In the early 1900's, the town of Owatonna, Minnesota became the adopted home of Russian immigrant Albert Olkon. The well-known merchant had a young son, Ivan, whose fascination with the circus would endure throughout his lifetime. In those days, residents of Owatonna knew Ivan as the kid who conducted circus parades down Cedar street using a coaster wagon ridden by stuffed animals and Charlie Chaplin dolls. The parade would lead the way to the Olkon "Big Top", the barn behind the family's residence on School and Cedar Streets.
     In 1916, Albert sold his store and moved his family to St. Paul where he began a real estate and finance business. As the years passed, his son grew up to attend the University of Wisconsin, later entering the law school of the University of Minnesota. While a student, he formed a band called "Van's Toreadors", having long-since cast off the ethnicity of his given first name, preferring the more American-sounding "Van".
 
     Finding no passion in the legal profession, Van was drawn toward creative interests. His decision to leave law school was also motivated by the onset of the Depression in 1929. Faced with the collapse of his father's finance business and the need to earn a living, Van began working for a business that sold lithographs of ice cream sundaes to drug stores. It gave him the idea of making fully dimensional replica sundaes of wax for display in store windows. Using his mother's basement as a factory, he developed a formula for a non-melting wax of which he produced a varied line of realistic food display items. From real fruits and other foods he built plaster molds in which to cast the wax. His wife once baked thirty pumpkin pies until Van judged one perfect enough to become his master pie mold. In 1932, he established the Display Food Co., which became internationally known for its reproduction food items used in store windows and educational exhibits. Food companies like Borden and Purina were anxious to use the replica chickens, pineapples and cakes in their advertising, as well as ice cream that wouldn't melt under the lights in a photographic studio.
     Olkon then sought a more effective way of showcasing his food items and began creating animated displays with clowns, seals and bears, which became the basis of his
Van A. Olkon
 
theory that motion attracted attention and caused people to stop, look and buy. The gyrating circus characters became more popular than the ice cream sundaes that they balanced atop their noses.     
     In 1938, Van Olkon founded Animated Display Creators, Inc. at 11 South 6th St. in Minneapolis, later opening branch offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. ADC produced displays for department stores and manufacturing and food industries, with an emphasis on the dairy business. Christmas displays were also a popular part of the line. Among many others trademarks, ADC produced moving likenesses of Elsie the cow for Borden and feathered parrots for Poll Parrot Shoes. Wall Drug, the tourist attraction that still operates in South Dakota, featured a number of ADC displays, such as a mechanical pianist. Olkon spent most of his time traveling to promote the displays, eventually employing four salesmen, each equipped with his own trailer containing up to eight displays for demonstration. During ADC's span of operation, thousands of displays were produced, with as many as 100 employees working at the Minneapolis factory at its peak. Over the years, ADC products were exhibited all across the US and in eighteen foreign countries.