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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Run-Flat Tires Are Nothing New

Too often, it seems, significant contributions tied to the early wooden vehicle industry are overlooked, forgotten, or discounted as trite reflections from a non-relevant era.  This week we’re pleased to share another discovery that may help keep history books and modern perceptions in line with realities of early vehicle innovation. 

While transportation designs have definitely changed over the years, many of the purposes and expectations haven’t.  In fact, as long as the wheel has existed, there have been challenges associated with keeping it rolling in good order.

To that point, many are familiar with a 21st century offering referred to as a ‘run-flat tire.’  These types of products are engineered to allow folks to continue driving on a punctured tire at lower speeds for limited distances.  Ultimately, they’re marketed as providing greater confidence, flexibility, security, and safety to contemporary drivers.  As innovative as the concept may seem, though, it’s far from being a new idea.

Looking back to the 1880’s – yep the 1880’s – we begin to see the first American patents related to pneumatic tires.  Previously, wooden wagons and carriages were limited to the use of iron, steel, and hard rubber as a running surface (tire) for the wheel.  The addition of pneumatic tires to spring wagons, buggies, and carriages made for an even smoother, more comfortable ride.

Initial descriptions of the newly-developed pneumatic tires often stated that they could be inflated with air, gas, or liquid.  (Incidentally, all three of these materials are still used within inflated tires today).  By the 1890’s, there were even more pneumatic tire patents introduced, with at least one touting a version of what we refer to today as a ‘run-flat’ tire. 

This original advertisement from 1896 promotes the confident advantages of what we often refer to as a ‘run-flat’ tire.  So much for new ideas in our modern age.

During the 1890’s, the Beebe Tire Manufacturing Company (shown in the advertisement above) was promoting this innovative new design through print advertising as well as editorials from trade publications.  The text below is from an 1896 issue of “The Hub,” clearly outlining the ability of this particular pneumatic tire to run flat without collapsing...

“A new carriage tire, known as the Beebe Pneumatic Vehicle Tire, manufactured by the Beebe Tire Manufacturing Co., of Sandusky, O., under patents of John D. Beebe, the patentee of the bicycle tire of that name, has created much interest among carriage men, who have looked in vain for a pneumatic carriage tire which was practical.  This tire is made of alternate layers of rubber, fabric and crimped spring piano wire, in sufficient layers to make it puncture proof, as repeated tests have shown.  Its construction prevents elongation and creeping on the wheel, and although the air in the tire adds to its resiliency, it is not absolutely necessary to the use of the tire.  The great superiority of the tire lies in its ability to go for necessary distances even though punctured, since the wire prevents the possibility of a collapse.”    

Originally submitted in July of 1895, this patent for an early run-flat tire design was awarded to John D. Beebe in April, 1896.

So it was that roughly 120 years ago, the first pneumatic ‘run-flat’ tire was born.  That will be a bit of news to at least one contributor to a popular on-line encyclopedic website.  The writer in that case points to 1935 as the beginnings of the design.  In spite of the well-meaning but flawed internet post, our research has uncovered a much earlier factory-made precursor to the idea.  As we’ve shared here, the origins of the commercial  "self-supporting” run-flat tire clearly began in the mid-1890’s – four decades before the 1935 date mentioned and well in advance of what is often viewed today as a ‘modern’ invention.   
This, and so much more early transportation history, is typical of what we work so hard to find.  From documented, primary source confirmation of legendary St. Louis wagon maker, Joseph Murphy’s strict vehicle construction standards to first-hand verification of Studebaker’s early paint designs and much, much more, we’ve been privileged to uncover a wealth of truths related to America’s first transportation industry.  Day in and day out, it’s just part of our commitment to preserving and sharing so many rare parts of our country’s past before they’re forever lost.

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, July 8, 2015

A Different Wheel Hub

I receive a lot of emails and questions in the course of a year.  While I’m able to assist a number of folks, not all inquiries are easily answered.  Such was the case when Kathy Christensen of Midwest Buggy in Lockney, Texas sent me a challenging question; a real stumper and head scratcher.  In her travels, Kathy had come across a wagon gear with very distinctive cast metal hubs.  The hubs were large and heavy.  It was easy to see they weren’t of a Sarven, Warner, or Archibald design.  Just what they were, though, remained a mystery. 

This photo from Kathy Christensen marked the beginning of a long journey, taxing my memory and archive organization.

Like a lot of these forgotten parts of yesterday, it was a mystery that took some time to crack.  Nonetheless, while some people ‘never forget a face,’ I rarely forget a design.  It’s a personality trait that has helped me close the case on a number of questions over the years.  When it comes to early wagons and western vehicles, my mind seems to hold onto what it has seen and plays some type of subliminal game of comparison as new information is accumulated.  Don’t get me wrong, not everything works this way.  I’m regularly humbled on a lot of things – like when I can’t remember where I’ve put my glasses; only to find out they’re sitting on my head.  A genius I am definitely not.  But, for whatever reason, many of these historical transportation riddles seem to stick with me.

To that point, about a month ago, I was doing some research on a few wagon makers and came across an illustration of a specially crafted hub.  The piece looked familiar.  Where had I seen it before?  Was it somewhere in my travels, a book I’d read, or maybe an email?  Yes, that was it.  It was an email that had been sent to me.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the synapses were clicking, passing signals from faint memory banks.  Something triggered me to look in my emails with Kathy Christensen.  I had a feeling this was going to match up nicely to the photo that she had sent to me.  It had been a while since I'd seen the photo but I couldn't remember just how long it had been.  I looked and didn’t see anything from her within files from the last couple years.

Hmmm... It was strange because I had an overwhelming confidence that she was the one who had sent the photo.  I took the next step and started digging deeper into my archive emails.  I went back three, four, and even up to five years.  Still, I found nothing.  I began to wonder if I might have inadvertently deleted the email or was misremembering where I had seen the image.  I was convinced this newly-found illustration showed the same innovative hub I had seen in that distantly recalled photo.  My mind wouldn’t turn loose so I looked a little farther back in time.  Combing through nearly 1,000 emails from my correspondence with Kathy over the last 15 years, I finally found it.  Turns out, I was recollecting the original photo from an email she’d sent to me back in October of 2008 – nearly 7 years ago!  If only my entire mind worked that sharply on every subject! 

This patent for a reinforced hub design was granted to Targe G. Mandt in 1901.

So, what was the design?  Turns out, the idea was conceived by the legendary wagon builder, T.G. Mandt of Stoughton, Wisconsin.  It earned a patent on Christmas Eve in 1901, just two months before Mr. Mandt’s death.  Overall, the concept was engineered to provide superior wheel strength, stability, and confident performance for wooden wheels in a variety of demanding conditions. 

From the beveled rectangular spoke sockets to the circular rounded notches between the spokes, the circular bead at the junction of the body and rim, and the opposing bevels from the spoke rim, the patent overlaid as a direct match with the photo.  Unfortunately, the photo I received did not show a sufficient amount of the rest of the running gear, so it’s tough to say if the entire gear was of a Mandt design or not.  Equally unknown at this time is whether Mandt ever used the design or merely sold or licensed it to others.  At any rate, it felt good to put a significant part of this mystery to rest and help pass on more of America’s lost transportation history to future generations. 

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, July 1, 2015

America’s 239th Birthday

Peter Schuttler, Henry Weber, Joseph Murphy, Louis Espenschied, and so many more legendary early vehicle builders were fierce competitors with a great deal of differences.  Nonetheless, they also had a lot in common.  One of the more significant similarities is that each immigrated to the United States looking forward to the freedom and potential offered by America.  Like our founding fathers, these early wagon makers understood the true value of liberty and genuine opportunity.  Leaving family, friends, and roots, they took great risk to embrace the promise of a fresh start.
As Emma Lazarus’ words on the legendary, copper-clad lady in New York Harbor proclaim – these were the ‘tired, the poor, the huddled masses; all yearning to breathe free.’  With such a rich and blessed history, we can never forget our past and how our great nation came to be.
Over the centuries, things have changed considerably.  Yet, in spite of the modern challenges we face, America still carries the heart for which she was created... this beautiful country remains a powerful beacon of freedom and a compelling land of hope and dreams.  As such, we owe an eternal debt to so many who have stood in the gap; guarding our independence while protecting our future and securing our way of life. 

This July Fourth marks our 239th year as a nation.  To all of the men, women, and families who have given so much, we salute and honor you.  Thank you for your sacrifice.  It is a daily reminder of all we hold dear and how much we still have to look forward to.  From sea to shining sea, it is a true privilege to live in this Land.  Recognizing that, we join with countless others pledging allegiance to 'one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'

Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, and memorable Independence celebration.


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.