New Edison Finds

I have some new items to add to my collection of Edison memorabilia. Last year I acquired an old, glass bottle that once held  battery oil made by Thomas A. Edison Industries. A friend and I went out on the public trail where I found the bottle to search again. He has a metal detector, so we made a day of it to see if we could find more treasure. We did find that casing of what used to be a battery also made by that company. It is in rough shape, but I brought the pieces back with me.

I have not been able to find any useful information pertaining to this battery. One source explains that railroads started using these batteries in signal boxes in 1953. I think I may have also located the patent with drawings of this same battery box. But that is about all I have been able to come up with. I think I will try to trim the front part of the battery out and mend the pieces together to put it in some sort of shadow box. I think it would make for great conversation piece on my wall.

The second piece I managed to add to my collection was found by a co-worker, who then gave it to me. It is a case for a wax cylinder used with the Ediphone (aka Dictaphone). The Ediphone’s were early recording machines. You slid a wax cylinder on the machine, turned it on, and began speaking into a horn. The voice vibrations made an etching needle move up and down and recorded the sound. Pretty amazing technology in its day! When cylinder was filled up, it could be slid back into the protected tube or played back. It’s just another neat piece of history to add to my collection. It will either go up on the shelf, or it might make a nice pencil cup.



War in Dairyland

I always enjoy learning more about historical topics new to me. The era of the Great Depression was a turbulent time in US History that is often associated with urban poverty, ecological disaster, and social reform. I am fascinated with the milk strikes in the Midwest, particularly in Wisconsin. In 1933 farmers in Wisconsin tried to unify their efforts to manipulate milk prices. What resulted was the sort of militant action exercised by labor unions in big cities.

Two organizations were at the forefront of the agrarian unrest: the Wisconsin Co-operative
Milk Pool and Farmer’s Holiday Association. The Milk Pool called for strikes on three occasions in 1933, but were mostly failed  attempts. The Farmer’s Holiday Association was less militant than the Milk Pool, and it had been hesitant to back the latter. Striking farmers also met resistance from non-striking ones, which led to aggressive maneuvers to dump non-strikers’ milk before it reached dairies. The Wisconsin National Guard was also called out on a few occasions to qualm unrest.

There are a few good articles (1,2,3) out there that cover the broad topic of the milk strike, but I would like to explore the stories of how the movement touched the lives of the families in the farming communities. I am hoping to visit some historical societies and talk to some people who may provide some insight of the events that unfolded. I would very much like to hear any stories or information people might have on these subject. Maybe you had a family member involved with the movement, or one that was against the strike. I would like to hear from you!

Overhauling the 710

My cabin fever is reaching its limit, and I am so glad spring has finally sprung. Living in town is an ongoing adjustment for me. I came from a farm with 180 acres to go and do whatever on, even during the winter months. I am thankful that we have a decent size yard for me to play with my tractor.

Still Plays With Tractors

I use an Allis-Chalmers 710 lawn tractor for mowing. It was built in the late 1970s by Simplicity, which was an Allis-Chalmers subsidiary. It’s equipped with a Kohler 241S single-cylinder engine. It used to be my great uncle’s tractor, but he had not used it in years. We got it as part of a deal to repaint his Minneapolis-Moline tractor. After 30 years of use, the engine is in serious need of overhauling. I was adding oil every week when I mowed last summer, and it smoked enough to keep the mosquitoes away! It is a fuel-efficient engine that sips gas. It was filled up full in May and I didn’t put gas in until end of August.

(Simple TrACtors)

Now that it is getting warmer out, I decided to pull out the engine and tear it down. It should be a nice little DIY project before the mowing season commences. I don’t have all the tools necessary to complete the project, so I am just tearing it down as much as I can at my house and taking it back to the farm shop to complete it, with some help from my brother (he is the expert on this stuff). There are some other small things that need to be repaired (batter wires, carburetor, etc), but hopefully it will run like new once it is all done.


Universal Motor Company- Oshkosh, Wis

UMC jpg

Until moving to Oshkosh a few years ago, I never realized how industrial this city used to be. From what I have been told, Oshkosh was considered the second city in Wisconsin,  behind Milwaukee. Dominated by the lumber industry, the shores of the Fox River were packed with mills and other industrial firms.  Three major railroad lines ran through the city and serviced many firms that built next to its tracks. But, like Milwaukee, hard times hit Oshkosh and businesses closed or moved out.

The urban landscape of Oshkosh has changed and continues to change.The mills that crowded the shores of the Fox River have been demolished to make room for parks, university buildings, or turned into luxury condominiums. Old railroad lines through town have disappeared or turned into hiking trails. Formal industrial firms stand hollow along what used to be these railroad lines. Traveling down Harrison Street will bring you past a few of these former industrial buildings; one of them still has its name engraved in a cement header: “Universal Motor Company.”

Universal Motor Company (circa 1940)

Universal Motor Company (circa 1940)

The history of the company dates back to 1898 when E.H. Fahrney built and patented his marine motor. He owned a summer home in Oshkosh, and enjoyed boating on Lake Winnebago. He organized a motor company with Louis Monahan and John Termaat in Oshkosh. The company went through a few names, but was reorganized as the Universal Motor Company in 1913, which built marine motors, industrial engines, and generators in Oshkosh. The company originally started in a building on Ceape Street, but had to build a larger plant on Harrison Street to increase production.

For a more thorough history of the firm and its products, click here.

Universal Motor Company Advertisements

I am not sure whether the building is still in use anymore. The firm was acquired by Westerbeke in the 90s, and company operations moved to the parent plant in Massachusetts. It looks like there have been some additions to the building, and there is still a mailbox at the address.

Bergstrom Furnace

I ran into an interesting piece of Neenah history today. This was the door of a Bergstrom Manufacturing Company furnace. There were some other parts and components, but the door was an amazing piece with the company’s name on it. I am unable to find any pictures or information about this furnace. I was able to turn up a short  history on the company. If anyone has information or pictures of this furnace, I would like to see what it looked like.

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Lost & Found History

Every now and then I acquire some history that has been lost. This particular piece was found in the floorboards of a home. I recovered it and could not bring myself to throw it away. It was tucked into a small envelope, which is how I used to get report cards. I would like to find a family member of this woman, Jane Koch. From the information on the report card, she attended Jefferson Elementary in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. If anyone can claim this woman as an ancestor, I will gladly give you back a piece of your family’s history.

Report Card

Book Review

I finally bought my copy of The Labor Movement in Wisconsin: A History last summer. I have always wanted to get this book, but I had a hard time finding a book store that stocked it.  I got my hands on it when I visited a small bookstore in Princeton,Wisconsin.

I really enjoyed the book and learned a good deal of state labor history that I did not know. I liked how Robert Ozanne broke the book up into sections, which helped build up to each stage of labor history.  Gathering information from memoirs, union documents and newspapers, just to name a few, Ozanne gives his readers a look at the triumphs  and tribulations of the labor movement in Wisconsin. This is a good book for those interested in a broad scope of labor history in Wisconsin.