George Hunter (1834-1919), pictured above, was the superintendent of the watch factory from 1872 to 1903. Upon his retirement he was succeeded by his son, George E. Hunter, who served until his death in 1925. The office of the company president was in Chicago; the Hunters ran the plant in Elgin.
South Grove Avenue's commercial section looked like this about 1910. The tall building in the center was occupied by I. Cohein & Company, and its columned neighbor was the First National Bank.
Elgin is not a large city. It is just the size that enables every man who desires it to secure profitable employment and a comfortable home...1
Chapter VI. The Good Years
Life for most residents became more comfortable between the turn of the century and America's entrance into the First World War. There was more leisure time. Saturday half-holidays during the summer months for watch workers began in 1899. The David C. Cook Publishing Company in 1900 became the first major local employer to cut the daily hours of work to nine, and the watch factory followed the next year. Cook's also led in adopting the eight-hour day in 1911, although this did not become the general practice. The long hours of store clerks were reduced in 1901, when stores were closed four evenings each week instead of three. In 1906, they began closing five nights for six months of the year.
There was greater freedom of movement. Most families had never been able to afford a horse and carriage, but the interurbans now provided a network of cheap transportation to picnic sites and social events in other communities. Sports grew in popularity, and there were new and inexpensive forms of recreation with the developing park system, YMCA and YWCA programs, and the arrival of vaudeville and motion picture shows. There was also more security. Insurance programs were spreading, a Postal savings system protected savings, and the state enacted workmen's compensation legislation. There were advances in public health measures and hospital care, and more students were attending school for longer periods.
Enrollment in that local cauldron of democracy, Elgin High School, doubled between 1900 and 1918. The Class of '08 carried more than half of its original members to the commencement exercises, and for the first time, the majority of the graduates were male. The school's improved holding power was the result of the introduction of commercial and manual training subjects, as well as the lessened need for youths to supplement the family income. A big new building with fifty rooms, a library, an auditorium seating eleven hundred and a gymnasium opened in 1911.
Disillusioned by the World War and troubled by the confusion of changing values during the reckless '20s and the hard times that followed, people would look back upon this time of peace and confidence and call them the good old days.
1. The Big New Factory
Charles H. Hulburd, an attorney and partner in a commodity brokerage, became the third president of the Elgin National Watch Company during the height of the labor unrest of 1898. He frequently left the Chicago office to spend time at the plant conversing with employees, and a paternalism aimed at fostering a more contented Father Time's family developed under his leadership. "There is no friction now between the operatives and the present management," the union's president soon conceded. "A large majority of the employees believe the company is trying to do the right thing by them."2
Beginning on January 1, 1900, piecework wages were increased ten to twenty-five percent, and a few months later, extra pay for overtime and holiday work was allowed. On May 1, 1901, the daily stint at the workbenches was reduced to nine hours-7 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays, and I to 4 p.m. on Saturdays -without a reduction in pay. President Hulburd stated his belief that in the long run men can produce as much or more in reasonably short hours than they can under the stress of a long working day.
Despite the reduction in hours, in 1901 the Elgin National Watch Company manufactured and sold more than 600,000 movements of the 1,875,769 produced by all thirteen watchmaking firms in the United States. The best previous year was 1891, when the factory had made about a half-million. The capital stock was increased to five million dollars by a twenty-five percent stock dividend in 1903, and the denomination of shares was changed from one thousand to one hundred dollars.
Reminded by the gutting of a supply building in July 1901 that the old factory was highly flammable, the company broke ground in 1902 for the west wing of a new fireproof plant. This wing, containing eighty-eight thousand square feet of floor space, was completed in the winter of 1903-04. The demolition of the old front building began in the spring of 1906. It was 569 feet 1ong and contained 116,000 feet of floor space. The construction below the roof line and under the crest of the tower imitated medieval machicolation, and the ends of the front building resembled massive turrets. A power plant was completed in the summer of 1906.
A clock tower dominated the new front. It was 144 feet tall, with a 53-foot flag pole topping it off. The Seth Thomas clock in the tower began ticking on August 12, 1905. It was the first self-winding tower clock ever put in operation, had a gravity escapement, and was regulated by a pendulum rod fourteen feet long, on the end of which was a ball weighing three hundred thirty pounds. The visible part of the four dials, which were automatically lighted, was more than fourteen feet across. The three-foot tall numerals could be distinguished more than half a mile away. The weight of the clock and equipment was twenty tons. The bell of the clock struck only the opening and closing hours of the factory, not the hours of the day. It rang seventy-eight times at 6 a.m., thirty-seven times at 6:50, and once at 7; then once at noon, thirty-seven times at 12:50, and then once again at 1; and finally once at the 5 p.m. closing time. The same number of blows were repeated on interior gongs, scattered throughout the buildings.
The new plant was well-ventilated and contained elevators, a carrier system and automatic telephones. The work rooms were long, high ceilinged, and narrow, allowing an abundance of natural light to come through scores of windows. The panes overlooking the river were frosted to avoid distraction, and the emphasis upon concentration remained. "You cannot get a permit to go through the factory except as an exceptional favor," a Californian wrote in 1904, "for the efficiency of labor is figured to such a fine point here that it is estimated that a turning of the head by each of the operatives and the interruption incident to noticing the passing of a visitor detracts in all departments from the effective force of the employees nearly three hundred dollars."3 The greater part of employee wages was based on piecework. To encourage productivity increases, a system of suggestion awards was begun in 1914.
The production lead Elgin had opened over Waltham in the early '80's did not continue. Before the end of 1905 Waltham had completed its thirteen-millionth time piece, and Elgin had made eleven million. Prior to the general business downturn in the spring of 1907, Waltham was employing 4,300 and turning out 3,200 movements daily. Elgin's force was 3,200 with a daily output of about 2,700. Elgin's operation was the more profitable. Annual dividends of eight dollars per share continued to be paid the owners from 1903 through 1917.
During the years 1906 and 1907, charges arose in the political arena and press that a watch trust was selling movements abroad for less than they sold them at home, that its members were selling watches of the same grade at the same prices through collusion, and that they were using undue influence to force railroad employees to buy their watches. Aided by a high tariff, Elgin and Waltham were said to issue identical lists of "recognized" jobbers. It was claimed that they would not sell to anyone whose name did not appear on their lists. The favored jobbers, in turn, had to sell the movements and cases at a specified price to retailers. An unlisted jobber had to pay the retail price.
"The Elgin watch and the Waltham movement sell for the same money, and they are of the same grade," stated Thomas J. Juzek, a local dealer, after the two firms announced the same price increases one week in 1909.4 In the view of Watch Company President Hulburd, that was "perfectly natural. The cost of labor and material is practically the same in Massachusetts and Illinois."5
"The Elgin National Watch Company is not a party to any watch trust," asserted Hulburd. "Neither the company itself or its officers, directly or indirectly, hold any stock in any other watch company in the world, nor is its stock held by or for any other watch company."6 In this strict definition of the word "trust," Hulburd was correct, and the Department of Justice did not consider the evidence strong enough to warrant an indictment. Both firms admitted fixing the retail prices of their movements, a practice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1912. The manufacturers claimed they had to protect their output from being cheapened by ruinous price-slashing.
Price competition by other domestic manufacturers was unlikely, because the two giants controlled the vast bulk of labor-saving machinery used in the production process. Foreign competitors were handicapped by the Dingley Tariff of 1897, which levied a duty of twenty-five percent ad valorem on movements. This was in addition to a specific duty on a sliding scale that increased with the number of jewels. The tax on a seventeen-jewel watch was one dollar and a quarter; on a watch with more than seventeen jewels, it was three dollars.
After the Panic of '07, employees had more free time than they may have desired. For more than eight months in 1908, the work week was reduced to four days to forestall extensive discharges. There were also "readjustments" in wages. A Saturday afternoon holiday and a year-end layoff became customary. Unable to prevent these cutbacks, the union became moribund. Local 6961 had already been weakened in 1903, when the company hired its president as a "missionary" to tour the road for a year or longer, and promptly sent him on his first assignment to California.
The plant did not return to full time until the fall of 1913, and then only briefly. Some blamed the relative stagnation of the industry on the popularity of cheap, non-jeweled clock watches; others found the cause in the new fad of buying automobiles which left few dollars for watches. A more cogent reason may have been the slow obsolescence of fine jeweled movements, which could be passed from one generation to the next. Properly maintained, they just didn't wear out, and the company highlighted their durability in a series of 1914 advertisements.
Early watches were thick in width and large in diameter, with closed or hunting cases. In the 1880's, open-face watches became the fashion. By the turn of the century, the style had turned to slender widths and small diameters. A man's twelve-size (one and 17/30 inches) designed for a thin casing made its appearance late in 1897, becoming very popular. More than four and a quarter million movements of this model were subsequently manufactured. A 10/0-size-about the diameter of a nickel- was introduced for ladies in 1902. The first model used as a ladies' wristwatch was a 5/0-size movement produced in 1910. Reducing the size required screws so small that up to 82,000 weighed only a pound.
To compete with the increasing Swiss imports, a low-priced seven-jewel open-face watch was issued in 1912. Complete with case, it sold for only $5.50. Prices continued to be determined by the finish-gilded or nickel; the temper of the materials; the tolerances to which moving parts were finished; the number of jewels and the accuracy of their setting; and the adjustments for temperature and position.
The Elgin National Watch Company was among the first American industrial employers to offer what are now termed fringe benefits. The National House provided food and lodging at cost. Various departmental sick benefit plans had been consolidated in 1888 into one Mutual Aid Association for the whole Plant, with the company contributing fifty percent of the cost. A company infirmary was opened in 1907, although employees were docked for time spent using its services. Vacations up to two weeks at employee expense were allowed. Hot and cold water, soap and towels were available in the washrooms. The firm was cited by the National Civic Federation in 1909 as a model institution for working conditions.
Veteran employees no longer able to work became eligible for company-paid pensions of one dollar per day in 1911, a sum that exceeded the minimum starting wage of sixty cents per day for inexperienced women applicants. In 1913, a mortuary fund was established to provide a death benefit. The company accepted the terms of the state Workmen's Compensation Act as soon as it became effective.
These programs did much to ease the distress caused by an outbreak of typhoid fever among employees in August 1916. Rumors spread that the city's water supply was the cause. Moving quickly, Dr. Alban L. Mann, the city physician, traced the sources of contamination to a watch factory artesian well supplying drinking water to employees. A leaking valve had allowed seepage from the river water system used in the factory's industrial operations. Mann worked long hours to reduce the secondary case potential: those receiving gernis from the ill who had been infected from the original source. He received high praise from representatives of the state Board of Health for his handling of the problem before state specialists arrived to assist. Workmen's compensation claims totaled about ninety thousand dollars for the twenty-two deaths, and more than two hundred illnesses resulting from the epidemic. It was the largest settlement up to that time under the provisions of the Illinois legislation. In addition, large amounts were drawn from the Mutual Aid Association and Mortuary Fund. These paid five hundred dollars for each death, and men received one dollar and women sixty cents for each day of sickness.
A four-day week was again in effect from October 1, 1914 through the end of 1915, and there were long "vacations" in the summers of 1914 and 1915. It was during this dull period that the company contracted to produce the Van Sicklen automobile speedometer. The agreement was the result of an increased demand that Van Sicklen's plant in Aurora couldn't handle and a family connection between executives of the two firms. George E. Hunter, superintendent of the watch factory, was the father-inlaw of Norton H. Van Sicklen Jr., son of the "speedmeter" manufacturer. The arrangement was a natural one and mutually profitable. The components of the speedometer, a precision instrument, required many of the manufacturing skills utilized in making watches. The tools and equipment were owned by Van Sicklen, and the production space and labor force were supplied by the watch firm. About 130 of the Aurora employees came up to Elgin with the equipment. More than three-fourths of the workers were women, many of whom found lodging in the National House. Within three weeks of the transfer in July 1915, production reached two hundred meters daily.
The Van Sicklen speedometer was preferred by many manufacturers of the higher-priced cars. All Stutz automobiles for 1916, for example, were equipped with the Elgin-made product. It calibrated an air current and translated the result into miles per hour. Its advantages were said to be legibility; accuracy; freedom from fluctuation regardless of speed, road conditions or climatic changes; and indestructibility.
When the war in Europe cut off the flow of imported watches, the company was again working at capacity. The six-day week was restored in 1916, and by the end of the year, reserve stocks were practically exhausted. The eight-hour day was inaugurated on July 1, 1917. "Of course everyone win have to work a little faster," cautioned President Hulburd when announcing the new policy, "and every minute will have to be fully utilized in order that there may be no reduction in the product."7
World War I did more than restore watch company prosperity. By popularizing the wearing of wristwatches by soldiers in the field, the new watch style propelled the Elgin National Watch Company-and the city-into its second great boom period.
2. Getting Around
Among the conveniences making life more pleasant was the increased freedom of movement for Elgin residents made possible by a network of interurban lines. The owners of the Elgin City Railway formed the Carpentersville, Elgin and Aurora Railway Company and completed six miles of track to Carpentersville in the summer of 1895. The trolley paralleled the east side C&NW along the river and crossed the Fox River on a trestle just below West Dundee. The line was extended twelve miles south to the county seat at Geneva the following year. The track passed through the west side of South Elgin, crossed the river at Five Islands, and returned to the west bank at the Main Street bridge in St. Charles.
In 1897 the interurban, headed by William Grote, merged with the local street car line. This consolidation was purchased by a Cleveland-based syndicate in 1900, and in 1901 -with the Aurora street car line and an interurban extending south from Aurora to Yorkville - was merged into the Elgin, Aurora and Southern Traction Company.
The Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway Company was incorporated in 1901 to build a third-rail line connecting the three cities. Scheduled runs on the AE&C between Wheaton and Elgin via Wayne began on May 26, 1903, and through service to downtown Chicago was established in 1905. Operations of the AE&C (Third-Rail Division) and the Elgin, Aurora and SouthernTraction Company were consolidated under the AE&C name in 1906. Single trolley cars, light in weight and only moderate in speed, were the rule in the Fox River Division. They used local streetcar tracks in Elgin, terminating at Fountain Square. Third-rail cars were built to heavy main-line railroad standards, and were capable of high speeds. The AE&C terminal was located on the east bank of the Fox, just south of Chicago Street. Both the trolley and third-rail lines were powered by an AE&C generating plant at Batavia, which also provided electric service to Elgin and other communities.
The Elgin & Belvidere Electric Company's trolley interurban began scheduled runs between Fountain Square and Belvidere on February 2, 1907 along tracks that passed through Gilberts, Huntley, Union, Marengo and Garden Prairie, bringing these towns into the Elgin orbit. Connection could be made at Belvidere for Rockford ' Freeport, and Janesville via a Rockford interurban. Special trains carried football fans to games with Rockford. The E&BE, known as the "Dairy Route," received its power from the AE&C. The thirty-four mile road, throughout its troubled existence, had only three profitable years, and economy in operation was a necessity. Running time was erratic, depending on thaws, rains and city traffic. The green and yellow cars of the E&BE entered Elgin through Almora and Illinois Park and followed the Wing Park street car line along Edison Avenue, reaching Fountain Square by the Larkin-Highland route.
The removal of the fountain and electric light tower at the square in 1903 did little to relieve the congestion. City street cars from all five local lines converged there, paused long enough to give passengers a chance to transfer, and mixed with carriages, wagons and an occasional automobile. The trolley south to Aurora and the trolley north to Carpentersville had to arrive and leave without disturbing the city schedules, and finally the Elgin and Belvidere had to come in and depart. One late car required signaling other cars to halt at switches or back up into other tracks to let the tardy car pass.
In a time of poor roads, the intercity rails provided Elgin residents with relatively frequent service to many communities previously difficult to reach. Travel time to Wheaton was now only about thirty minutes. Sunday traffic was especially heavy with families and other groups enjoying an outing through the countryside. As the electric network spread, it became possible, if one were so inclined, to travel by trolley from Times Square in New York City to Elgin. During the very years the interurban system was reaching its peak of popularity, however, a new form of transportation-the automobile-was chugging its way to eventual domination.
Automobiles were once manufactured in Elgin in greater numbers than the city's residents were buying them. There were sixty local owners of "machines" in July 1905. By that time, about 120 vehicles had been turned out by the Elgin Sewing Machine and Bicycle Company (five electrics in 1898), the Elgin Automobile Company (fifteen Winners in 1899-1900), and the Fauber Manufacturing Company (perhaps a hundred Marr Autocars in 190304), all occupying in succession the former Dickie factory in Elgin Heights. This seemingly jinxed southeast end plant was destroyed by fire in August 1904, but its destruction didn't halt the city's output of cars. The Moody brothers built at least three in their machine shop on River Street in 1903-05, and H. F. VanWambeke and Sons constructed about eight "Van" delivery wagons in a barn behind their grocery store at Hill and Jefferson streets in 1907-09.
If Elgin failed to rival Detroit as a manufacturer, cars increased in number on the city's streets, despite ridicule from envious citizenry and the hostility of horse owners. The noise made by the early motors often caused horses to panic, resulting in upset carriages and wagons. George B. Richardson, superintendent of the D. C. Cook Publishing Company, bought the first one, a Waverly electric, in October 1900. Fred L. Steere and John M. Murphy, who had been selling carriages, wagons and harnesses, formed the first dealership in 1902. They offered Ramblers, and two years later switched to Fords.
The driver of a Rambler dashing around town at speeds variously estimated from twenty to thirty miles per hour raised a public outcry. Police took no action when he raced a streetcar or narrowly missed hitting a pedestrian or a Milwaukee Road engine. The car became known as the "Red Devil," and its driver's escapades were responsible for the first city motor vehicle regulations in 1904. The city council restricted speed to six miles per hour on downtown streets, eight miles an hour in residential areas, and four miles per hour when turning comers. Machines had to be registered, and a license made of leather with metal numbers attached was to be fastened at the rear. The driver of the "Red Devil," Alderman John M. Murphy, voted for the ordinance.
Another driver also made news. Unescorted by any man, Alice Byrd Potter drove a party of women from Chicago to New York and back in a Haynes automobile in 1908. The only trouble during the 1,745-mile trip was one tire puncture, and the car's manufacturer said it was the best cross country performance his model had ever made. For that day, it was considered a daring adventure, and a not too prescient Courier reporter prophesied that "the record she has just made may never be equaled by any woman driver."8
The growing number of 20th-century automobiles were bogging down on roads that hadn't changed since the 19th century. An Illinois Highway Improvement Association, organized at a Peoria convention in 1912 and headed by William G. Edens, mobilized local sentiment for modem pavements. That year, the Elgin Motor Club was formed under the leadership of Theodore J. Schmitz, foreman of the escapement department at the watch factory, to push for a chain of good roads in and around Elgin stretching east to Chicago, south to Aurora, and north to McHenry County.
There were at that time about five hundred automobile owners in the city, and they couldn't drive far without experiencing the frustrations Schmitz encountered at a low spot in the old Lake Street road near Bloomingdale. In dry weather, the deep ruts jolted both car and passengers, and in wet weather, it was practically impassable. Those who attempted to get through were usually mired and had to hire a farmer to pull them out. Schmitz kept after the township road commissioner to have the spot filled with gravel. He was given half-promises from time to time, and finally, exasperated at the delays, he exclaimed: "If it's the cost of the gravel which is delaying you, I'll pay for it out of my own pocket!" "Well, Mr. Schmitz, I'll tell you the truth," the road commissioner confessed, "if I put gravel in that hole, I would never be re-elected. The farmers hereabouts get five dollars every time they drag some automobile out of the mire. That's important revenue to them. They wouldn't permit anyone to fix that hole."9
Pressured by organized motorists and business interests, the state government began contributing to the cost of road construction and switched responsibility for the main routes from the townships to the counties. The first state-funded concrete highway in Kane County was originally projected in 1914 to run from Aurora along the west side of the river, turning north at the McLean Boulevard intersection. Fearing that many travelers would not enter downtown Elgin, the Commercial Club successfully fought to have the route changed to follow the river all the way into the city. The grand opening ceremony of the Fox River Trail, now designated Illinois 31, took place at St. Charles on September 29, 1917.
The new road was only eighteen feet wide, but it was the first step in Theodore Schmitz's dream of a network of good roads. He is generally credited with originating the "Illinois line" down the center of highways, a safety measure adopted throughout the country, and for more than twenty years he would be a leader in this new way of getting around.
3. Elgin in 1910
A former resident, now a Kansas farmer, returned to Elgin in 1910 after an absence of twenty-three years and was amazed. "Hmmm," he wondered, "new buildings, paved streets, new bridges and what-not. Has the town grown'? I should say it has. I've been all over today, and Elgin is bigger than I ever thought it would be."10
The census recorded 25,976 residents, nearly double the number when the farmer had gone west, but the rate of growth since 1900 was much slower than it had been in the '80s and early '90s. An indication that the city was maturing was a drop in the proportion of children between one and five years of age in the total population.
The changes were continual. Downtown became less cluttered this year after all the overhead electric wires went underground and wooden poles were removed. A big new store and office building, the Hubbard block, was completed on the northeast corner of Fountain Square, and a new furniture store building was opened on Chicago Street near Villa Street. The old high school was razed, and men were busy working on a massive replacement along DuPage Street. Ground was broken for the new St. John's Lutheran Church. Rinehimer's woodworking mill and the Western Thread Company moved into new factories, and A. C. Muntz put up a big warehouse and livery stable. Seybold Piano and Organ and Cook Publishing enlarged their plants.
Only 67 new homes were constructed in 1910. The two-story was still preferred, but bungalows were growing in popularity. They usually contained a living room, dining room, kitchen, bath and two bedrooms. Some of the new houses were built of concrete block, a material introduced in 1903. Most homes, both old and new, now had sewer and water connections. About three-fourths of the city's residences were still lighted almost exclusively with gas lamps. These were considered more efficient and easier on the eyes then the unfrosted electric bulbs. A chicken pen and a large vegetable garden in the backyard were common sights.
One change that didn't occur was the end of liquor sales. For the second time since the state's local option law was passed, the drys went down to defeat, 3,188 to 1,941. As long as women couldn't vote, the wets had little to fear. This is why the annual convention of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, meeting in Elgin this year, had more than passing interest for those concerned about the liquor question.
Except for the watch company, business was generally prospering. The big factory had still not recovered from the Panic of '07, and production was well below capacity. Two hundred employees were laid off in January, and the plant was closed four weeks in May and June. Poor sales were blamed on a rise in imports; and the dollar clock-watches that were flooding the market. Before the year was out, the factory's two thousand five hundred employees would finish the fifteen-millionth fine jeweled movement produced in Elgin since 1867. Nearly five hundred workers at the city's second largest industry, the Illinois Watch Case Company, were turning out two thousand cases daily.
The Elgin National Watch Company's astronomical observatory opened in February on the northeast comer of Watch and Raymond streets, a site chosen because its gravel base reduced earth vibrations. When the United States Bureau of Standards disclosed in 1908 that time controls in America were inadequate, the firm decided to time its movements by the stars. Professor William W. Payne, one of the nation's leading astronomers, was engaged as the director. Comparing the time by fixed stars required skill and practice on the part of the observer. The telescope was set exactly north and south, as all time observations had to be made on the meridian. With his eye at the transmitter, he noted the time at which a star met with the hairline in the telescope by pressing a button which recorded it on a chronograph. An instrument for testing the operator corrected for human error. Ten or more stars were observed on clear nights, and the average of the whole set was taken as the clock correction, which was accurate to one-hundredth of a second. In every room of the nearby factory where movements were regulated was a sounding device telling the seconds. Each of these factory instruments was wired directly to the main time clock in the observatory. The mean clock in turn was kept correct by two daily comparisons with a stellar clock.
For years, local baseball fans had supported amateur and semipro teams, but it wasn't until 1910 that the city received a professional franchise in the newly formed Northern Association. Elgin's opponents in the Class C league were Clinton, Muscatine, Jacksonville, Joliet, Decatur, Freeport and Kankakee. The Elgin Baseball Association sold two hundred fifty shares in the local club at ten dollars each and raised additional money selling booster buttons. The trolley line, interested in the fares to and from the games, made a donation and contributed the stands for new playing field at Trout Park. Elgin had an experienced manager, Malachi "Kitty" Kittredge, a former Chicago Cub catcher. So respected was Kittredge that the team adopted the nickname Kittens.
The Kittens' pitching and speed were a winning combination. Cy Boothby hurled a no-hitter early in the season, and in the home opener with the Clinton Tigers, little Fritz Maisel stole four bases. The Kittens were leading the pack with a record of 35 wins and only 19 losses when the Northern Association folded early in July. Elgin was awarded the pennant, but the chief beneficiaries of the doomed venture were the railroads. The Northern Association covered more territory than the Class B Three-Eye League, which was based in larger cities. Traveling expenses and poor attendance forced withdrawal of the weaker teams. Maisel was the only Kitten to reach the majors. Playing with New York in the American League in 1914, he set a major league record by stealing 74 bases.
For a time in the spring of 1910, those wanting to buy automobiles outnumbered the available supply. When they could get them, local dealers were selling Fords, Maxwells, Overlands, Buicks, Jacksons and Chalmers-Detroits. They were all relatively expensive, and many Elginites hoped to pay for one by finding a pearl in clam shells. This was a current craze; clam diggers wandered the Fox River banks from Carpentersville to Five Islands, and jewelers were kept busy appraising finds.
The new hobble skirt could be purchased at the three leading department stores-the George M. Peck Company, Ackemann Brothers, and Swan's. In a class by itself was the August Scheele Company. In 1910, this store on the northwest comer of Douglas and Milwaukee (Highland) Avenues was remodeled and expanded into one of the largest, cleanest and most efficient groceries in the Midwest. There was almost half an acre of floor space, and each variety of foodstuff had its individual cold storage department. Large glass-covered display cases protected contents from dust and dirt. Scheele's reputation for quality was so well established that much of the business was transacted by telephone. A customer calling the store was switched by a private exchange to the particular department wanted. Ten delivery wagons, one of them now motorized, made deliveries to every part of the city and outlying areas.
August Scheele and other merchants struggled with the problem of two telephone companies operating in and around Elgin. The Chicago Telephone Company had more than four thousand stations, while the switchboard of the Interstate Telephone Company, which had entered Elgin in 1902, had about one thousand subscribers, mainly in the rural area west of town. Most businesses had to pay for both services.
Elgin was a city of joiners, especially churches. The Lutherans and Methodists were the most numerous, followed by the Catholics, Baptists and Congregationalists. Besides the organizations within the religious bodies, there were many benevolent or fraternal lodges with varied offerings of ideals, ranks and titles, rituals, and insurance benefits. The Modem Woodmen of America had the largest local membership, but the Odd Fellows and Masons weren't far behind. A long list of Elgin groups included the Elks, Eagles, Knights of Pythias, the Riverside Club, and Knights of Columbus. A new chapter formed in 1910 was Sharon Shrine 26, Order of the Eastern Star. The most prestigious organization for men was the Century Club, which occupied the top floor of the Opera House. Professionals and businessmen enjoyed a reading room, a bay window that commanded a view of the downtown area, cards, billiards and bowling. In addition to the Woman's Club, whose chief project was operating Sherman Hospital, Lady Elgin's philanthropic and study groups included the Every Wednesday Literary Society, the Searchers, the Brownii, the Fideliters and the Coffee Club.
The crosses on this map of the Road Race course mark the sites of fatal accidents. A street name in the area, Grandstand Place, is a reminder of racing days.
There were limits to all this fellowship and sisterhood. Only after William Southern passed a state civil service examination and was assigned to Elgin State Hospital did authorities discover he was "colored ... .. We were rather surprised when he arrived here for work," said the superintendent, "and realized at once that it would not do to put him at work upon the wards where the attendants have to room together."11 The problem was resolved by transferring Southern to an institution in Quincy.
The joys of an Elgin boyhood in 1910 would feed the embers of nostalgia for years to come: building pushmobiles with coffee grinder wheels obtained from Woodruff & Edwards; swimming and fishing; playing ball in vacant lots; getting out of school to see Teddy Roosevelt; eating peanuts and watching the marvels of the Sells-Floto circus; seeing all the new buildings going up; and riding the roller coaster, circle swing and other attractions at Trout Park. Perhaps they most vividly recalled the roar of engines on a graveled road west of town. We turn back with them now to the heroics of the goggled racers.
4. The Roaring Road
Soon after automobiles were invented, races were conducted to test their speed and endurance. They publicized the make, provided a means of experimenting with innovations and attracted paying spectators. The Chicago Motor Club had been one of the sponsors of a disappointing road race at Crown Point, Indiana, in 1909. An Elgin auto enthusiast, Frank B. "Tootie" Wood, invited the club to consider a better alternative he found near Elgin. Using what are now Larkin Avenue, McLean Boulevard, Highland Avenue, and Coombs Road, the proposed circuit was nearly eight and one-half miles long with no steep hills, railroad crossings or towns to be passed through. It provided straightaways, where cars could make top speed, and sharp turns that required driving skills. Club officials were impressed with the speed potential after a tour and gave their approval.
Local residents incorporated the Elgin Automobile Road Race Association in the spring of 1910 and raised capital through the sale of stock. Additional funds were to be obtained from ticket sales. The money was used to purchase frontage rights from the farmers, who generally were not enthused by the project; grade, widen, and oil the road bed; pay the National Guardsmen and police for crowd control; and provide for cash prizes, liability insurance and extensive advertising. The Elgin National Watch Company donated a big trophy for the main event. It stood forty inches tall, contained forty pounds of silver, and cost upwards of four thousand dollars.
Automobile manufacturers quickly agreed to send their cars and such famed drivers as Barney Oldfield, Tommy Milton, Al Livingston and Ray Harroun. The makes entered included the National, Benz, Simplex, Marmon, Jackson and Abbott-Detroit. Work on the cars was performed in the company camps set up around the course in farmers' sheds, corn cribs and barns. Interest was aroused all over the country, and Elgin took on a festive air with banners and bunting. For days prior to the races, hotels and restaurants were crowded with visitors who came to talk to the participants and line the fences to time their favorites during practice sessions. Among the onlookers was Jack Johnson, newly crowned world's heavyweight boxing champion and a fancier of expensive automobiles, who wanted to burn up the course himself. The sheriff hurriedly posted twenty miles-per-hour speed limit signs for regular traffic. Johnson attempted to set up a match race with Barney Oldfield and was disappointed when the other champion declined.
Racers drew numbers, which were placed on their cars, to see which one would leave the starting line first. A car was started every thirty seconds to avoid jamming the track. It was difficult for the spectators to tell which car had won until the judges' decision was announced, because each entry was timed individually. Every car had a riding mechanic who watched the gauges and warned the driver if a faster car was approaching behind him. The slower car then had to let the other cars pass or be disqualified for hogging the road, which averaged about twenty feet in width. Flagmen were placed at key points around the circuit to signal the driver when to proceed or slow up. The best viewing point for spectators was Britton's Hill on the south leg, where one-half mile of track was visible in each direction. Those who chose to watch from the inside of the course were not allowed to cross during the races.
The smaller cars competed on Friday, August 26th, in three events run at the same time but for different cubic engine displacements. These contests gave an opportunity to lesser known drivers. Henry Ford was present to enter two of his Model T's, but the cars were disqualified before the race because they didn't meet weight requirements.
Cannon signaled the start of the big race the next day. The Elgin National was a 305-mile grind. The winner was Ralph Mulford, who drove his Lozier at an average speed of 62.5 miles per hour over the entire thirty-six laps with but one pit stop for gas, water and oil. He received a cash prize of one thousand dollars, and it was hard-earned. He had practiced for ten days before the race, driving twenty-five times around the course each day, and knew its every bump and bend. As the race wore on, hour after hour, dust rose and the graveled road roughened. Corners became deeply rutted and dangerous. To maintain his winning pace under these conditions, Mulford had to strive for speeds of at least sixty miles per hour on the north leg, and seventy miles per hour on the south leg. His top speed at times exceeded eighty going down Britton's Hill.
The first running was a decided success. Profits were more than ten thousand dollars, and the Elgin Automobile Road Race Association declared a fifty percent dividend. Businessmen were delighted. Metropolitan newspapers throughout the United States carried front-page stories, and Sunday editions printed feature articles, illustrated with pictures of drivers and the course. Trade magazines carried special accounts. "The advertising that came with the races is the kind of advertising that can't be estimated in dollars and cents," trumpeted the boosters, "because the great bulk of it was advertising that money won't buy."12
Plans were made to make races annual affairs. They were held again in 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1919 and 1920, and revived for one more time in 1933. There were no races during 1916, 1917 and 1918 due to wartime restrictions. Elgin became a major automobile racing center, the "Vanderbilt of the West."
The original races were strictly stock chassis events. The cars, most of them with only four cylinders, were run just as they left the factory, except for removing windshields and fenders. Then in 1912, specially built racers were allowed to compete, and such cars as the Stutz, Mercer, Mercedes and Duesenberg joined the field. The length was reduced to 301 miles beginning in 1913 with the rounding of Hairpin Turn in the northwest comer. This lessened the possibility of accidents. The cars changed, too. By 1915 they were all equipped with wire wheels. When the races were resumed in 1919, the cars had streamlined bodies and pointed tails. Some had four-wheel brakes, which enabled the driver to approach the turns at greater speed.
Road Race scenes: "Aviating" on the north leg, above, and the aftermath of an accident below.
Drivers had to cope with stones thrown by the tires of cars ahead of them, careless spectators who broke through barriers, burned out bearings, cracked bushings, stuck valves, thrown tire rims, and one year-1919-with roofing tacks sprinkled over the track by vandals. Of the starting field of twenty-eight in the 1914 contest, only five finished. The races were not without accidents. The worst year was 1911, when a portion of the main grandstand collapsed, plunging scores of spectators to the ground. It had been hastily constructed to seat an overflow crowd of more than seventy thousand. Ralph Ireland was killed in a practice session. In the main event, Dave Buck and his mechanic, Sam Jacobs, lost their lives when their Pope-Hartford threw a tire and somersaulted out of control. The association had difficulty obtaining insurance the following year. With little time to spare, Lloyd's of London apparently agreed to underwrite a policy. Luckily, there were no accidents, because it was learned after the race that after accepting fifteen hundred dollars, the insurers had wanted another one thousand dollars, and when it was not received, had canceled out.
The deaths aroused one clergyman to label the races "more cruel than the brutal bullfights of Spain" and "no better in spirit than the gladiatorial contests of the early centuries in the arena of the Roman Coliseum."13
The most spectacular fatal crash occurred in 1914, when Spencer Wishart's big Mercer grazed the hub cap of a car he was overtaking, shot crazily through the air above a row of spectators, and slammed into a tree. The car struck one bystander, hurling him to the ground and leaving a tire mark on his shirt but no broken bones. Neither the driver nor the mechanic, Jack Jenter, survived.
The perils faced by the racers were described by Eddie Rickenbacker, who was bumped by a car he was passing in that 1914 contest. "I hit the ditch, just as poor Spence had done minutes before. I went up the other side of the ditch, hit the fence and bounced back down and up the other side. A telephone pole loomed. My mechanic dived under the cowl. I cut to the left, swung down through the ditch, bounced off the fence again and came back heading for another telephone pole. Back under the cowl went the mechanic. Down into the ditch I went again, careened off the fence and here came the third pole. I finally wrestled the car back onto the road between poles, but I had bent an axle, and it twisted off."14
Ralph DePalma, one of the immortals of auto racing, was the most successful competitor. He won six Elgin road races, three of them the main event. Stories of his actions on and off the track are legion. In 1913 he was tardy in returning the trophy and nearly forfeited the five thousand dollar bond he had posted. In the 1920 race, he overran Graveyard Bend at Udina, continued down a ravine, drove his French-built Ballot into a cow path and was back on the course without damage. At one point in the same contest, he and Ralph Mulford charged into Hornbeek Turn. Mulford overshot it and roared toward Elgin on Larkin Avenue. DePahna rounded the curve, shouting to his mechanic, "Mulford's going downtown for lunch!"15
With the passage of time, the speed of cars made road racing perilous because of the absence of effective protection for bystanders. The driving public, now growing in numbers, objected to the road closings necessary for this type of competition. Farmers disliked the interruptions at threshing time. From the date of the last Elgin race on August 28, 1920, until the sport was revived in Elgin on August 26, 1933, there was no major road race held in the United States. The revival was a financial disaster, and as cars roared past the grandstands at better than one hundred miles per hour, even the most ardent boosters realized that there were no adequate spectator safeguards.
The big cars no longer whip around the Graveyard Bend, "aviate" over the Hump or race down Britton's Hill, clouds of blue smoke and dust trailing behind them. They have all been flagged across the finish fine to become a part of Elgin's heritage. Only a marker remains, dedicated to the drivers, mechanics and pitmen who by their skill and daring thrilled crowds and contributed to the development of the modem automobile.
5. The Decline of Milk and Butter
Elgin's central position in the Midwest dairy industry reached its peak in the '90s, when there were nearly two hundred butter and cheese factories within a radius of fifty miles around the city. The change from the gravity process to centrifugal separators in gathering cream saved time and increased the yield. Milk was taken to the creameries fresh from the cow, run through the separators and made into butter within thirty-six hours.
The Elgin butter district, as defined by the 300-member Board of Trade, by then had been stretched to include the northern half of Illinois and the two southern tiers of Wisconsin counties. Nearly five hundred creameries were represented by the board, which met once a week in enlarged quarters in the Adler-Strauss block on South Grove Avenue. A large blackboard to record sales was placed in the room. The weekly Elgin Dairy Report ("Elgin Makes the Price, We Tell You What It Is") published news of the industry. It was established in 1891 by David W. Wilson, who had been a factory owner near Bartlett.
A controversial quotation committee in 1896 began setting uniform prices instead of allowing them to be established by sales. This new procedure was designed to lessen extreme fluctuations and speculation on prices governing contracts. It was criticized for high quotations based on a low volume of sales, but the purpose of the board from its very beginning was to help the producer eliminate the middle man and his commission. Since most of the creameries were co-operatives, the money received, minus the cost of manufacturing and handling, went to the farmers. The factory owner received the same amount regardless of the price, but the consumer was disadvantaged.
Despite the complaints, much of the best quality butter in the country was based on Elgin quotations. A Milwaukee commission man condemned the Board in 1900 as "one of the worst trusts in the country. Wisconsin is one of the greatest butter-producing states in the union, second only to Iowa, but still the creameries here are practically controlled by Elgin."16
Local manufacturers sought an identification with the famed product or name of the Elgin National Watch Company. The Elgin Packing Company sold a Watch Brand canned corn. Other examples were the Elgin National Soap Company and the Elgin National Brewing Company.
By the end of the century two Elgin-based firms were still among the leading members of the board. The John Newman Company in 1898 owned or controlled the output of fifty-two creameries scattered over northern Illinois, eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin. Its factories were supplied with milk from about 2,250 farms with a combined area of a quarter of a million acres. Each day before sunrise, some 55,000 cows were milked and half a million quarts of milk poured into 14,000 cans. These were loaded onto wagons which rattled over country roads to the intake doors of the creameries. Annual output ranged between seven and eight million pounds of Springbrook butter.
The Elgin Butter Company of William H. Hintze controlled the output of about fifty creameries under the White Clover label. The largest of its factories was located in Elgin in a huge three-story building on Brook Street. It had a capacity of 10,000 pounds of milk per hour. Sharing the space was its adjunct, the Elgin Caramel Company, which used the skimmed milk as a base for the candy. In addition to these two firms, the city was still making dairy apparatus, and the Elgin Butter Tub Company and the local plant of the Creamery Package Manufacturing Company were major producers of containers.
An increased flow of fluid milk into Chicago led to a major shift in butter production from the Fox Valley to Wisconsin. In 1899, Chicago was consuming 150,000 gallons of fresh milk daily, but by 1907, this had risen to 240,000 gallons. Illinois' butter output dropped 27.8 percent between 1899 and 1909, while the number of dairy cows remained relatively unchanged.
Local boosters of "Pure creamery butter" were dismayed by the arrival in Elgin in 1896 of the Illinois Creamery Company. 'Me plant was owned by the C. H. Weaver Company of Chicago, and it renovated butter from surplus stock that had turned rancid. When Hintze died in 1900, the Weaver firm purchased the Elgin Butter Company, and in 1905 moved its operations to a smaller building on a triangular piece of land below the Fox River switch. When the business was removed in the spring of 1908, Elgin was left without a major producer of natural butter.
These developments were noted by the federal government. In 1908 the National Pure Food Commission, predecessor to the Food and Drug Administration, challenged the validity of labeling butter under the name of a city where it was not manufactured. Although the Board of Trade in 1906 had expanded its trading district to include the eastern tiers of counties in Iowa and the third lower tier of counties in Wisconsin, the term "Elgin butter" had become meaningless. It variously referred to butter made in the Elgin producing district, butter made in the enlarged Elgin trading district, or high quality butter meeting Elgin standards regardless of where it was made. The test case involved the Pearsall brothers, who had begun renovating butter in 1907 and then had purchased the D. E. Wood Butter Company. They were placing "Elgin Butter" on the output of their Evansville, Wisconsin plant. The Pearsalls claimed this was not misrepresentation because the butter was made within the so-called Elgin trading district. The case was dismissed, but it was becoming obvious that the city's connection with operating creameries was becoming rather tenuous.
In 1910 a U.S. Senate committee probed charges that the Elgin Board of Trade was merely a combination to fix the price of butter. "The Elgin market used to be first in the land," B. S. Pearsall revealed at the time, "but it (is) of the smallest influence, and outside of Wisconsin, is seldom heard of among the creamery men."17 The federal government filed suit against the Board late in 1912, alleging violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and claiming it was being conducted for the benefit of the big wholesalers through "wash sales" not made in good faith. The board consented to a court decree in 1914 abolishing its quotation committee and lingered as a shadow of what it had once been. From January 6 to June 16, 1917, for example, an average of only fifty one tubs weekly were traded on the board. Finally, on November 3, 1917, at the request of the United States Food Administration it suspended business for the duration of the war and never resumed operation.
In 1915 the last of Elgin's great butter firms, the John Newman Company, reduced to operating about two dozen creameries, was sold and its offices moved to Freeport. By coincidence that same year, the B. S. Pearsall Company, which had been making Processed butter in Elgin, converted it's local plant to the exclusive Production of "Algood" margerine. Elgin butter men had long denigrated the value of oleo, and now, thirty years after they had sought protection in Springfield from its competition, the despised product was being made in the former dairy center. After large additions were made to its factory on North State Street in 1916, 1917 and 1918, B. S. Pearsall was turning out 25,000 pounds of margarine daily.
Shipments of milk from the Fox Valley to Chicago ended the production of condensed milk as well as butter. Elgin's increasing urban congestion and the costs of transportation had made it necessary for the Borden operation to open plants closer to the dairy farms. Instead of expanding the Elgin plant, condensers were opened at Carpentersville in 1888 and Algonquin in 1893, and later in Belvidere, Huntley and other locations. When the Elgin Condensed Milk Company, a local competitor, was purchased in 1894, the old Waverly Hotel it had been using on State Street was converted to the bottling of fresh milk. Borden's became the largest retail milk distributor in Elgin.
Borden's diversification continued with the acquisition of the Elgin Milkine Company in 1903. This producer of malted milk had moved to Elgin in 1897. After the purchase, the division shared facilities with the bottling plant, but by 1907, had expanded so rapidly that the fresh milk operations were transferred to a new building near the east side condenser and two years later were abandoned, leaving the field to a number of locallyowned operations. In 1911-12, a four-story and basement structure of reinforced concrete was built on the southwest comer of Highland Avenue and State Street on what had been the lawn of the old hotel. It was expanded in 1914. The malted milk business continued to grow, and after the start of the First World War, the plant was operated twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for many years. The Elgin factory came to rank second only to the Horlick works in Racine, Wisconsin, among the leading producers.
For years Borden's, then the largest single purchaser of milk in the Fox Valley, had made semi-annual announcements of the price it would pay on March 15 and September 15, and the farmers could take it or leave it. Other large buyers adopted the same price. As the demand for fluid milk increased in northern Illinois, however, the condensers could not meet the prices the big dairies could pay. The largest of these, the Bowman Dairy Company, was operating twelve plants, some of them at Barrington, Crystal Lake, Palatine and St. Charles in the immediate Elgin vicinity. The farmers, now organized in the Milk Producers Association, increased the pressure for higher prices. Milk strikes occurred in the spring of 1916 and the fall of 1917, and finally the Elgin condensing plant closed late in 1918. Borden's also abandoned other condensing operations in northern Illinois, and much of the equipment was shipped to new plants in the south and southwest.
Remnants of the dairy industry continued in Elgin for many years. The Elgin Dairy Report did not cease publication until 1922. The Creamery Package Manufacturing Company remained until 1926, and tubs continued to be made at Elgin Butter Tub until 1945, when the name of the firm was changed to Elgin Corrugated Box. Borden's closed down the malted milk plant in 1936, but moved in a special products division. In 1931, the firm purchased a local ice cream company and established a Cities Ice Cream Division. This was phased out in 1960. The special products division was sold in 1972, and the Corporate Quality Assurance Laboratories closed in 1973. The Nutritional Research Laboratory east of Elgin on U.S. 20 was opened in 1940 and still remains.
6. The Progressive Spirit
The good years coincided with a period of middle-class reform known as the Progressive Movement. The rise of large corporations and the formation of trusts threatened small businessmen. Heavy migration from eastern and southern Europe was said to cause real wages to remain stationary or decline and was believed responsible for the corruption prevalent in municipal government. Reformers advocated government regulation of industry, protection for the consumer, and a variety of political mechanisms designed to enable voters to wrest control of governments from political bosses.
A small city that was no longer expanding, mainly Protestant, its foreign-born population from northern Europe largely assimilated, Elgin looked with distrust at the growing concentration of economic power in big businesses and of political power in big city machines. President Theodore Roosevelt, a magnetic personification of reform, was given a huge majority by Elgin voters in 1904. Schools were dismissed and business suspended when Teddy arrived in town in 1910. Now out of office and disappointed by what he regarded as the failure of his successor to continue his progressive policies, he addressed a throng from a railroad car halted just south of the high North Western depot.
Colonel Ira C. Copley of Aurora bought the Elgin Daily Coulier in 1909. The paper had been a supporter of a stand-pat faction of the Republican Party and was critical of Copley, who represented the more progressive wing. When Copley ran for Congress in 1910, he could count on the backing of both the Courier and his other paper, the Aurora Beacon. Thus armed, the Colonel went forth as an insurgent to challenge and defeat the "machine in a hard-fought primary in September.
Copley was a political paradox. In 1905, he had merged gas utilities in Joliet, Aurora, LaGrange and Elgin into the Western United Gas and Electric Company. And yet this wealthy monopolist advocated trust busting, public control of service corporations, and graduated income and inheritance taxes. "I am a 'progressive' Republican," he declared, "and believe in the policies of Theodore Roosevelt, namely, 'A Square Deal for Everybody.'"18 Unfortunately for Copley's candidacy, Western United's franchise was up for renewal, and its request for an increase in rates aroused an acrimonious dispute that seethed throughout the campaign. To the Elgin City Council and many gas consumers, the rate proposal was not a square deal. The late primary left too little time for opponents within the party, including the Elgin Daily News, to become reconciled. Although Copley emerged victorious in the four-county district, the Democratic candidate carried Elgin Township.
Copley's initial political failure in Elgin (he was later re-elected five times with big local majorities) did not diminish the city's allegiance to Roosevelt, whose eloquent defense of middle-class virtues had wide appeal. When the former president ran as a Progressive Party candidate in 1912, summoning his followers to do battle for the Lord, he carried the township by a vote of 3,260 to 710 for the incumbent Republican, William Howard Taft. It was the first time Elgin had ever deserted the Grand Old Party in a presidential election.
Locally, Arwin Price's call for "public ownership of public utilities, the true solution of government by the people,"19 smacked of socialism and was not a dominant Progressive ideal. It went unanswered, but Elgin proceeded to set things right by changing the structure of its city government. Soon after state legislation in 1910 allowed the commission plan for Illinois cities, the Elgin Commercial Club (now the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce) pushed for adoption of the new form. The electorate approved the change from the mayor-council form by a vote of 2,288 to 1,388 on January 21, 1911. The city had been honestly run on a non-partisan basis and was free of both bonded indebtedness and bossism, but Elgin welcomed a system that promised business efficiency and offered a Progressive package of direct democracy innovations. Candidates for office would be nominated by voters at a primary. Equipped with the initiative and referendum, an ordinance could be proposed by petition and the issue decided by popular vote. Voters could also discharge an elected official after seventy-five percent of the electorate signed a petition requesting a recall election on the question.
Elgin's irrepressible politician, Arwin E. Price (1850-1933), first entered the lists as an aldermanic candidate in 1879 and gave his last hurrah in the primary of 1927. "The Poor Man's Friend" served six terms in the mayor's chair, 1889-91, 1897-1903, 1907-09, and 191923. In the 1907 election, when questioned about his seemingly doubtful chances, he replied, "I'm elected mayor of Elgin, son, just as certain as God made little apples." And he was.
The commission plan eliminated the ward basis of representation, substituting the election at large of a mayor and four commissioners for terms of four years. The number of city officials responsible to the voter was thus reduced from eighteen to five, and the annual elections were made quadrennial. The mayor had no veto, but cast one of the five votes when the commissioners met as a council to decide policy. "It is better to pay a few men well for practically their full time than a few men poorly for a little of their time," explained William Grote, the former mayor.20 Each member of the commission was responsible for administering one of five city departments: public affairs; accounts and finances; public health and safety; streets and public improvements; and public property.
Although the commission lacked centralized direction, the plan satisfied Elginites for many years. The incumbent mayor under the old mayor-council form, Albert Fehrman, was re-elected to serve under the new arrangement. After his two terms, Arwin Price was returned to office. Several competent men were elected commissioners, and relatively long tenures provided the benefits of experience. Of the seventeen men elected commissioners over the years, fourteen were re-elected at least once, and five were elected to three terms or more. Their retention in office may have been due in part to the continued operation of the patronage system. Firefighters and policemen were chosen on some basis of merit beginning with the creation of the local Board of Fire and Police Commissioners in 1903, but other city employees were subject to patronage appointment until the organization of a Civil Service Commission in 1939.
The initiative and referendum was first used in 1912, when two questions were submitted to voters. One of these concerned the ordinance prohibiting the opening of places of amusement on Sunday. The other involved the fortunes of the international Voting Machine Company, which the Commercial Club-sponsor of the commssion plan-had induced to locate in Elgin. More than twenty states had which were supposed to authorized the use of voting machines, promote honest elections, and hopes ran high for this new industry. Local stockholders, among them members of the Commercial Club, comprised a majority of its board of directors. A factory was erected in 1911, but orders were slow in arriving. Why not try them out in Elgin? The company prodded a petition to the City Council, asking that the city purchase an International machine for each voting district or precinct. Realizing the proposal would pass at the referendum, the commissioners lessened the city's obligation by reducing the precincts from eighteen to ten.
The proposal carried by a vote of 2,943 to 1,211, and ten machines were delivered in June 1913. Each weighed about four hundred pounds. Voting was accomplished by turning a key, and keys were provided for at least forty candidates in each of eight parties. There were forty additional keys for independent candidates and spaces for eight referendum questions.
The first chance to employ this new method of voting came in October 1913 at a light plant bond referendum, but a complication had arisen. A state law passed after the purchase stipulated that separate counts must be provided for male and female voters. This would require twenty machines, ten for each precinct, and the city had only ten. The machines were not used. In fact, they were never used. The business collapsed under a court ruling that the International and other voting machines with patents pending since 1895 were infringing on a prior patent. The only locally produced machines actually sold were the ten gathering dust in City Hall. In May 1916 all of International's shop equipment, machinery and inventory were loaded into several freight cars and sent to a Newark, New Jersey, firm holding the original patent.
The initiative and referendum were seldom used in Elgin after the failure of the voting machine experiment. It was symptomatic of the weakness of direct democracy methods, which give voters more responsibility than they may be able or willing to assume. A recall election was never held in Elgin, although petitions were once circulated against a mayor. Copley, who was elected as a Progressive in 1912 returned to the Republican Party three years later, and the ebbing reform spirit vanished in a world at war.
7. The Perils of Pleasure
When the working day was shortened, a number of new amusements became available to fill the leisure hours and cause a shaking of head& After the turn of the century, vaudeville acts began to replace the old stock companies on the stage of the Opera House. This new form of entertaim-nent offered reduced prices and more action without the intermission necessary for scene changes. A procession of comedians, hypnotists, ventriloquists, magicians, musicians and dancers attracted such crowds that a remodeled Coliseum, built originally as a horse barn, began showing vaudeville in the summer of 1906. Later that year, the Star Vaudeville Theater opened with 650 seats. Admissions at these houses were fifteen cents, while Opera House tickets usually ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar.
The Marx Brothers appeared in Elgin more than once. In one skit, Groucho was the stem teacher and Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo were the students. Al Jolson starred in the New York Winter Garden production of "Robinson Crusoe, Jr." in 1917. Ticket prices for this attraction ranged up to a steep two dollars and fifty cents.
Vaudeville soon faced competition from a new medium. Motion pictures had been exhibited at the Opera House as early as 1897 and were subsequently shown alternately with the vaudeville acts. Now they were to have a home of their own. Elgin's first movie house, the Globe Five Cent Theater, opened in a converted grocery store on South Grove Avenue in 1907. This nickelodeon appealed to those who could not afford stage theaters, but a social stigma was attached to these poor man's electric shows. Requesting that the City Council refuse the Globe a license, the Woman's Club charged that it would display immoral and suggestive pictures.
The early shows at the Globe lasted about an hour and consisted of three comic reels of ten minutes each and three illustrated songs. The projectionist grappled with a hand-cranked machine while the screen flickered and jerked and the audience read the cumbersome subtitles. Music was supplied by a tinny upright piano, and the ticket-taker also sang the songs.
The Globe proved so popular that a second nickelodeon, the Temple, opened in the Masonic Hall on Spring Street the next year. It brought the first primitive "talkie" to Elgin in the form of a "synchronoscope," a device which connected a phonograph with the projector so that a complete performance was given on canvas and record. Unfortunately, the record could hardly be heard and was often out of time with the film. The Lyric opened in 1909 across from the Globe. It was the first building in Elgin to be erected specifically as a motion picture house. A fourth theater, the Orpheum, opened in 1911 on DuPage Street.
Merging theaters in chains facilitated the booking and rotation of vaudeville acts and films. The theaters, usually locally owned, were leased and managed by chains, which gained bargaining power in negotiations with the distributors. Frank J. Thielen of Aurora and Charles T. Prickett of Wheaton expanded their business to Elgin for this purpose as early as 1908, when they took over the film showings at the Opera House. They announced that pictures would be used in only one Chicago playhouse before showing in Elgin. Two thousand feet of film would be run at every show for a dime. Within a year, Thielen and Prickett acquired the Star, leased the Temple and locked horns with Mayor Al Fehrman.
The mayor had issued an order to the police to enforce a local ordinance prohibiting roller skating, public theatricals and other amusements-except sacred or religious concerts-on Sundays. He claimed that on Sunday, October 31, 1909, a picture had been shown in Elgin of "a young girl led to ruin by a young man and a disquieting scene in a wine room where the girl was made drunk."21 Thielen and Prickett protested, but failed to secure an injunction against the mayoral decree. Fehrman revoked their licenses and restored them only when the theater managers had admitted the error of their ways.
By 1912, when the battle over Sunday showings broke out again, attendance at the movie houses was averaging two thousand daily. The Elgin Ministerial Association fired the opening gun by complaining that the theaters were once again in violation of the ordinance. The mayor and commissioners responded by closing all Sunday performances. This time, however, the theater managers were armed with a new weapon, the initiative and referendum. The owners placed petitions in circulation calling for a vote on the repeal of the blue law "for the benefit and convenience of many of the laboring classes of people, who are unable to attend such entertainments during the week."22
Opponents of the proposal waged a vigorous campaign. The Pastor of the First Baptist church, who led the fight, sermonized: "If you keep these places open, you are saying to your young people, 'We are done with religion. The theater is as good as the church.'"23 The First Methodist minister explained that the Sunday theater "is wicked, not because of what it is, but because of when it is," and reminded his listeners of the Fourth Commandment.24 Pleasure won at the ballot box, 2,550 voting for repeal to 1,674 opposed.
The propriety of Sunday movies was controversial, but an undisputed danger was the flammable celluloid film. In August 1908, during a showing at the Opera House, a fire in the balcony projection booth was apparently started by a film fragment which lodged in the machine. It was instantly ignited by the intense heat. The film on the reel was consumed in a flash, and another roll of film lying near the projector burst into flame. The fire alarmed those seated close to the booth, and the commotion spread downstairs. A vaudeville performer succeeded in calming the audience before panic spread. In March 1909, a loosened end of a reel break swung into the projector lamp at the Temple. An electric fan sent a flash of fire through the small opening in the projection booth wall and into the auditorium, where cries of "Fire!" caused a mass exodus. The fire was quickly put out with hand extinguishers, but the City Council the next week passed an ordinance providing for metal or asbestos projection booths, metal reels and film boxes, and metal projection stands.
Just as alarming as the moving pictures in some quarters were the maneuvers and gyrations of the new dances. "The round dance is nothing more than a public embrace," warned a First Methodist Sunday school teacher. "It is like drink-it always leaves a craving for more."25 Some social clubs issued edicts that barred the grizzly, turkey trot, bunny hug and other steps performed to ragtime music. The tango was introduced to Elgin at the firemen's ball in 1913. "The tango was all right," commented a member of the dance committee, "but when they got to putting too many motions in it, we called a council of war and decided that we would have to stop them."26
More acceptable to the clergy were the Chautauqua assemblies, annual events in Elgin during the years 1905 through 1914 except for 1911. They featured family camping in tents grouped around a main tent and dining hall. Chautauqua programs consisted of music and lectures on history, civic reform, nature study, popular science, travel, personal adventures and the liquor problem, as well as comic monologues, sermons and Bible study. There were glee clubs, choirs, quartets and bell ringers, Pueblo Indians, phrenologists, Protestant evangelists and a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."
William Jennings Bryan, perhaps the most famous celebrity on the traveling Chautauqua circuits, came the first year. Carry A. Nation, whose hatchet had smashed bars in Kansas, arrived in 1909. She was directed to the Kelley Hotel, but found to her dismay that it had a bar and found other accommodations. Later, she confronted Mayor Al Fehrman and noted with disgust that he was smoking a cigar.
"Mr. Mayor," she asked, "if you could cast a deciding vote-if your vote would wipe every saloon off the face of the map-how would you vote? Would you vote to keep them?"The growing fascination with golf was a potential threat to Sunday morning church attendance. In the fall of 1899, a crude course was laid out on gravel hills in back of the asylum buildings. There were no putting greens, and tin cans were used for cups. Grazing cattle and sheep provided natural hazards and kept the grass from growing too high. In 1901, the private membership Elgin Country Club was formed, and nine holes were constructed on the present site on U.S. 20. William H. Wing, an attorney who died in 1902, bequeathed the city one hundred ten acres for the west side park which bears his name. Dr. Frank S. Lombard conceived the idea of using part of the donation for a public course. Arwin E. Price, seeking the mayor's chair after a four-year absence from City Hall, took up the cause in his role of champion of the people against privilege. His inaugural message recommended the project so that "the public at large may enjoy the innocent sport at their pleasure without seeking the consent of 'Elgin's select one hundred.'"28 Opened for play late in 1908, Wing Park's nine-holer was the first municipally owned golf course in Illinois.
"I believe so," the mayor answered. "If I didn't, I'd be a hypocrite. I have said I favor the licensed saloon, carefully regulated."
"So would the devil!" replied Carry.27
Wing Park had room for other forms of recreation. In 1907 Elgin's first public bathing beach was opened there, and the same year, the newly organized Gentlemen's Driving Club held its initial trotting races on a half-mile track. Tennis courts were authorized in 1914.
The YMCA started a camping program for boys at Wauconda in Lake County in 1903. The cost of eleven days of swimming, boating and baseball was six dollars and fifty cents, including wagon transportation to and from the camp. In addition to its bowling alleys, the Y offered an indoor swimming pool. After the Y's pool was opened in 1908, membership reached a record 725. The board of directors continued to insist that the foundation of these physical activities was religion. Bible study classes and Sunday afternoon gospel meetings continued, but the outlines of the modern, secular Y program were apparent. From its original aim of saving souls, it had evolved into a place for developing bodies.
8. Women at Work
Females did not outnumber males in the United States as a whole until about 1945; in Elgin, men were in the minority as early as the 1870 census. The chief reason for this disparity was the presence of the watch factory, where the nimble fingers of women were adept at operating intricate machines and assembling tiny parts. Women were also employed in large numbers at the shirt, shoe, watch case and milk condensing plants. By 1909, women accounted for 39.2 percent of the city's industrial wage earners-a higher proportion than in any other city in Illinois and more than twice the rate found in the state as a whole.
Young women from farms and small towns alighted at the train stations clutching canvas bags eager to make their way in the city as store clerks, domestics and watch workers. Starting wage for inexperienced females at the big factory in 1909 was sixty cents a day, three dollars for the five-day week. The neophytes were given work as waitresses at the National House to pay for their meals, but little was left after deducting room rent and laundry expense. After about six months, they would be making one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars a day on piecework and could afford to buy new clothes.
Many women continued to work after marriage, and families with two pay checks were relatively prosperous. The combination of "clean" industry, the two-income family that made widespread home ownership possible, and a sizable injection of the New England and German versions of the values of hard work and thrift gave Elgin a middle class aura not usually found in manufacturing centers.
Women not working outside the home found themselves with more leisure time. Family size in Elgin dropped from an average of five persons in 1890 to 4.3 persons in 1910. Some household chores were now being lightened or eliminated with improved stoves, the introduction of electric appliances, and such time-savers as packaged cereals and canned vegetables. This new freedom the women used for civic betterment.
Myrtle Huff and Hattie M. Griffin, school principals concerned about the welfare of girls entering business and industry, proposed a local Young Womens Christian Association in 1901 and solicited the first contributions. Its programs were minimal until donations by Mr. and Mrs. George P. Lord and a site given by Mrs. A. B. Church provided a substantial new building on East Chicago Street. This was dedicated in September 1906, and its cafeteria, the first in Elgin, was opened in December. The YWCA's indoor pool was completed in 1913. A need for living quarters was met in 1914 by renting and equipping two apartments on Dexter Street. Later,a residence on Chapel Street was used.
Not everyone shared in the growing prosperity. The Associated Charities was formed in 1912 to systematize the collection and distribution of money for charitable purposes, record information about the unfortunate, see that all deserving were promptly relieved and act as a clearinghouse for affiliated organizations. Mrs. M. C. Eppenstein served as president during its first years.
Julia Peck, wife of the department store owner, visited a home for the elderly during an Eastern trip. Impressed by its facilities and realizing the need for a similar institution in Elgin, she interested George and Mary Lord in the project. This philanthropic couple gave in cash and property more than three-fourths of the original endowment and building fund. The Old People's Home (now Oak Crest Residence) opened in 1906 on the crest of the South State Street hill. A garden in the rear supplied residents with fresh vegetables and a surplus for canning, and a cow and chickens provided milk and eggs. Across the street was a small grove of trees sloping down to the North Western tracks. George P. Lord gave a portion of this tract, to be named Central Park, to the city to provide the home's residents with an unobstructed view of the east side.
The Elgin's Children's Home Society had been formed in 1896 to provide for orphans and those whose parents were unable to Properly care for them in their own homes. Six children were sheltered by the end of the first year of operation. In 1902, Cyrus H. Larkin donated a house and lots on South State Street upon the condition that the facility be named in honor of his mother. Initially, both men and women served on the board of directors, but in 1910, it was decided that the home's activities were mothers' work, and the membership was changed to all women. When the original quarters became overcrowded, funds were raised through benefit entertainments, band concerts and donations to erect a new building on Larkin Avenue designed for a capacity of nearly fifty children. The new home was opened in 1912. During the Road Races, Larkin Home children sold spectators thousands of packages of chewing gum donated by William Wrigley.
Encouraged by a substantial donation from Mr. and Mrs. George P. Lord, the Woman's Club laid the cornerstone in June 1893 for a new Sherman Hospital on North Center Street. It was brick with stone trim, three stories tall, with basement and attic, and topped by an ornamental tower at the center of the front. Although the exterior had been completed by the end of the year, the club ran out of funds to finish the interior and open the building. It wasn't until late in 1895 that it was ready for occupancy. There were seventeen patient rooms, two operating sleeping rooms for nurses and an apartment for the matron. In 1898, the Lords gave two lots on Spring Street to extend the grounds on the west, and the removal of a house on the property made possible an expanse of lawn on the north. A large annex was erected in 1904-05, increasing patient capacity from twenty-eight to fifty-two. Retan Hall was opened as a residence for the nursing staff in 1912. A twenty-four-room, four-story addition along Center Street was completed in 1916-17.
Operating funds were contributed from time to time by various individuals and groups, including the city of Elgin and Kane County. The most consistent donor was the Elgin National Watch Company. The Woman's Club worked doggedly to raise money. On Trolley Days, they acted as streetcar conductors, receiving a portion of the fares, and on two occasions turned out an issue of the Daily News. The club also battled attempts by the medical staff to assume control. One skin-nish resulted in the denial of a doctor's right to use the hospital after he divorced his wife and married a nurse with whom he had been having an affair.
A new opportunity for women's education came with the organization of the Sherman Hospital Training School for Nurses, the first class of six young women graduating in 1898. The course took two years to complete until 1908, when six months were added. The first three-year class received its diplomas in 1913. Among the graduates was Janet Geister, who would become director of the American Nursing Association 1927-33.
Four sisters from the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Joliet came to open St. Joseph Hospital in 1902. Their first building was a converted home at Jefferson and Prospect streets. They carried on their work in these small quarters until a new brick structure was erected in 1904. Its capacity was thirty-five beds, increased to sixty by a major addition in 1914. Another hospital, providing treatment for chronically ill, mental and convalescent patients, was established by Libbie Goll in 1909 in the foriner home of Judge E. C. Lovell at the comer of Villa and Liberty streets. Resthaven Sanitarium, which was to be managed by Goll for more than forty years, expanded with the purchase of a two-story building to the east in 1916.
Women were not content with raising families, teaching school, clerking in stores, working in the factories and providing care for homeless children, the elderly and the ailing. They also turned their energies to the problem of the saloon.
9. The Dry Crusade
The liquor trade had been a bone of contention in Elgin since the first local temperance agitation in 1854. During another dry movement in 1864, more than three-fifths of the legal voters of Elgin signed a petition asking the City Council to rescind issuing licenses and prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Council disregarded the plea, perhaps doubting either the sincerity or resolution of the signers. Over the years, arguments arose over hours of service, purchases by minors, the number of outlets, Sunday openings, license fees and competition between liquor dealers and druggists.
Wives complained that several saloons cashed their husbands' pay checks and then influenced them to remain at the bar, buying for everyone present until their money was practically gone. Moralists focused on the row of boat house clubs along the west bank of the river north of Kimball Street, notorious for all-night revels of drinking, gambling and debauchery involving watch factory girls. A succession of Chautauqua speakers linked abstinence with Protestant Christianity, and a local unit of the Anti-Saloon League was organized.
Arwin E. Price contributed to the growing dry sentiment. In 1907 he and the Council were assigned a soft drink stand at a picnic benefit for the custodian of Lords Park. Inebriated, wearing a crumpled hat and chewing a mangled cigar, the mayor took charge. Customers were refused change. One young man passed by without buying, and the enraged mayor grabbed a case of empties and heaved the whole collection at the erring youth. Word spread quickly to all sections of the park, and a crowd formed about the stand, shouting satirical epithets and hurling lemons, Cracker Jack boxes and other missiles. The mayor responded by throwing pop bottles and thrashing a real estate dealer, apparently mistaking him for a newspaper editor. The band was deserted, and Price became the day's chief attraction before he was led away. Charley Fisher, one of his cronies, tried to explain matters: "Mayor Price, drunk, is a better man than most of his enemies sober. If he takes a nip too much occasionally, he is as honest as the day is long. Elgin would rather have a drunkard for a mayor than a thief."29
State legislation in 1907 permitted votes on a local option for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Dry proposals failed to carry in Elgin Township in 1908,1910 and 1912. Then in 1913, women were given the right to vote in local elections, including the referenda. The dry forces, armed with the women's vote, scented victory. On April 7, 1914, Elgin voters had another opportunity to decide the question, "Shall this township become anti-saloon territory?" The campaign that followed was the first to actively involve women and a probable record was set for the proportion of eligible voters going to the, polls.
Women covered the entire township traveling by automobile and carriages and organizing scores of meetings. On these occasions, the ladies chorused a localized version of the state song. One of the verses went:
Tell it out to all the nation, Illinois, IllinoisMost churches were allied with the dry forces, but St. John's, St. Paul's and the two Catholic parishes were among those that remained aloof. The city commissioners predicted budget cuts if the drys were to win and claimed the city would lose $34,000 in license revenue. The wets warned that the law couldn't be enforced and that liquor would still be available in neighboring wet townships. The campaign reached an emotional peak on the Sunday before the balloting. Speaking at the Grand Theatre (the remodeled Opera House) for those opposed to prohibition, Attorney Charles L. Abbott alluded to the newly enfranchised women: "The 'drys' are coming out with a lot of bunk about 'save our boys.' The truth is few of them have any boys to save. They talk about crime. They are the criminals or they would have more children."31 A spokesman for the drys, a former governor of Indiana, told an audience of 2,500 at the Coliseum: "I charge John Barleycorn with the murder of men, women and children and if you, the jury, do not bring in a judgment against him, you should disinter the ashes of Abraham Lincoln from the soil of a state which is not good enough to hold his remains and send them to some land where real men live..."32
Elgin has the combination, Illinois, Illinois.
Voting women hold the key
Which will set the women free, And saloonless we will be,
The election results were a testimony to the organization of the women voters. Mrs. D. E. Postle, leader of the drys, estimated in advance that there about six thousand eight hundred women ehgible to vote in the township and most would vote in favor of the question. The drys won, 6,504 to 5,918, and 4,008 women were in the winning column. The men voted wet, 3,733 to 2,506. Women had turned the key that locked the saloon door.
As the time approached for the closing of thirty-four saloons in the city and three others elsewhere in the township, residents began stocking wines, brandies, whiskies and cordials. By nine in the evening of closeup day, May 7, 1914, the streets were crowded with men going from saloon to saloon. Many of them were carrying out a boast they would have a drink at each of the bars before they shut down. Bartenders served up their last free lunches to customers lined up three and four deep.
Local option in Elgin was a forerunner of the national prohibition to come with the Eighteenth Amendment. Unlicenced key clubs and "blind pigs" blossomed. Controversies arose over the legality of near beer and druggists' prescriptions. The drys accused the commissioners of doing nothing about the gross violations of the new law, and formed the Law Enforcement League to field a slate in the 1915 city election. In the very close mayoral contest, Al Fehrman narrowly won re-election by a scant plurality of only one hundred seventy-five votes out of a total 10,403. Men gave him a majority of 1,076 while women presented his dry opponent, Harry D. Barnes, with a majority of 901.
The head of the state Anti-Saloon League complained that Elgin's local option law could be enforced if the commissioners made an effort, but this was doubtful as long as Hanover Township remained wet. The German-speaking farmers there had defeated the idea 195 to 90 in 1908. Border bars springing up along the far western edge of Cook County were outside city jurisdiction and difficult for the Cook County sheriff to police. In addition to Foxcroft's north of town and the notorious bordellos operated by W. W. Snow and John Jurs, new places opened up Motor Inn, Motor Out, and the Grand at the end of Grand Avenue adjoining Lords Park. Authorities raided some of these nests in November and December 1916, and Elgin's Law Enforcement League assisted in another raid in January 1917. The forays made headlines, but the resorts were soon back in business, and the problem continued until the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933.
10. New Industry
The number of Elgin wage earners in manufacturing rose from 4,376 to 6,094 between 1899 and 1909, when the city ranked fifth in the state behind Chicago, Rockford, Peoria and Joliet as an industrial employer. The rate of growth was more than double that of the gain in the city's population, and more than compensated for the slack times at the watch factory. Many of the increased number of workers, some of whom were transported from nearby towns by the interurbans, were needed by new employers.
William Grote helped raise a three thousand dollar bonus to attract the Brethren Publishing House from Mt. Morris in 1899. The firm had been seeking improved railroad and mailing facilities for the distribution of its denominational literature. A three story brick building was erected on South State Street near West Chicago Street, a site close to two railroad depots. The Dunkards, as they were first known in Elgin, were soon holding worship services, and the congregation that is now the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren was formally organized in October of the same year. West side residents grew accustomed to seeing the newcomers' somber clothes, the women in black bonnets and the men in black hats with wide brims.
Expansion of publishing activities required enlargements of the original building in 1903, 1904 and 1906. The plant grew to four stories in height with a courtyard in the center to provide light and ventilation to workrooms. In addition to the official church weekly, The Gospel Messenger, the Brethren's presses produced story papers for children and youth, lesson quarterlies and various kinds of materials and supplies for churches. The output soon placed the operation second only to the D. C. Cook Publishing Company in local volume of second-class mail. During his long tenure as general manager, 1904-40, Robert E. Arnold developed a book bindery that served other publishers in the Chicago area and specialized in songbooks.
Another firm attracted by Grote was the Seybold Reed-Pipe Organ Company. William Seybold, its founder, had our-chamber reed box which gave the ordinary organ a quality of tone resembling that of a pipe organ. The company was reorganized and moved to Elgin in 1903. Full production began the following year. The leading stockholders were Grote, who became president after Seybold's death in 1904, and Fred H. Ackemann, the general manager. Ackemann's brother-in-law, William F. Bultmann, had learned the organ maker's trade in Hannover, Germany, and became the factory superintendent.
The original building was three-stories, located at Dexter Avenue and Race Street in an area now part of the Civic Center. In 1908 Seybold added pianos to its tine, and the name was changed to the Seybold Piano and Organ Company. By 1910, the plant was employing eighty, all male except for one stenographer. About ten thousand organs had been manufactured, and the plant had been enlarged four times. A considerable foreign market had opened, with shipments going to the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and South America.
By 1913 more than ten thousand pianos had been manufactured, and the firm was producing about two thousand pianos annually, many of them player pianos. The popularity of the mechanical music-makers led Seybold into an ill-fated merger that year with the Engelhardt Company of St. Johnsville, New York. The Engelhardt made the Peerless player attachments and bought the piano cases, while Seybold had been making cases and purchasing the attachments. The merged firm was called the Engelhardt-Seybold Company. The combine soon met disaster. The player piano novelty was fading in face of competition from the phonograph, and the war in Europe erased much of the foreign market. Engelhardt-Seybold declared bankruptcy in July 1915. The biggest local losers were William Grote, Fred Ackemann, and nearly a hundred employees who lost their jobs.
The vacant plant was acquired in 1916 by the E. P. Johnson Piano Company of Ottawa. Emil P. Johnson was a native of Sweden and a skilled piano maker. He had married an Elgin girl, which may have prompted his decision to locate here. The E. P. Johnson Company continued to produce pianos in Ottawa, but the Elgin operation was the larger of the two, and some of the Ottawa instruments were shipped to Elgin for finishing. The firm made grands, players, and uprights under the trade names "Seybold", "P.C. Weaver" and "E. P. Johnson."
James Todd and Charles A. Whiting left their employment with a Batavia windmill manufacturer in 1903 to form the-American Tower and Tank Company in Elgin. They made structural steel towers for railroad water tanks, sprinklers and municipal water systems. In 1911 John M. Murphy, who also had windmill experience and had been an early automobile dealer, came to them with plans for a motorized street sweeper. After two years of trial and development, the first Elgin sweeper was accepted by Boise, Idaho, in 1914. Its introduction came at a time when the automobile was bringing miles of unpaved streets. Fifteen Elgins were made in 1915, 23 in 1916, and 42 in 1917. The business was incorporated as the Elgin Sweeper Company in 1922.
The Commercial Club, forerunner of the present Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce, had been formed in 1908 and assumed Grote's role of attracting industry. It was instrumental in securing the Hasty Manufacturing Company (safety gas valves); the Advance Fence Company (woven fence wire for farms); the Koch Cut Glass Company; the Elgin Tractor Corporation; and the International Voting Machine Company. The only lasting acquisition was the Western Thread Company of Chicago.
A job dyer for textile mills, Western Thread was paid its moving expenses, but the chief lure was the pure spring water available at a site east of the Fox River Switch. Five springs made it possible to develop boil-proof colors in pastel and floral hues. The original plant on Bluff City Boulevard, completed in 1910, consisted of two one-story buildings. In 1912, Albert B. Collingbourne acquired a controlling interest after he found that the Elgin plant could duplicate certain colors in yarns obtainable only from abroad. With the outbreak of war in Europe, the firm was flooded with orders. A second story was added in 1915 and a third the next year. Early in 1917, then employing seven hundred on two shifts, the firm had to call in its traveling salesmen because of its inability to keep up with demand.
Some factories originated locally and adopted the now famed "Elgin" trade name. Fred W. Dietrich and Royal Kimball began the manufacture of small bake ovens in a section of their hardware store in 1903. The business rapidly outgrew the store and was later incorporated as the Elgin Stove and Oven Company. The Elgin Tool Works, owned by Albert A. Hasselquist, started production of precision bench lathes in a small shop in 1900. The Elgin Metal Novelty Company began operations in 1903, at first specializing in mechanical parts for an automatic player piano, and in 1911 erected a new building on Slade Avenue between Dundee Avenue and Liberty Street. These firms prospered, but there were failures. One of these was the Elgin National Brewing Company, which made its first beer in 1906 in the Brook Street building vacated by the Elgin Butter Company. Output reached a peak of thirteen-thousand barrels annually before the business went into receivership in 1913.
The "Butter King" at the turn of the century was John Newman (18421921). Born in England, he came to Elgin to open a dry goods store in 1864. A widower, he married the former wife of Henry Lee Borden. Their mansion, erected in 1889-90 at 321 Division Street, contained fourteen rooms and eight fireplaces. Some of the trotting horses Newman bred were kept in stables at the rear of the home.
Older industries were expanded. The foundry of R. P. Jackman and Son was purchased by Lewis A. Baker and D. T. Sharples in 1892. In 1897, when it was incorporated as the Elgin Manufacturing Company, it was manufacturing churns , milk testers, separators and other equipment. Baker subsequently developed a practical, piston-type can-filling machine for a condensed milk company, and the firm was launched on a profitable business producing automatic filling and capping machines for liquid and semiliquid products. The Elgin Rotary Filling Machine of 1909 had a capacity of 124 eight-ounce cans per minute.
In 1901, the David C. Cook Publishing Company left the central business district for a new, well-lighted, fireproof plant on the north end along the east bank of the river. The buildings, of one story except for the administrative offices, extended for nearly two city blocks. Major additions were made in 1907, 1911 and 1914, and the site grew to thirteen acres. In 1913 the firm was supplying more than 60,000 Sunday schools with materials. An average of fifteen tons was sent out daily, totaling 9.3 million pounds annually. The combined annual circulation of some forty publications exceeded one hundred million. Mother's Magazine was the only periodical not designed for Sunday schools. Established in 1905, it had a monthly circulation of more than half a million copies and required the use of five presses.
11. Here and Over There
As the century turned, the German presence in Elgin was becoming less visible. The great tide of immigration had ended, and the second generation was abandoning the old ways. The Deutsche-Zeitung ceased publication in 1904. Early in 1906, the German Evangelicals switched to the English language for its Sunday evening services to keep the younger members from drifting to other denominations. St. Paul's parochial school, with its German classes, ended in 1907. A local chapter of the German American National Alliance was formed in 1908 to perpetuate the language and customs of the Fatherland, an indication that they were slipping away.
In 1910, out of a total population of 25,976, there were 2,282 German-born residents and 3,518 who were natives of the United States, with both parents born in Germany. The city's "German stock" was far greater than the national average, but the majority were citizens. The outbreak of war in Europe aroused concern among those who had relatives in the old country. The day after Von Muck's troops entered Brussels, hundreds gathered at the Coliseum for a pro-Fatherland rally. As the war progressed, membership rose in the Alliance, which sponsored benefits for the German-Austrian-Hungarian Red Cross. There was also an increase in naturalizations.
When America entered the war, there were few conflicts of loyalty among those in Elgin of German background, but there were regrets at the abandonment of neutrality. "The fact that we maintain loyalty to our adopted country," editorialized the Herold, the German-language weekly, "by no means signifies that the men capable of making a defense take pleasure in going to France to fight the Kaiser."33
For most Elginites, the war became a great crusade against the atrocity-committing Huns, and patriotic fervor mounted to hysteria. An organization of Four Minute Men, consisting of about thirty speakers, aroused enthusiasm for the war. Beginning in December 1917, workers contributed a half hour's earnings each week to the Elgin Patriots' Fund for servicemen's relief activities. A local Red Cross chapter was formed, and women's groups turned out surgical dressings and knitted goods. The home front observed meatless and wheatless days, over-subscribed to the first four Liberty Loan drives and planted war gardens.
The war divided the ethnic churches. Some members sought to prove their loyalty by objecting to the continued use of German in services or by changing their names to an English equivalent. St. John's Lutheran Church strove mightily for a one hundred percent sign-up among its member-, for the third Liberty Loan. The son of St. Paul's pastor, one of whose uncles had won the Iron Cross, tried to enlist. Barred by poor eyesight, he then applied for the American Red Cross ambulance service.
Elgin industries received some government contracts, such as uniform shirts, boiler grates for the U.S. Emergency Fleet Corporation, wristwatch cases and movements for soldiers' watches, and precision lathe-, for navy ships and yards, but there was no munitions work. Bonuses were paid to keep paychecks from lagging too far behind rising prices, and the higher wages attracted replacements for those who entered service. The watch factory had more than two hundred stars on its service flag.
Those who did not contribute to the war fund drives or exhibit sufficient enthusiasm were considered slackers, particularly if they had German surnames. An Elgin committee of the state Council of Defense was formed in November 1917 to enhance the war spirit. The chief speaker at the organizational meeting, an Aurora minister warned: "There are still some disloyals who walk in slimy paths, meandering among the true people with their hissing, snaky tongues, talking peace, spreading slander and in all manner of ways attempting to obstruct the progress of the war."34 The committee prepared a card index system on which was registered the supposed loyalty and degree of loyalty of residents.
Neighbors looked with suspicion on anyone receiving a German-language newspaper or conversing in German, even over the telephone. When a major fire struck the Woodruff and Edwards foundry, unfounded rumors arose that it was the work of pro-German arsonists. One middle-aged German-speaking couple was arrested for expressing their disapproval of an address by a Liberty Loan speaker. Mayor William H. Thompson of Chicago, a critic of the war who was campaigning for the Republican nomination for U.S. senator, was prevented by the chief of police from continuing a Fountain Square address.
The activities of the German-American National Alliance, which had included sending comforts to interned German sailors in American prison camps, were disbanded in March 1918. The Board of Education dropped German from the high school curriculum. By Presidential proclamation, German aliens fourteen years of age and older were required to register. About two-hundred signed in at the police station and furnished photographs, but the chief of police claimed many did not. The group in Elgin under closest surveillance was the pacifist Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. They were accused of not believing the German government was a menace. One member of this sect was taken to Chicago on charges of obstructing the draft, discouraging the sale of Liberty bonds and spreading anti-American propaganda.
Elgin servicemen were scattered among different military units. The War Department tried not to overload an outfit with men from one community, and unlike the Civil War, regiments were not organized by states. The draft board in the Elgin district, which included Dundee, Rutland and Hampshire townships, inducted more than a thousand. The draftees were sent to Camp Grant, south of Rockford. Others enlisted before their numbers came up.
The experience of Elgin's Company E, 3rd Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, was typical of those sent overseas. The unit had been quartered on the Mexican border following the Pancho Villa raids. After mobilization, they left Elgin on the morning of September 13, 1917. They swung across the Chicago Street bridge to cheers and applause and boarded a train at the high North Western station for training at Camp Logan, Texas. Leaving the states on May 10, 1918, they arrived in France as part of the 129th Infantry, 33rd (Prairie) Division. On July 19th they moved into reserve trenches in the Amiens sector, where they heard an address by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The 129th was assigned to the Verdun sector on September 4 for the Meuse-Argonne offensive. For forty-two days they faced poison gas, artillery and machine-gun fire as they moved forward across barbed-wire entanglements. After the armistice, the regiment marched to Luxemburg, where they remained on occupation duty until April 7, 1919, when they boarded a transport for home. They received their discharges at Camp Grant on June 6th.
A bronze plaque placed on a wall of the public library honors the names of thirty-eight who did not return from the war. Of the twenty-two who died in France, eight were in the 33rd Division, four of them in Company E. Fifteen perished as a result of battle action, and the others succumbed to disease. At least nine were victims of the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Although seventy died of the flu in Elgin, the outbreak here was relatively mild in comparison with Joliet, which had 236 deaths, and Aurora, which reported 125.
The Courier printed a premature United Press release of an armistice on November 7, 1918, and Elgin celebrated with a parade dampened by rain and doubt. At 2:26 in the morning of November 11, the News began turning out a special extra of the Associated Press bulletin announcing the real end of the war. Celebrants began pouring downtown before daybreak. Factories, stores and schools closed. Thousands marched in an unorganized, headless, tailless parade to a series of whoops, yells, cheers, clanging of bells, tooting of horns and blowing of whistles.
The war shriveled the city's German heritage and narrowed its tolerance
of dissent. With the return of the American Expeditionary Force, new voices
of "Americanism" were raised. A meeting of the newly formed American Legion
post in October 1919 decided to ask local ministers to tell the story of
the Legion from their pulpits. "But let 'em, talk about us in plain United
States, and not in German or any other language," someone told the chairman.
There was some discussion of this, but the conclusion was that "You can't
preach one hundred percent Americanism in the German tongue!"35
The Germania was discontinued in 1918, and the Herold was moved
to Winona, Minnesota, in 1920. By 1921, all subjects at St. John's parochial
school were taught in English.
Town in the West
II The Dividing Line
III Watches, Milk and Butter
IV The Expanding City
V Boom and Panic
VI The Good Years
VII Whirling Twenties
VIII Depression and War
IX Civic Pride
X Modern Elgin
Town in the West
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