Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Advertising Art of Milburn Wagons

Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, from time to time I have featured its historic industries on this blog, including the Buckeye Brewery and Libby Glass, the latter a place I briefly worked.  Recently I have become interested in the story of the Milburn Wagon Company,  a manufacturer located in Toledo that grew from a small shop in Indiana to the largest wagon maker in the world.  This American industrial success story was fueled, at least in part, by the colorful trade cards Milburn used to advertise its products.

An excellent example is the multicolor lithographed trade above that shows two spirited, high stepping horses horses pulling a Milburn wagon within a bucolic  rural scene featuring mountains in the distance.  Note that the driver is seated well back from the front of the wagon.  

Contrast that seating with the Milburn card shown above.  This vehicle looks much more like a Western buckboard, the seat being located at the extreme front.  Although most company sales were east of the Mississippi, Milburn has been credited for its contributed on opening up the West for pioneers.   One trade publication in 1888 commented that:  “…They are shipping business wagons to almost every city east of the Rocky Mountains, and have a fine trade in the Mountains from Deadwood to Denver.”

Capitalizing on the Western image, Milburn provided its dealers with a wall sign showing a settler, with his wife and baby aboard, holding off at pistol point a group of three raiders intent on stealing his wagon and horses.  The label on the sign tells the story:  “The Demand for the Milburn Wagon.”  The company also used this image, slightly altered, in its newspaper advertising.

By this time the largest manufacturer of wagons in America, with worldwide sales,  Milburn Wagon had begun modestly, the endeavor of a British immigrant to the U.S. named George Milburn who tried farming and other pursuits before in 1867 investing in and later taking over an existing wagon works in Mishawaka, Indiana.  As business thrived, Milburn asked the town fathers to help defray the cost of building a railroad siding to his plant.  When they refused, he looked for a place to move.

Toledo, always on the lookout for new businesses, proposed a stock offering that raised $300,000 from locals and offered a discounted piece of land located adjacent to a railroad for the factory.  Consequently in 1873 the Milburn Wagon Co. opened in Toledo.  A trade card like the one above might have a line drawing of the factory on its flip side.

Before long Milburn Wagon Works were the largest wagon makers on the globe, with sales offices in nine American cities from Albany, New York, to San Antonio, Texas, and a customer base from Europe to Australia.  The manufacturing process was completely mechanized. requiring workers only to operate machines.  The average number of men employed at the factory ranged from 550 to 600.  By the mid-1800s Milburn was producing about 600 wagons a week in its Toledo plant, the equivalent of one finished wagon almost every 10 minutes— pre-dating the Detroit auto assembly lines.

Moreover, the firm had pioneered in hollow axles that while still as strong as solid ones allowed them to term their wagons as “the lightest running in the world.”  That claim was backed up by a trade card of bevy of frisky young women drawing one.  

The company also had patented an improved type of wagon wheel that was lighter but strong.  Although most Milburn illustrations showed two horses pulling their rigs, the company also made a one-horse wagon.  Like others it is painted in a characteristic green with the Milburn name prominent on the side.

Another Milburn patent covered its braking system that allowed for easy parking of the wagon.  It was operated by the right hand of the driver who activated it by pulling foward on the rear level and released it with the front lever.  Well-built and simple in construction, these sturdy wagons could be purchased for as little a $150.  Little wonder that so many heading West did so on a Milburn.

Featured is a trade card that states:  “45 years, building nothing but wagons, hadn’t we ought to know how?”  This was not entirely true;  as the years went by.  Milburn in Toledo began to build buggies and carriages.  Nor did the company miss a step when the automotive age meant the end of horse-drawn vehicles.  Between 1915 and 1923, the company made 4,000 electric cars as well as auto-bodies for other Midwest manufacturers.  In 1923 the Milburn era ended when its works were purchased by General Motors for its Buick division.

An entire book could be written about the history of the Milburn Wagon Company,  As a Toledo boy who arrived long after the firm’s demise, however,  I want to remember the company as the source of innovative multi-hued advertising that continues to remind us of an America when things were a lot simpler.

Note:   This is not the first time I have displayed my penchant for wagons.  On October 12, 2013, on this blog I posted an article entitled, “Circle the Wagons” (Under Glass) that featured a group of ten glass paperweights with a variety of wagon images on them. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Regarding the Drunk and the Light Pole

Along with noted British author and social critic, George Orwell, I have been fascinated by comic postcards — a dying art in the era of political correctness.  In April 2013 on this blog I featured cards that employed beer or whiskey barrels as part of their humorous motif.  Subsequently my efforts have been to collect images that depict inebriated gentlemen and light poles.

The postcard shown right epitomizes the genre.  Two drunks are languishing under a street light, apparently at the edge of a body of water.   Both are depicted as heavily intoxicated, one with a whiskey bottle sticking out of his back pocket, also a frequent image.  One drunk is asking the other in liquor-slurred speech whether the glaring bulb is the sun or the moon.

On this next postcard the drunk, well dressed but with his clothes disheveled, has climbed the light pole and is contemplating the bulb.  So impaired is he that he has mistaken the light as emanating from his bedroom, where his “missus” seemingly is waiting for him.   In the context of these cards, she will have a rolling pin in her hand to whack him.

In this postcard a bowler-hatted gent, who does not appear to be drunk, admonishes the light pole to “lead kindly light.”  The reference is to a favorite Protestant hymn, whose first verse seems entirely appropriate to the scene:

Lead kindly Light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead, one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly Light.
My guess, however, is that the Prohibitionist crowd of the day would have considered the postcard to be sacrilegious.

Postcards did not hesitate to make an object of derision the rich and well-born who had too much to drink.  Shown here is an illustration of a distinguished-looking gentleman in top hat, vest and coat who is holding on to a pole in an attempt to retrieve a cigar that in his alcoholic haze he has dropped.  No words are necessary to convey the humor of this situation.  

The next postcard animates the light poles as welcoming companions to a gentleman who appears to need them to keep upright.  In a world turned topsy turvy all around him, he declares:  “I am making new acquaintances.”  Yet it is only 10 P.M. with many more hours of possible drinking ahead.  He apparently will be moving from light post to light post — going somewhere.

Another drunkard has found his light pole, is proud of the location and apparently sticking with it.  He brags:  “Was at my post early today.”   The clock on the wall behind him confirms that he has had an early evening of drinking.  It registers 8:25 P.M.  Not so long ago such postcards could be found at newsstands, drug stores and souvenir stores all across America.  Today they are a vanishing breed. 

The light pole and the drunk are not just an American icon.  The image exists on comic cards in other countries as well.  Shown here is an example from Estonia, typical of the drunk who must hold tight to the light pole to prevent falling on the pavement.  No, he has not grown a tail.  That is a bottle of whiskey poking from his backside on which he has hung his hat. 

A second overseas postcard comes from Scotland.  Here a bald drunk is pushing a fire alarm on a pole apparently thinking that he thereby can order up two drinks of scotch. Behind him a sign advertises “MacStifenims D.T. Blend Highland Whiskey.”   Presumably it is his drink of choice.  Note that in his alcoholic haze the Scotsman has stuck the tip of his umbrella clear through the crown of his hat.

The French have their own versions of the theme.  Shown here is a French workman who seems to be marveling at the scene around him.  A glow seems to be emanating from the moon, a street lamp and the man’s nose.  The caption at the bottom in translation reads:  “The streets are never so bright as by the moon and the nose of the drunk.”

With the postcard below, we receive not only the image of a highly inebriated man hanging on to a light pole but also his protestation that  that “I’m Not Imbricated” and a semi-rhyming diatribe that ends with “But the drunker I stand here the longer I get.”  The dog in the picture has it right — all this is very silly.  But the genre demanded it.

At least equally silly is the 1909 postcard of a drunk leaning up against a lamp post, smoking a cigar and with keys dangling.  A clipping from the want ad section of a newspaper provides the caption:  “Help wanted. I am up against it.”   Even sillier is the want ad above it:  “Strong boy to drive horses that speak German.  Address Horses.”

The final postcard shows a figure who is very familiar to us by now.  He is a well-dressed man in suit and vest who is carrying a partially empty flask of whiskey and along the line has damaged his top hat.  With a different message this might have been another comic version of the drunk and the light pole.  But the message sets a different tone.  It suggests to “U. Boozer” that common sense and will power should lead to abstinence:  “Let it alone.”  The card may well have originated from prohibitionary advocates as an antidote to the comic postcard portrayals of drunks.

Whatever cultural norms once made these postcards an appropriate message to absent relatives and friends have long since disappeared from American life.  We no longer see inebriation as a matter of fun and laughter.  The evils of alcoholism are all too prevalent in society.  As artifacts of a not-so-distant past, however, they recreate a time when humor still could found in a drunk hanging on to a light pole.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Yes, More Beer Trucks

In September 2016 I featured a post called “Beer on Wheels Through the Decades,” that featured a number of vehicles used over the years to haul beer barrels and cases.  For reasons not readily explained, I have continued to be fascinated by the subject, continuing to collect relevant images.  Shown here are a dozen examples from the U.S. and elsewhere that mark the versatility of transporting the suds, augmented with information about the companies that got the wheels rolling.

The truck shown here could never hit a bump in on a Cleveland street, so precarious are the empty crates the driver is carrying.  In a city full of ethnic German “beer barons,” an Irishman named Stephen Creedon founded the Standard Brewing Company and gave the city a beer that with “time out” for National Prohibition sold for almost 60 years.  Creedon called his beer “Erin Brew” and for the German population, “Brew Brau.”

One reason beer trucks are interesting is that they often were designed specifically for that purpose and stand out from other vehicles of the time.  A trade card from the Adams Bros. company of Findlay, Ohio, shows a custom made truck made for the Anheuser-Busch brewery of St. Louis.  As early as 1865 and until 1910  Adams Bros. was associated with the foundry business. From 1911 to 1916 they manufactured trucks and a few cars. The company later changed its name to the Adams Axle Company and produced axles for car manufacturers including Durant.

This truck was commissioned in the early 1900s by the Adolph Kress Brewing Company of Sparta, Wisconsin. After the end of National Prohibition, the vehicle luckily fell into the hands of the late Richard Guerrera, a successful trucking company owner, who founded the Golden Age of Trucking Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He restored the Kress truck to its pristine glory, including the variety of barrel taps and other instruments that were provided.

Although virtually all beer trucks ran on gasoline, this one — said to be “up-to-date in all things” — is an electric wagon.  With the current emphasis on electric vehicles, this truck might seem to be ahead of its time.  The owner was J. Rapp & Sons, a San Francisco bottler and wholesaler who distributed Rainier Beer of Seattle, a brewery founded in 1884 whose beer was very popular throughout the Pacific Coast.

Nothing beats a beer truck dressed up for a parade.  Even better are four beer trucks with American flags appended, even if the character displayed drinking beer looks rather seedy.   This is Salt Lake City after all, where many residents are teetotalers.  The Henry Wagener Brewery opened in 1864 and apparently closed in 1913 after the plant burned down.   A run of almost 50 years in the heartland of the Mormon Church was no small accomplishment.

This trade card from the Adam Scheidt Brewing Company of Norristown, Pennsylvania, shows the raised forward seating for the driver found in other beer trucks.  The roof keeps him and the barrels of Lotos Export (“finest pale beer)
out of the sun and rain. The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company was founded in the late 1870s and was incorporated in 1884.  After Prohibition, the brewery was revived and did well, brewing Valley Forge Beer, Ram's Head Ale, and Prior Beer.  The name was changed to the Valley Forge Brewing Company in 1963 and five years later sold to Philadelphia's largest brewer at the time, C. Schmidt & Sons. 

In my day a vehicle looking like this one was term a “jalopy.”  It operated through the streets blaring music and a Blatz beer commercial.  In 1875, Blatz was the first Milwaukee brewery to have a bottling department to package beer and ship nationally.  It incorporated as the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company in 1889, and by the 1900s was the city's third-largest brewer.  The brewery was noted for its aggressive and unusual marketing tactics.

If Blatz could attract attention by mounting an advertising stein on a truck, Tiger Beer could go one better by featuring an entire beer bottle, as shown here on two vehicles.  Tiger Beer, a lager, was first brewed in Singapore in 1932 as a result of a joint brewing venture between Heineken and a Singapore based conglomerate, now known as Asia Pacific Breweries. Tiger currently is brewed in at least different countries.  When in that part of the world, it consistently was my beer of choice. 

Through the years many brewers have favored the “art deco” streamlined look seen in this Labatt’s truck, clearly an elegant carrier for the suds.  This beer owes its beginning to John Kinder Labatt in 1847 in Ontario Canada.  Although Labatt’s today is the largest brewer in Canada, it now part of an international brewing conglomerate involving Belgium, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. firms, known as  Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV and traded on the New York Stock exchange as BUD.

In the era of the boutique craft brewery, it seems natural that Nancy and Matt Barger in Knoxville, Tennessee, would come up with the idea for a mobile bartending service using antique trucks.  This is farm truck that the Bargers have outfitted with a custom bar box.  Three taps for kegs have been integrated into the design.  A sign directs customers to the beer.  Business has been so good that the couple now have two trucks in service as portable bars. 

The beer truck shown here indicates that the Bargers are not the only ones with a mobile “beerstube.”  It identifies as “Germany” and the background looks European but the other language used is English, making it difficult to place.  Nonetheless, the mobile giant barrel with a huge tap makes an appropriate setting for the beer being dispensed.  I am also intrigued by the world’s largest “church key” fastened to the side.

Finally, if a brewery must transport its suds through city streets, why not attract attention by fashioning the tank in the shape of a beer can.  “Old Style” was the first brand created by the G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Founded by Gottlieb Heileman in 1858, the brewery survived National Prohibition by selling “near-beer” (less than 0.5% alcohol) and malt syrup.  After Repeal it resumed full brewery operations until 1996 when it was acquired by Stroh’s.

There they are:  A dozen trucks spanning most of the Twentieth Century.  Their purposes differed.  Some were vehicular billboards, advertising their brands as they plied the streets.  Others were mobile barrooms, devoted to bringing the saloon to consumers rather than the consumer to a saloon.  Still others were simply utilitarian motors for the job of carting barrels and bottles.  All of them, however, help make the case for the beer truck as special in automotive history.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Railroader Signs: Choo Choos and Cheesecake

"Cheesecake" to describe a a sexy, attractive woman flaunting her appeal is nowadays is said to be a rather archaic term.  Yet there it seems to be the most appropriate word for the ten signs and posters shown below.  The juxtaposition of scantily clad women with large machinery puts one in mind of the pin-ups that often adorned bomber aircraft in World War II.

Take for example, the metal sign at right, ostensibly a vintage ad from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.  Reclining on the cab of Engine 73 is comely damsel in a lepoard skin bikini bathing suit asking coyly:  “Want to Ride My Train?”  Four generations ago she could have been flying bombing raids over Berlin.  By the way, Baldwin Locomotive produced the last of its 70,000 plus engines in 1956 and went out of business in 1972.

Baldwin was preceded in demise by the Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1901.  Before it went, however, in 1868 the factory produced the 4-4-0 No. 60, called the Jupiter, one of two steam engines to take part in the “Golden Spike Ceremony” to celebrate the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Jupiter’s celebrity seems to have attracted a lady in red.

Union Pacific attracted its own busty blonde, one dressed in trainman garb, who is “Ready to Roll” on “Big Boy 4884.”  This engine was manufactured by the American Locomotive Works in Schenectady from 1941 to 1946.  Union Pacific is a freight hauling railway that currently operates some 8,500 locomotives in 23 states west of Chicago — but not Big Boy.  It retired in 1956.

What is going on here?  Why are pin-ups adorning long retired steam engines?  Some catalogues feature these as reproductions of vintage railroading ads.  Patently absurd.  But are they fakes, as some believe?  No, they are newly created images aimed at a market of men who have elaborate electric train arrays and want something to adorn their walls.  Sometimes even a Santa Fe caboose will do if it has features a lass in a black lace undergarment.

Southern Pacific Railroad was a major railroad system that survived more than a century by incorporating many smaller lines.  It featured a modern looking steam engine.  Its “cab forward” design also was a great excuse to feature a chesty young woman in a green outfit with matching stockings who is striding over a mountain landscape.  The locomotive is billed as “articulated.”  That term also fits the pin-up.

Put yourself in the place of one of these choo choo enthusiasts.  They are accustomed to their friends snickering about men who play with kids’ toys.  What better way to flash the macho badge than to adorn your train room with a picture of an engine pulling “The California Zephyr” of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Line while a shapely cowgirl sits atop the train, apparently wearing only a neckerchief above the waist. “Ride ‘Em Cowboy.”

Of course if the missus objects to semi-clad cowgirls, more demure — and clothed — alternatives are available.  Note this satin-covered brunette, apparently meant to represent the “Southern Belle” route of the Kansas City Southern Line, one of the smallest as well as third oldest Class 1 railroad operating in North America.  Founded in 1887, the railroad in recent years had more than 6,000 employees.

Although these signs are far from antiques and hardly even “vintage,” I consider them works of contemporary art.  As with the Pennsylvania Railroad sign here, lithographed on metal or paper, they feature vivid colors, striking designs and sufficient silliness to make them interesting.  “Hot as coal burning down the lines,” says this one, clearly referring to the buxom beauty and just as clearly making no sense.  A century from now it may hang in a museum as a sign of our times.
The next two images, one from the defunct New York Central System and another from the familiar Amtrak, both urge that we travel home for the Holidays by train.  My wife and I once spent two days and a night on a train going to New Orleans at Christmas.  She says, “Never again.”  For me the signs represent something else.  “What shall we get Dad for Christmas?”  Easy answer — serve up some cheesecake for his train room.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Celebrating the Treasured Barmaid!

Over the years of this blog I have highlighted a range of images related to beer and its advertising, including King Gambrinus, tiny angels, women sitting in moons, and motorists imbibing.  Octoberfest 2018 provides an opportunity to review the depiction of the barmaid — she of the dirndl dress and the foaming steins of brew.   You may call it a stereotype of the female, but the reality has brought joy to the hearts of many.

In 1912, for example, the U.S. Brewer’s Association held it 26th annual convention in Cleveland. Conventioneers were given a clothes brush for the men, shown left, and a pocket mirror for their wives, right.   Both items featured an illustration in celluloid of a barmaid balancing on a barrel while carrying eight steins of foaming beer.  These souvenirs were a gift to the brewmasters from the Cleveland Brewers Supply Co. a business that provided breweries with everything from barrel washers, barrel hoops, gauges, hop separators, and keg scrubbers to a range of chemicals, Irish moss and isinglass.

The image of a barmaid dancing on a beer barrel would have been familiar to the beer crowd.  The Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illinois, commissioned from ceramics merchant Hugo Theumler of Pittsburgh a beer stein for 1900 that emphasized a calendar for the year, flanked by two figures.  The elaborate label includes, as shown here, a woman whose twisted body indicates a flamboyant mood as she lifts high a foaming goblet while straddling a wooden keg. 

Bock beer often used a winsome bar maid in its advertising, usually in the company of the traditional goat, a symbol for the darker brew.  The dance theme is carried forward in a poster of an 1880s vintage that features a pretty waitress, with overflowing tankards in hand, dancing on a beer barrel with a very attentive goat . No brewery is mentioned.

The dance theme is repeated in an 1880s bock trade card shows a goat dancing with a girl, both of them brandishing beer glasses, while a second goat plays the fiddle. These goats conjure up the image of the satyr, the Roman mythical half man/half goat who frequently is seen in erotic juxtaposition with attractive, loosely clad or nude women.

The final bock card clearly is meant to be humorous as goat bowls over a black waiter who had been carrying a full tray of drinks.  In his charge the animal has missed the barmaid who is carrying a full tray of steins, filled to the brim with foaming dark beer.   The card exhibits the ability of the Baltimore lithographic company that created it to execute a cartoon in many vivid colors. 

Even the Europeans fancy their barmaids on barrel.  Below are labels for two varieties of Holsten Beer, a product of Hamburg, Germany.  This brewery, acquired by the Carlsberg Group in 2004, was found in 1879.  It currently owns seven breweries in Germany.  Early in the 20th Century it made a foray into England by buying the Union Brewery on the south bank of River Thames.  The outbreak of World War One and anti-German sentiment in Jolly Old caused it to fail.
St. Pauli Girl beer traditionally has been represented by a barmaid in dirndl.  The brand derives its name from the fact that the original brewery, which was established in 1857 by L├╝der Rutenberg, was located next to the former St. Paul's Friary in Bremen.  Seen below are a vintage label together with a modern version.  Today St. Pauli Girl is located within Beck’s Brewery in Bremen. 

A French version of the barmaid gave her a tall hat.  She appears on a label of  Biere Francaise, apparently brewed in Nantes,  a city I once found by mistake, having been routed off main roads by the Tour de France.  This brew apparently took a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900.  It may have been the only beverage in the category since it apparently non-alcoholic.

This field trip to review barmaids of the ages ends with four photographic trade cards of a comely young woman who in series is pouring a beer, lifting a stein, sipping a sample, and raising “Prost” to the crowd.  A saucy lass, she was a feature of the Falstaff Brewery, so named in 1903 after the Shakespearean character, Sir John Falstaff.   Production of Falstaff Beer peaked in the mid 1960s and then steadily fell over ensuing years.  The brand went out of production in 2005.

In ending this tribute to the barmaid, it seems only fitting to devote this post to Mitzi, my favorite barmaid.  Holding forth at the Trail’s End Lodge on Vliet Street in Milwaukee, Mitzi never failed to dress in dirndl and kept the beers coming as my companions and I serenaded her from a rear booth at the venerable watering hole.