The Stretch Armstrong Production Process
Before we get into the Stretch Production Process,I want to mention that Stretch Armstrong made his Debut on the silver screen in a great movie called "Detroit Rock City" where Stretch was used as a weapon in an hillarious context.You will laugh your stretchy ass off when you see what happens with stretch Armstrong in this movie! A great Movie to rent at your local video store.BE sure to rent it,Now,onto the stretch production.........
The Stretch Figure Production Process
The Drawing board
The original idea of the Stretch Armstrong Figure as we all know by now was concieved by the great mind of James O. Kuhn. Once James Kuhn had the basic plan for the figure and it was accepted by Kenner as a go for production, Stretch Armstrong went to the drawing board. First the stretch figure had to be drawn out to exact specifications as blueprints by companies like HMS and Associates or other chosen Blue Print companies. These Drawings were done in pencil and then tranfered to a permanent Bluprint page.The Prints were drawn to exact specifications as required by the inventors and designers with frontal,side,rear and end views of the figure.The prints were then sent to tooling companies which used these Blue Prints to produce the Aluminum or Ceramic Mandrels or Molds.
The Mandrels and Molds
There were two types of casting methods used in the production of the stretch figure molds.Die Casting for Aluminum Mandrels and Investment Casting for the Ceramic or Porcelain Mandrels.Investment Casting produced a much more defined and detailed Mandrel than the Aluminum Die Casting did, hence you may notice some Stretch Figures were more defined than others.The specialty trade of Investment mold casting is especially unique as the first phase starts off as a wax sculpture of Stretch Armstrong carved to utter perfection.Investment casting uses a ceramic mold which is created around a wax replica of the desired shape of Stretch Armstrong.You can see some of these wax replicas on other pages on this site. Prior to casting,the ceramic mold is fired which increases the mold strength and burns the plastic or wax replica,melting and removing it from the mold.Finally Porcelain or Ceramic is poured into this interior mold creating the finished Mandrel. The exterior casing is then split apart to reveal the finished Mandrel that is inside.
Die Casting Aluminum Molds
The die casting process which produced the aluminum mandrels consists of injecting molten metal under high pressure into a steel mold called a die.The complete die casting cycle for one stretch figure casting was less than two-to-three minutes,making die casting the fastest technique available for mass producing the many mandrels that were in fact made.
The Big Dip!
These finished Mandrels were then mounted to a metal rail with one bolt through the rail into the top of the mandrels top flange.The Mandrels were then coated with pure Talc powder which is a coagulant or release agent which aided in the skinning of the latex off the mandrel.The Mandrels are then dipped into uncured latex to dwell for about 2 minutes as to form the desired skin thickness of 0.02 to 0.05 hundrethes of an inch thick.The dwell time determines the skin thickness, so this is a very carefully timed step in its production.The Mandrel was then removed from the latex and placed into a high temperature water solution and then into an oven at suitable temperatures usually about 225 degrees F which was cured the latex. The Mandrel once removed from the oven is then cooled. The skin is then stripped or peeled from the mandrel by hands wearing latex gloves to keep harmfull human oils and dirt from contacting the freshly cured latex.The skin is washed in hot water to remove residual Talc, coagulants and water soluable contaminents.The skin is then immersed in a delute agueous solution of chlorine bleach, Hydrochloric acid and other chlorine containing compounds.This treatment eliminates skin tackiness and producess an overall etching or dullness in the skin. Its obvious that this step may have sometimes been skipped as some stretches have a shiney skin.Finally,the skin is again rinsed in clean water and left to dry at normal temperatures. Once dried the skin is ready for filling.
The magical Goo!
An agueous sugar solution (corn syrup) was chosen as the filling compund for the figure.The following composition of cornsyrup solids were designed not to dissolve,decay or destroy the latex skin.The filling was comprised of 9% dextrose,10% meltose,12% meltriose and 69% higher sacchrides.Other compounds of white limestone, Glass with a particle size of 50 microns, gum resin, wood, flour, pine pitch mixture, limestone and talc were also added in amounts that helped increase the weight and volume which in turn also helped to reduce cost.The syrup solution was then heated in an evaporator to reduce the moisture content and increase the solid content up to 87.5% to 93%.leaving an average of only 10% moisture in the solution.I believe the accuracy of eliminating the mositure from the fluid has much relavence to how many years a strtech figure remains soft. The more moisture drawn the less time it will stay soft.The Syrup has a range viscosity of 48 to 49 degrees baume and a fluid viscosity of 5x10/3rd cenipoises at 70 degrees F. .This awsome recipe Kenner devised became the life blood of the Stretch Armstrong figure..
Its all in the Filling!
Now begins the filling process. Once the neck flange was produced using the approriate mold process,the hard plastic neck flange was incerted into the neck cavity of the latex figure and then secured with a rubber black O-Ring. This O ring was stretched around the plastic neck flange and the latex skin and released and seated into the channel around the neck flange.This created a seal which held in the syrup. I should point out that many of these figures formed leaks from this area because over time the black o ring would weaken and loose its holding strength. I also believe that Kenner may not have used a small enough ring which would also create a weak seal.The Syrup was injected through the neck cavity and specifically through the central passage of the neck flange member with Automatic Filling Equipment having the appropriate grippers that engaged the exterior contour of the neck flange member.The filling continued untill the entire skin or casing was filled including the neck portion above the flange and into the passage of the cylidrical member or flange.I am in the process of researching information to obtain more details on the actual machines that were used in this filling process.
Air out, Plug In
The sub assemblage is then moved to another station for applying the closure plug which has an ambular, axially extending flange fitting telescopically within the central passage of the cylinder member and adheared and permanently sealed with cement glue.The flange plug has a central extention with a small bleed hole through which air can be evacuated after mounting of the plug by applying slight pressure to the filled skin to raise the liquid level into the bleed hole. Once any excess air is released, the bleed hole is then sealed with more cement glue trapping the corn syrup inside the latex body. Again I would like to add that this air evacuation step was not done correctly by many employees as one can verify by the many Stretch Figures with large air bubbles in the feet, legs and chest. Some figures were infact filled perfectly to the max leaving little or no air inside.
Head meets Body!
Finally, the Blond Haired, square jawed strongmans head was ready to join its Musclebound body. The head having a soft interior ridge flange of its own was pressed onto the hard plastic neck flange.The head was made of a softer more flexable rubber than the hard plastic neck flange which allowed the head flange to stretch around and pass over the harder plastic neck flange ridges locking on the head. A square type neck flange was produced by Kenner which fixed the head in a premanent position once attatched, however, Mego Elastic figures were produced with a round neck flange allowing a 360 degree travel of the head in either direction.Stretch was then coated with a fine unscented talc powder to help preserve the skin. The Monsters and X Rays were coated with pure silicone oil.
The Coffin and that Great big Orangy Box!
The Stretch Armstrong Figure was now complete and placed in its most awsome pre molded styrofoam coffin that perfectly conformed to the stretch figures body. Stretch was covered with a conforming Styrofoam Lid and slid into the Great Orangy Red Box along with Instructions, Neck Tag and on ocassion Stretch Curad Bandaids. Placed into a brown cardboard shipping box in 4 count, the stretches were on their way to the store shelves where they sold like mad! Now, after 30 years, few still remain and the rest is History.