Many boys harbor a fondness for bugs. Not only are they fun to play with, but there is also the realization of the sadistic havoc you can wreak with them. Every family member had a target on their back and if you played your cards right, you could evoke a scream of blood-curdling fear with just the right placement. Of course, like all of God’s creatures, the little critters wanted nothing more than to escape your clutches and, therefore, weren’t the most cooperative accomplices. If only someone could invent a bug that didn’t run away. Even better, if only you could manufacture an endless supply of inanimate insects all for yourself, imagine the terror you could induce. Then, in 1964, Mattel Toys (always plugged in to the secret desires of youth) came through by offering your very own bug factory. You know them as Creepy Crawlers.
The process was simple, yet exacting; Mattel provided every piece of equipment you would need to start amassing your collection of critters. There were tongs, a cooling pan, metal molds, a generous supply of goo, an assortment of wings and other buggy accessories, not to mention a real working oven. The oven was the key step in crawler manufacture. Take them out too early and the results were less than impressive. Leave them in the oven for too long and spend the rest of the day trying to remove the useless gunk from your molds. But if your time calculations were accurate, you had a new group of frightening friends – ready for their bath in the cooling pan and moments away from being placed on your little sister’s shoulder.
Of course, with pleasure can also come pain, and Creepy Crawlers had the ability to cause you some serious discomfort should you forget you were working with a real oven. Handle those tongs a little too lazily or forgo their use and grasp the metal molds from the oven with your bare hands and you got to relearn all the lessons on why you shouldn’t touch hot objects. Many a former tyke can vividly recall the battle scars received via the Creepy Crawlers oven. It didn’t really matter though – production certainly wasn’t going to be slowed due to a mere flesh wound. A couple of ice cubes wrapped in a paper towel and you were back in business.
There was a Creepy Crawler for every occasion, thanks to the variety of insect options available. You name it – spiders, ticks, beetles, cockroaches, bees, toads, caterpillars, even octopuses could be a part of your rubber arsenal. And if bugs weren’t your thing, never fear – there were plenty of other similar toys spawned from the Creepy Crawler technology. Create a few cars with the Custom Car Factory or tantalize the palette with a batch of Incredible Edibles. In later years, you could even churn out your own platoons of green army men, thanks to a tie in to the Pixar film, Toy Story. All of these were a part of the Mattel “Thingmaker” family and each was memorable in its own right.
But for all of these variations, none are remembered quite as fondly as the original Creepy Crawler. This was groundbreaking artificial insect technology at its finest and its legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of boys of all ages who had the opportunity to become a Master Crawler Maker in their youth.
Do you have fond memories of eliciting screams by placing a rubber insect in the kitchen sink, or perhaps your younger sibling’s bed? Do you still have any scars, courtesy of the Creepy Crawler oven? Share your memories of this toy with all of us in our comments section, as we fondly remember the fun we had with Creepy Crawlers.