Upper Valley Gift to the World—The Ant House


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Lee Michaelides

Necessity is the mother of invention, and for Frank Austin a retired professor of electrical engineering at Dartmouth, his need was pretty dire. The stock market crash of 1929 left him broke. Austin, a member of the Dartmouth team that produced the first medical X-ray in 1896 and the author of numerous papers and texts on electricity, needed money. He set out to work and invented the Austin Ant House.

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At the peak of production in the mid-1930s, 400 ant houses a day left Hanover. Austin’s economic success trickled down to the local economy. The professor paid Hanover kids $4 a quart for the estimated 3.6 million residents he needed for his ant communities. In addition to a basic $3.50 ant house, Austin marketed an Antville Fire House, Antville Coal Mine, an entire town called Ant Boro, and a top-of-the-line Ant Palace, which retailed for $50.

With fortune came fame. Profiles of Austin appeared in The New Yorker,  New York Herald Tribune, and Forbes. Ant-house fever eventually cooled, but Austin’s inventiveness did not. His design for a hurdle that was safer for runners was used in the 1936 Olympics. During World War ll he designed a rocket-propelled grenade and drew up plans for a bombproof airplane factory inside Mt. Washington. Austin eventually relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he ran a roadside museum until his death in 1964.

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