Another in our series of Living History talks

By Kay McSpadden, RPWRHS Events Chair and Board Member

The scale that started it all. Photo by Stephanie Barto.

When most people think of Chicago manufacturing, they think of steel, but Andrew Clayman thinks of all the ordinary things that were manufactured in Chicago. He talked about the history of his collection on October 17, 2019, at the Northtown Library. Objects from the collection are on exhibit at the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society until early in 2020, and can be viewed on during office hours, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In his talk, Andrew told us about the beginning of his collection of things manufactured in Chicago during the 20th century and brought a few items to show. In 2015, when his collecting began, a scale first got his attention because of the beauty of its design. Now there are over 300 items in the collection, many of which are in the RPWRHS exhibit. 

Chicago became a manufacturing hub because of its location as a transportation center. Among the familiar things that were manufactured in Chicago or by Chicago-based companies are the old-style toaster with “doors” that open downward for placing the toast; the Ecko Miracle Can Opener, a hand can opener that everybody had during the 1960s; Calumet Baking Powder; the O-Cedar Sponge Mop; Maybelline cosmetic products; the Big Ben Alarm Clock; Rival Dog Food; Florsheim Shoes; Dr. Scholl’s foot care products; hairpins; women’s hats; Wrigley’s Gum; Schwinn Bicycles; adjustable clamps; typewriters; pencil sharpeners; bricks; Baby Ruth Candy Bars; jukeboxes; Dad’s Root Beer; and Bell and Howell Cameras.

Andrew also talked about products manufactured in Rogers Park during the 20th century, including inks (the L. H. Thomas Company), the Zenith Company, Fidelitone, and S & C Electric. All but S&C are gone from the neighborhood, although L.H. Thomas was the second owner of the local landmark home at 7053 North Ridge, known today as the Jackson-Thomas House.  

Andrew has written extensively about the companies that manufactured these things, and you can see the writings on his website www.madeinchicagomuseum. com.  The company histories on the website are comprehensive, and the website also contains an interactive map that shows the neighborhood where the object was made.   Many companies have changed their name,  moved from Chicago or are no longer in existence, but thanks to the appeal of that first beautiful scale and the curiousity of an intrepid collector, their stories live on.