Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Giant Moline

Throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, wagon makers used a number of methods to successfully promote the desirability of their products.  Flashy printed materials, household trinkets, custom dealer signage, and extraordinary claims were sometimes joined with larger-than-life product demonstrations. 

One such example occurred when the Moline Wagon Company used imagery of a huge circus elephant riding in one of their wagons (as did the Jackson Wagon Company) to showcase the strength and light draft of their vehicles.  In similar fashion, legendary St. Louis maker, Luedinghaus, resorted to a massive tower of wagons to reinforce their superior craftsmanship during the 1904 World’s Fair.  Likewise, the Moline Wagon Company also used another large, visual metaphor for strength… a colossal double-sized wagon unveiled during the same event.

From April 30th through December 1st of 1904, the Moline Wagon Company leveraged their heritage for impressive quality and performance by displaying this gigantic vehicle at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World’s Fair) in St. Louis.  The primary purpose of the exhibit was to stop folks in their tracks while creating a lasting, positive impression of the brand.  Today, that same principle for successful marketing still guides the most sophisticated and aggressive advertisers. 
Weighing close to 5 tons, this dominating force of wood and steel measured 42 feet in length (including the tongue), 12 feet in overall width, and had 9 foot rear wheels.  So impressive was this piece that the impact made well over a century ago still has enthusiasts talking about it today.  For generations, one of the most common questions has been, “What happened to that set of wheels?”  It’s a query we don’t have conclusive answers for but we can supply some new information about the vehicle.  A few months ago, we uncovered a rare and previously unknown photo showing the same Moline being shown at a fair in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It appears that the St. Louis World’s Fair was just the first stop in a series of promotional venues for this piece.  It’s an important part of the puzzle as the promotional tour may have ultimately left the vehicle far beyond its original home in Illinois.

Next week, we’ll take a brief look at another oversized vehicle we originally published in Volume One of our “Borrowed Time” book series.