday Innovations had become so bad they ended up selling out to Empire – Carolina Enterprises the next year. Empire produced molds and characters from 1992 till 2000 when once again another manufacturer sold out to General Foam.
NOMA International manufactured blow molds in Glenview, Illinois starting in the early 1960’s and is still selling Christmas blow molds under the NOMA name but is no longer manufacturing them.
Union blow mold products were manufactured in Leominster, Massachusetts from 1967 through 2006 when they sold out to Faster Forms which never went into production with any characters. In a letter Faster Forms stated they destroyed most of the Union molds due to the boom in the inflatable market and low demand for blow mold characters. In 2012 Union CADO started up manufacturing some characters under their own name.
Dapol Co. manufactured blow molds in Worchester, Massachusetts from 1963 to 1977 when they shut down manufacturing. Some of the molds again went to General Foam.
Empire-Carolina Enterprises Inc. manufactured blow molds in Tarboro, NC from the mid 1960s to 2000, went bankrupt and the molds again were sold to General Foam.
General Foam manufactured blow molds in Norfolk, Virginia from 1992 to the present. It’s unknown how many of the other manufacturer’s molds they still have but they have acquired molds from Beco, Poloron, Empire, Santa’s Best and some of the Dapol molds.
Drainage manufactured blow molds in Appleton, Wisconsin from 1973 to 2012 and it’s unknown where the old molds ended up.
Sun Hill manufactured blow molds in Hong Kong and Sanford, Connecticut from 1981 to 1999. The current mold location is unknown.
TPI – Tucker Plastics Inc. manufactured blow Molds in Coaticook, Quebec, Canada from 1987 to 2004 when they sold out to Farley Technologies. In 2005 Farley Technologies filed for bankruptcy and in 2007 Farley International Technologies Inc. recovered the molds from the bank. Farley International Technologies sold the molds to Nu-Del Manufacturing in May, 2008. Neither Farley nor Nu-del has ever produced any of the TPI characters.
Grand Venture manufactured blow molds in Washington, Pennsylvania from 1997 to 2005 and sold out to Prime Plastics, which is currently manufacturing a few of the Christmas, Halloween and Easter Characters.
Santa’s Best manufactured blow molds in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Mexico from 1987 to 2003 when they closed. Most of the molds were sold to General Foam except for the Warner Brothers molds. It’s thought that General Foam has the Warner Brother molds also but they won’t confirm that.
Holiday Innovations manufactured characters in Edison, New York from 1988 to 1991 when they closed due to poor quality. Again, the molds were sold to General Foam.
Mac Plastics and Falcon Plastics were both known to have manufactured blow mold characters for Sun Hill, TPI and Grand Venture.
Blow Molds in 2014
Today the popularity of blow molds is on its way back with many collectable and valuable molds being sought after.
- Poloron/Holiday innovations Mechanical Santa
- Poloron/Holiday Innovations Mechanical Snowman
- Poloron Santa in Chimney
- Poloron Mechanical Santa in the Sleigh
- Beco Large Lamp posts
- Union Three Stooges
- Large Beco/Empire Giant Ornaments
- Poloron/Holiday/Innovations/NOMA/Empire/TPI Large Carolers
- Santa’s Best Characters
Where to find more information
Here are my favorite wesbites to gather Information on blow molds
- Blow mold nation on Facebook
- Blow Mold Excitement
Can you tell I know a lot about Christmas blow molds? Thanks to Mel and Gay Fischer and all the blow mold enthusiasts for help in gathering this information, without their help this would not have been possible.
Went to be part of the excitement? Purchase some blow molds this year for Christmas, get your family to help place them in just the right spot and start your own family traditions and lifelong memories. Blow molds are fun to collect, relatively inexpensive and great to display. Now if only they could be a little less scary in the storage shed when you first turn on the lights and you see all these really big eyes staring back at you.
This article was included in the September 2014 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Charles Enos