Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Studebaker & the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Reporting the true depth of any business or industry can be difficult.  The very nature of large corporations and their focus on commercial success can sometimes overshadow the human element inside.  At the end of the day, though, it’s always people that make the difference in any organization.  People innovate, people excel, people challenge, and people stand in the gap. 

Such was the case when, almost eleven decades ago, the city of San Francisco was violently torn apart; thrust into the headlines as it reeled from the pulverizing power of a massive earthquake and fire.  The first few hours of April 18, 1906 were relatively quiet but just before dawn, the city and everyone inside were turned upside down.  It's estimated that thousands of visitors and residents perished as the earthquake was joined by uncontrollable fires ravaging the remaining rubble. 

While the city was almost totally shattered, the quake was not limited to the immediate area.  It’s tentacles of death and destruction also wreaked havoc throughout a good portion of the state.  Below is an article published mere weeks after the April quake.  As a tribute to the character of the American West and the people of our great nation, it seems appropriate to share this account.  With so many heart-wrenching stories in the news these days, this May 1906 report in “The Carriage Monthly” is a reminder of the power of the human spirit and the resolve of the American people.

Charles Author Carlisle, of the Studebaker Bros. Mfg. Co., writing concerning the recent earthquake and fire in San Francisco, says:

“Immediately upon receipt of the news of the earthquake we sent our sales manager, L.F. Waver, who was previously our manager at San Francisco, to Sacramento, Cal., and we directed our field managers in the various sections of California to go at once to the city of San Francisco, and seek out our people there and do everything possible to relieve suffering and distress.  It was several days before we got any definite information from our San Francisco manager, C. N. Weaver, and then the glad report came to us that he and his family and all members of our own force, which numbered considerable, were safe, although deprived of their homes and comforts of living.  The distress locally, however, was intense, and our managers called for additional funds, asking us to send $5,000 in currency overland by special messenger, which we did, and succeeded in reaching them in time to be of continued service.

It is hard to adequately appreciate the distress and suffering of those who were inside of the city, but they were brave and generous to one another, even in their great distress – big-hearted and self-sacrificing, and this is one of the beautiful tributes to which the American people have so generously responded.

We have been inspired by the undaunted spirit of the Californian himself, and have laid plans for re-establishing ourselves in San Francisco and of co-operating in the desire and effort to rebuild the city.  As stated above, temporary headquarters have already been established with our branch agency at Sacramento, where we will be able to look after our California trade and take care of the local business that will come to us.”

Even though the article above was shared with the transportation industry over a century ago, the front-line report still feels fresh with sentiment.  Perhaps it’s because today's readers are so eerily familiar with natural disasters that this story is equally relatable today.  

Account after period account shows that the city’s rebuilding process began immediately.  Thousands upon thousands of horses, people, and wood-wheeled vehicles dug in, moving tons of rubble and replacing devastation with dreams. The city came back stronger and even more vibrant than before.  It’s an overwhelming reminder of the purest history of America; a melting pot of people, holding on to hope and repeatedly choosing to see opportunity over obstacles.    

This 1907 catalog contains a number of early work vehicles that were likely used in the cleanup of the San Francisco quake.  In fact, the company is reported to have built twice as many dump wagons in 1906 than 1905.  Much of that business undoubtedly came from California.

For some readers, this blog may seem to be a departure from the type of stories we’ve shared in the past.  In reality, I think the topic may be among the most relevant we’ve ever posted.  Why?  Because it goes to the heart of what gives any brand lasting desirability.  It highlights the point that the reputation of any business ultimately goes beyond the course of competition to the personality, care, and commitment of its people. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Remember, if you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, you can easily do so by typing in your address in the “Follow By Email” section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  So, don’t forget to verify.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Giant Western Freight Wagon Built By M.P. Henderson

Some things are hard to forget.  To that point, almost twenty years ago, I purchased a book by Don Berkebile entitled, Horse-Drawn Commercial Vehicles.  With over 250 images packed into 150 pages or so, the book is chock full of details related to America’s first and largest transportation industry.  In fact, the diversity of vehicle types shown on almost every page provides a great overview of that era, making it a must-have reference for any enthusiast’s library.

Beyond those accolades, one of the things that has always struck me about this book is a photograph it holds of a giant western freight wagon.  From the first time I saw it, I’ve never forgotten the massive scale of the piece.  To me, it’s a reminder of just how big the challenges and opportunities were on America’s western frontier. 

The wagon was handcrafted in 1899 by legendary wagon and coach maker, M.P. Henderson of Stockton, California.  It was ordered by C.D. Lane, a millionaire mine owner and, at the time of its completion, was billed as the largest wagon in the world.  Looking at how it dwarfs those in the photo, the wagon was clearly built to haul massive loads.  In another way of thinking, it was also crafted to make a statement. Detailed striping, custom hardware, and the host of folks gathered in the photo all reinforce the point that this was far from a run-of-the-mill freighter.  Ultimately, it was created to promote and service the Fortuna Mine – one of the most prosperous and productive gold mines in Arizona at the time.  The proprietor, Charles D. Lane, also owned the famed “Utica Mine” at Angels Camp, California and the “Wild Goose” in Nome, Alaska.

This photo from the Wheels That Won The West® Archives shows the massive Fortuna freight wagon.  It was built in the shops of M.P. Henderson & Son in Stockton, California.

Mr. Berkebile includes a brief description of the vehicle in his book.  He credited an 1899 issue of The Carriage Monthly for the details.  Since the original write-up on the wagon actually included a bit more information than the book, we thought it would be interesting to highlight some of that in today’s blog.  Below is a portion of that article taken from original materials in our Archives...

“M.P. Henderson & Son, Stockton, Cal., have just completed the largest wagon that ever was built.  The height from the ground to the top of the seat is 13 ½ feet.  The seat had to be removed before it could be shipped on the railway.  The hubs are 16 x 20 inches, and the spokes 4 5/8 inches.  The width of the tire is 6 inches, the depth of the rim 4 ½ inches, and the thickness of the tire 1 inch.  The front wheels are 5 feet in diameter, and the rear wheels are 8 feet.  The most notable feature of the wagon is these rear wheels.  The idea of having such enormous wheels is that the wagon will roll easier on the sandy roads of that country.  The wagon bed is 20 feet long, and has a regular width of 3 feet 8 inches.  It is 5 feet high inside.  The axles are 3 ¼ inches.  The complete wagon weighs 6,515 pounds, and has a carrying capacity of twelve tons.  It measures 33 feet from tip of the pole to the back of the bed, and required for shipment the longest railroad flat car in use...” 

Some time back, I was cataloging a few early articles in our Archives and came across yet another – even earlier – written account covering the same set of wheels.  To the best of my knowledge, this discovery marks the first time this earlier report has been pointed out to modern audiences.  The significance of the find lies in both the affirmation of details in the later piece identified by Don Berkebile as well as the uncovering of previously unknown information.  Both reports include similar statements but, the earlier piece also shares that the vehicle was to be pulled by 18-20 draft animals.

This close-up image reinforces the impressive scale of the Fortuna freight wagon.

Additional features of the massive wagon included steel standards, double spoke rivets, 14 spokes on the front wheels and 16 on the rear, box brakes, heavy rub irons, and an adjustable brake rod.  In some ways, the giant wagon looks a little like an overgrown California rack bed.  Centering the bed on the lowermost sill, the insignia of M.P. Henderson & Son identifies the firm as the maker.  Just above the Henderson name is a rarity for freight wagons – a hand painted scene featuring what looks to be a western landscape.  Reminiscent of still life paintings embellishing the doors of period Concord stagecoaches, the extravagant painting on this freight wagon was clearly meant to reflect the wealth being uncovered in the Fortuna mine; Hence, the christened name lettered in the top center of the vehicle box – La Fortuna. 

Further capturing the lucrative nature of the mining operation, an 1896 report showed that within a four month period, 6,300 tons of ore had been extracted from the Fortuna mine with the resulting gold for the brief period valued at almost a quarter million dollars.  In another report, the August 16, 1900 issue (p.9) of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper indicates that the mine was still running strong at that time, producing $140,000/month. 

Clearly, the wagon was part of a remarkable enterprise.  Looking at the century-plus-old photo, it’s easy to be impressed by the size of the vehicle.  Just as engaging, though, is the thought of what may have happened to this particular wonder of the west.  With so much attention given to its debut, it’s tough to think that such a magnificent icon has likely been lost to time.  Fortunately, we have the written reports and the photo above to remind us of some very ‘big’ moments in western transportation history.  Have a great week!

By the way, if you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above.  You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board.  Once that's done, you'll receive an email every time we update the blog.  Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We appreciate your continued feedback and look forward to sharing even more wooden vehicle info in the coming weeks. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What’s The Rub? Protecting Wagons/Western Vehicles

No matter where you look on an old horse drawn wagon or western vehicle, you’re likely to see some type of metal attached nearby.  While each piece of iron and steel can have different – and even multiple purposes – the most common function of many forged and hardened parts is that of protection...  Protection against excessive wear and tear as well as a safeguard against unnecessary wood stress and fatigue.  Ultimately, this ‘body armor’ was engineered to deliver greater durability and less maintenance issues.
These and other technologies inside an old wooden vehicle are just part of the intrigue any early set of wheels can hold.  With that in mind, below are a few typical areas of protection as they were addressed by numerous wagon builders.  If you look close at virtually any 19th or early 20th century piece, you can often see even more areas where the maker placed fortifications.

Rub irons – These are the cast metal (and sometimes angle iron) pieces bolted or riveted to the lower box sides behind the front wheels.  The primary purpose of these metal plates was to protect the box from damage when the wheels turned too tight.  Every rub iron was expected to eventually wear out.  As a result, they were designed to be easily removed, reused, and replaced.

Rub irons were crafted in a number of different forms for multiple purposes.

Tongue irons – The tongue could receive considerable damage from numerous sources including repetitive rubbing, chipping, and gouging from the action of the doubletree, singletrees, draft animals, and fifth chains.  As a result, it’s not uncommon to see extensive ironing applied to appropriate areas on the tongue.
Box chafe irons These flat metal plates were sandwiched between the bolster stakes and the box sides to help prevent undue chafing on the box by the standards.

Not all wagon makers used chafe irons on the box but many builders did include a myriad of similar quality details throughout the designs.

Box top irons – The thinner top edges (and sometimes the ends) of a wagon’s sideboards and end gates were often fitted with these narrow metal strips.  The objective was to reduce or eliminate unnecessary board fractures and wear as materials were loaded, unloaded, and positioned on top of the boards.  
Reach boxes – Fitted between the rear axle and bolster, many makers utilized a rectangular frame of either cast iron or fabricated sheet iron around the reach.  The purpose was to help prevent the reach from wearing against the axle and bolster.

By covering the tops of sideboards and end gates with metal strips, wagon boxes were protected from unnecessary damage during normal use.

Reach boxes were designed to help preserve the structural integrity of the reach, rear bolster, and rear axle in a wagon gear.

Encased hubs Wooden hubs encased in metal were a common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  While only a few farm wagon builders are known to have used similar designs, there were numerous manufacturers of lighter vehicles that employed metal clad wooden hubs.
Clouts – Prior to, and sometimes after, the invention of the thimble skein, the ends of wagon axles were fitted with ‘clouts.’  These metal plates were attached to the top and bottom of each axle end to provide easier draft while also protecting the wooden axle from excessive wear. 
Sand board and bolster plates – These pieces were engineered to take a significant amount of punishment and were typically thicker than most other metal on a wagon.  They were configured in a variety of ways.  Some were heavy flat bars while others had a cup and saucer design.  Still others looked more like a fifth wheel, offering greater protection for the king bolt.
Sway bar, reach, & slider irons – In many dead axle wagons, there are multiple parts of the front hound that are designed to move back and forth over the reach as the front wheels turn.  Portions of wooden pieces in these areas are typically plated with metal to help preserve the structural integrity of the reach and hound sections.

The forward hounds of a wagon were often clad with metal strips as shown above.  This extra 'ironing' helped guard against excessive wear and tear on the wood.

Reach plates – Some reach plates are designed with additional iron framework to prevent the rear hounds from rubbing and wearing against the reach.

As I mentioned in the opening to this blog, there are numerous other areas of early western vehicles that received “ironing” to protect, strengthen, and underscore the quality of a particular piece.  Clearly, the blacksmith shops had plenty to keep them busy in the production of these vehicles.  From the mountains, rivers, and plains to the deserts, valleys, forests, and fields, period western transports needed protection.  In fact, from the time they left the shop of a specific maker, these heavier wheels were regularly subjected to torturous terrain, burdensome cargo, and extensive exposure to the raw elements of the outdoors.  By the very nature of their functions, they were expected to take a beating and keep rolling with minimal maintenance.  It was a tall order and many did it surprisingly well.

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Originality in Early Western Vehicles

You might want to grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell as this week’s blog is a bit longer than the norm.  It relates to a subject important to all stewards of early vehicles, so I’ve given you a bit more fodder to chew on.  There’s a lot more that can be shared on this subject but, this blog should provide a good start…
One of the things I enjoy doing is evaluating early western vehicles.  Whether you realize it or not, every time you view a set of wheels, you’re also making similar assessments.  As enthusiasts, we all look at different designs, forming conclusions as to their intrigue and desirability.     
So, anytime we’re reviewing one of these wooden workhorses, there are a number of basic questions that can come to mind. Thoughts like... How old is it?  Who made it?  Where was it used?  What was it used for?  Is anything broken, weakened, damaged, or missing?  And, just as critical for collectors – How ‘original’ is it?  Each of these questions can be helpful when determining a vehicle’s provenance, personality, and price point. 
From my experience, some of the most common references to wooden vehicles seem bent on attaching extreme originality to the piece.  In fact, I believe the catchphrase, “All-Original,” is so frequently misapplied that it often carries only a partial vein of truth.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love all-original vehicles and there are some nice surviving examples.  However, it’s a tough description to live up to and many simply do not.  The reason for that is that most extant, wood-wheeled western vehicles are going to be 75 years or more in age.  A lot has likely happened to a vehicle that’s been around for at least three-quarters of a century and many of those occurrences can leave the old transport in far less than ‘all-original’ condition.  Numerous parts of the whole are regularly lost, replaced, or have deteriorated to the point they are no longer salvageable.
It should be noted that if a vehicle is deemed to be less than ‘all-original,’ that does not necessarily mean that it has suffered any loss in resale value, desirability, or importance.  Truth is, early vehicle values and historical significance are contingent on a host of qualifications and any tendency to place unbounded importance on a single trait can lead to missed opportunities as well as misunderstandings. 
Clearly, there are different levels (amounts) of originality in most early vehicles we see.  For example, a piece may be fortunate to still contain all of its original components but it may have been repainted at some point.  Even if this was done 80 years ago by the farmer using the wagon, the term ‘all-original’ cannot legitimately be applied to a vehicle carrying a finish that was applied well after its initial production.  Terms such as ‘authentic,’ ‘period correct,’ or even ‘historically accurate’ might be more suitable – depending on the piece and its makeup. 

The term, “All-Original,” tends to infer that the vehicle is still comprised of the same pieces that came from the factory/shop that built it or the retailer that initially sold it.  To that point, I regularly receive questions asking if wagon running gears and boxes could have been mixed from the start of their lives together.  In other words, can a piece be ‘original’ if it is made up of one brand of running gear mated to a box from a different brand?  Yes, this did happen and, yes, I have evidence of it occurring.  There are multiple ways that it took place.  In one scenario, a dealer may have put different pieces together and sold it to a consumer not particularly swayed by one brand over another – they just needed a good box and gear.  Many early dealers sold multiple brands of wagons, making this a very understandable occurrence.  In another situation, a customer may have had a good box and needed a replacement gear (or vice versa).  It reminds me of the time our washing machine went out.  The dryer was still good so we kept it but when we went to buy a new washer, we ended up getting a different brand than what had previously accompanied the washer (Economics sometimes win out over brand consistency).  Most can relate to an end user not spending unnecessary monies just to keep things perfectly aligned by brand.  In both cases I've mentioned, the collective grouping is represented as it was acquired by the consumer. 
I’ll extend a friendly word of advice here… The occasional mixing of brands by some in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is is not a license for modern-day collectors to mismatch pieces willy-nilly.  Likewise, I would counsel strong caution to anyone attempting to elevate vehicle perceptions and values by misrepresenting pieces in a similar fashion.  There are numerous ways to confirm originality of multi-brand parts making up a single vehicle.  Fraud can always be spotted by those who know what to look for and, as part of our Authentication Services, I have pointed out such circumstances to clients in the past.
Normal wear and tear (including paint fading & loss) is typically part of a vehicle’s originality but some additions and deletions are not.  For example… while a crack in the original wood floor is part of the wagon’s use, age, and character, a replaced floor is just that – a replacement.  Again, it is not necessarily a negative element for the wagon.  It merely requires us to be mindful of how we refer to the piece.  Likewise, a wagon is not “all-original” if it has had its wheels cut down, end gates replaced, or even had something as small as new bow staples recently installed.  Again, these points are not meant to declare something as a negative but rather cause us to think twice about how we use and think of the terms such as ‘all-original.’ 
As a collector, I typically like a piece to be as original as possible but I certainly won’t shy away from an exceptional piece just because it has had a few repairs or is missing some of its parts.  In fact, if you’re looking for a piece that is 100% perfect, you will likely grow gray-headed and toothless waiting for what may be the fulfillment of unrealistic and unwarranted expectations.   
Ultimately, there are a number of considerations that go into any evaluation focused on originality levels of a particular vehicle.  Start to finish, it’s not a process that should be taken lightly or approached with personal agendas. 

Coming Soon... We'll look at early vehicle "Authenticity" and examine how it relates to "Originality".  Have a great week! 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Old Wagons Can Look The Same

Over the years, I’ve regularly shared the competitive nature of America’s early wagon builders.  The more I’ve researched this industry, the more amazed I am that the cut-throat business tactics and dominant reputations of many have rarely been reported.  Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, countless firms went head to head, challenging each other with price wars, races for single and mass market dominance, control of raw materials, employment benefits, and innovative engineering.  Some even mimicked paint graphics and fabrication styles of competitors in order to sway buyers.  From the forest to the factory, a lot of stories from this part of the American West can be just as wild as those from an all-night saloon in a frontier mining town. 

With tens of thousands of makers and a known history for some to simulate the construction traits of others, it’s inevitable I suppose that modern day efforts to identify wagon brands can hit a snag from time to time.  As a result, I’ve regularly cautioned against using only one or two points to assume an identification is accurate.  To illustrate that counsel a bit more this week, I thought I’d open up our files and show yet another example of how confusing and problematic evaluations can become when we focus on just one notable characteristic.

By all accounts, T.G. Mandt (Stoughton, Wisconsin) was one of America’s most prominent wagon makers.  His innovative genius is recorded in numerous patents granted for wagons and sleighs/sleds.  Because the Mandt brand was a dominant and high-profile company, many of today’s early vehicle enthusiasts will quickly recognize the hollow-tubed bolster stake design that Mr. Mandt created in the late 1800’s.  What most don’t know, however, is that there was another patent granted to yet another company for an extremely similar design. 

Below are illustrations from the two (2) different patents.  Can you pick out the original design conceived and manufactured by T.G. Mandt?  While some might be fortunate to choose the correct Mandt design here, looking at a single example on a wagon without paint would likely be a bit more tricky.  

Can you guess which of these early illustrations belong to the patent awarded to legendary wagon builder, T. G. Mandt?

Both concepts are so alike in form, feel, and function that, unless a person is well aware of the alternative design, it’s tempting to associate each as being the same T.G. Mandt piece.  Moral of the story?  Caveat Emptor... collectors, buyers, and those quick-to-judge will do well to take note.  There are countless mirrors of innovations and design practices just waiting to be misread.  As with any topic, one way to help avoid misconceptions is to devote oneself to continued growth and experience on the subject. 

Ultimately, period wagons are made from hundreds of parts.  Each segment of the whole has a story to tell related to identity, originality, authenticity, purpose, and even the timeframe of manufacture.  By the same token, overlooking any element can easily leave individuals open for embarrassment, frustration, and maybe even a healthy dose of regret. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Newton Wagon Company – An Early Find

This week marks our 200th consecutive blog post.  It’s hard to believe we’ve shared so much material over the last several years.  As I look back, I’m thankful that we’ve had a role in helping open up America’s western vehicle history to so many folks.  Day in and day out, it’s a brief reflection of our continual commitment to recovering rare details and documentation related to yesterday’s wooden vehicles.

While our files are too extensive to discuss every element they contain, our Wheels That Won The West® Archives have become a highly regarded and reliable resource dedicated to America’s early western transportation history.  Part of our stewardship in maintaining these archives involves continual research and a dedicated acquisition program.  Over the last two decades, that focus has allowed the “Wheels” archives to grow from a single photograph to literally thousands of images, business papers, and related sales pieces. 

Much of the reason we collect so many materials is to help expand the understanding of our nation’s first transportation industry.  The process helps us gain an even better grasp of our country’s roots as well as those of a particular wagon brand.  Having so much material to dig through, the collection paints a vivid picture of an entire industry that no other single source can replicate.

To that point, scarcely a week goes by that we’re not uncovering and securing information related to these early wooden wheels.  Just this week, we found evidence of a rare, unknown Concord coach that, at the turn of the 20th century, was being housed in shed in Bloomfield, Kentucky.  At this point, it’s uncertain what may have become of the old stage.  While it's design is almost a mirror of most known Abbot Downing Concords, careful examination of a surviving photo shows that there are differences.  Those differences, along with an accompanying written history, could be beneficial in tracking down and adding valuable provenance to an extraordinary set of wheels.  We're working with other knowledgeable sources to determine what can be gleaned from the photo and documentation.   

These rare, surviving letters, written and signed by D.C. Newton, provide even more insights into the legendary Newton Wagon Company.

Similarly, a few weeks ago, we were incredibly fortunate to obtain a series of letters from a well-known early wagon manufacturer.  The correspondence was written during the decade immediately following the end of the Civil War.  As many might imagine, it’s difficult to locate wagon maker correspondence from this and earlier periods.  Most written records like this have simply not survived, so anytime we dig up such rare glimpses into a notable past, we work hard to help procure and preserve them.  After all, these behind-the-scenes views can add immeasurable and incontrovertible knowledge to our nation's past.   

The specifics of what we found were... Sixteen letters dating from February of 1867 through April of 1875.  Most all of the letters are personally signed by D.C. Newton who was the business partner and son of Levi Newton, founder of the Newton Wagon Company.  Don Carlos (D.C.) Newton was born in 1832 and, upon the death of his father in 1879, he became president of the firm.    

The topics of the letters range from wages and available employment to accounts payable collections and family concerns.  One of the letters, dating to November of 1869, states that sales had come to a “standstill” and prospects for additional trade were “gloomy.”  Clearly, the interruption in commerce proved to be temporary as the company enjoyed a powerful reputation as a legendary brand throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  In fact, by the early 1870’s, the brand was seeing steady growth and was building as many as 1500 vehicles per year.  By the end of the decade, the Newton brand was listed as one of the top wagon makers in the West

Today, Newton continues to be a favorite among many collectors and early vehicle owners.  You can read even more about the company in a two-part story I wrote and posted to our website several years ago.

Emerson-Brantingham purchased the Newton Wagon Company in 1912 and began publishing detailed artworks to promote the legendary brand.

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Early Wooden Vehicle Advertising & Promotions

I’ve been involved in the world of advertising and broadcasting for three and a half decades.  In that time, a lot of things have changed.  As the saying goes, though, it seems ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’  Despite some modern-day beliefs that the 1800’s were full of uneducated simpletons with minimal knowledge and skills, even a brief look at America’s early transportation industry tells a much different story… a story of aggressive innovation, artistic product design, extraordinarily detailed craftsmanship, and savvy business tactics all wrapped up in a finely-tuned marketing machine. 

While 19th and early 20th century wagon makers didn’t have contemporary tools like the internet, television, or other forms of electronic advertising, there was no shortage of avenues used for promotion.  In fact, many of the surviving materials from these period marketing efforts have become highly sought-after collectibles.  Below are a few of those areas. 
Advertising Methods of early  wagon makers included…

Awards – As a way to grow participation within various events, state, local and national fairs often provided awards for entries in a particular category.  Early vehicle builders made much ado over these honors, using them as affirmation of a specific brand’s superiority.  Studebaker was just one of many vehicle brands to showcase special awards in the promotion of their products.  In the same way, modern vehicle makers still use accolades from third parties in their advertising.

Competitions, Expositions, Fairs, Parades & other special events – Folks in today’s world of marketing and advertising would likely refer to these opportunities as “Event Marketing.”  Since so much of a product’s acceptance is based on growing relationships and building rapport with buyers, these types of personal, one-on-one promotions have always been popular with companies and consumers.

Major builders as well as large distribution houses like Deere & Webber used fairs, parades, and other special events to showcase the latest wheeled offerings.

Product Demonstrations – Proclaiming advantages of strength, durability, quality construction, and lightness of draft, many early wagon builders took to the streets (locally, regionally, and nationally) to showcase unique design features and owner benefits.    

Innovations – Emphasizing the ultra-competitive nature of the wooden wagon industry, there are very few areas of a wagon’s construction that weren’t featured in at least one patent from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  As is the case with auto makers today, builders of wagons and western vehicles often touted the purported advancements of a particular design.  The chest-pounding didn’t stop with regular advertising as some makers aggressively pursued copycats through the judicial system.

Vehicle signage – From custom canvas wraps and paintings to vehicles built in novelty shapes with ornate pin striping and three dimensional lettering emblazoned on the sides, the 1800’s were full of creatives working to help companies promote themselves at every turn.  Like so many other forms of advertising, these efforts have evolved with technology but, continue to be a valued part of business promotions.

Outdoor signage – Forming the roots of billboard advertising for today’s car dealers, retailers of wagons often promoted a particular vehicle brand by placing wooden outdoor signs above their places of business.  Waxed cardboard signs were also available from some manufacturers.  These were typically smaller than the 6 to 15 foot wooden signs and could be placed in a variety of areas from the sides of buildings to fence posts and trees along a well-traveled route.

This section from a Studebaker catalog shows one of many customized dealer signs that were available from the legendary manufacturer. 

Promotional trinkets/handouts – Imagination was the only limit to what one could see in this category.  Promotionally branded pieces included brushes, tape measures, coins, watch fobs, door stops, match strikers, travel cups, mirrors, whetstones, stick pins, buttons, art prints, notebooks, puzzles, games, paper weights, etc.

Flyers/Direct Mail –  As with countless, vintage print ads, many of the direct mail pieces from early vehicle manufacturers were B2B (business to business) as builders worked to grow distribution by promoting their products to as many retail outlets as possible.  Nonetheless, direct mail messages to consumers were also employed, encouraging potential buyers to visit individual dealers or, in the case of some factories – buy direct.

This collapsible aluminum cup was a later promotional item used to help highlight the Mitchell wagon brand.

Print Ads – Many print ads from vehicle manufacturers in the 1800’s were placed in trade magazines and directed toward retailers in a particular area.  Others were focused on the end user and could be found in everything from cookbooks and local directories to farm magazines, newspapers, and pocket ledgers. 

Catalogs – Most full-line catalogs from horse-drawn vehicle manufacturers were created after the Civil War, once printing became more affordable for individual businesses.  While the majority of builders did not produce extensive brochures, it was a business expense embraced by the more dominant brands.  The earliest wooden vehicle catalogs in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives will date to 1860.  The pieces are in hardback book form – a costly and rare production for its day.

Trade Cards – Printed trade cards were a favorite form of early advertising among vehicle makers.  During a time when color printing was relatively rare, early versions with colorized scenic images tended to draw significant attention.  The back side of the card would often include maker information and perhaps a line drawing of an associated vehicle.

Jingles – Since the majority of the horse-drawn vehicle era occurred prior to the advent of radio, this topic may seem out of place.  On the contrary, numerous songs/choruses were written or adapted for early vehicle makers.  Jackson, Webster, and Studebaker wagons were a few of the brands known to regularly use music to help promote their vehicles.

Letterheads/Billheads/Envelopes – Prominent wagon firms made the most of every opportunity to promote themselves.  As such, company letterheads, billheads, and envelopes were regularly splashed with specially-engraved images, slogans, and ad messages... still another common practice employed by contemporary businesses. 

Product Placement – These days, this term often references products and brands that seem to 'coincidentally' appear in movies, television shows, video games and so forth.  In similar fashion, a number of early vehicle builders recognized the value of large scale, yet subtle endorsements.  Many worked to secure similar placement opportunities within the promotions of notable businesses and prominent individuals.

Public Relations campaigns – Early horse-drawn vehicle makers also understood the power of the press and continually worked to develop newsworthy segments for placement within the stories of a publication.  Similarly, period newspapers needed local and regional advertisers so they also worked to court the favor and attention of these builders by providing editorial ink for them.

Testimonials – Many of the rare, original catalogs and other horse drawn vehicle literature housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives contain testimonials from users.  It’s a sound advertising method as owner experiences and other product reviews continue to play an important role within the decision-making processes of buyers today.  

The Austin, Tomlinson, and Webster Manufacturing Company built the legendary Jackson wagon and used a number of promotional tools such as this heavy cast iron door stop.

The list above contains just a few of the advertising methods employed by early wagon and western vehicle makers.  Clearly, the promotional resources available to these builders were extensive.  As I’d mentioned in the beginning of this blog, the more things change – the more they stay the same.  Many of these same ideas used throughout multiple centuries have now been transferred to the arsenals of modern advertisers.  They continue to be recycled as effective forms of communication, attention, and persuasion.  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.