December 15, 2001
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"Howdy, Sucker". While these words may have been the trademark greeting of 1920s nightclub owner Texas Guinan, they might also have been appropriate for employees of the Racine Confectioners Machinery Company, the day they first tried out their new device, one that could turn out 40 lollipops a minute. Racine County played midwife to a host of other devices as well. Burlington, on the western edge of the county, saw the birth of a panoramic camera that could take photographs covering a 160° view. Peter N. Angsten and Charles H. Gesbeck came up with that one. In Raymond, in the center of the county, John M. Scott invented everything from an anchor to keep railroad tracks from creeping out of line, to an improved corn planter. Steven J. Poplawsk and Frederick Osius both created food blenders. Osius also acquired a small electric motor being developed in Racine and invented the portable vacuum cleaner. In Racine itself, George Gorton received a patent on an automobile tire-mold engraver, a groove cutter for the heads of artillery shells, and a machine that automatically folded, wrapped and addressed newspapers. In his spare time he came up with a device to engrave the Lord's Prayer on the end of a wire no bigger than two human hairs.

Other enterprises sprang up in Racine. Samuel Curtis Johnson bought a local parquet flooring business in 1896. Making $268.27 the first year, Johnson added to the product line with a polish for shining floors. Today, operating out of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed Racine headquarters, the S.C. Johnson companies are worth a cool (and very shiny) $4.2 billion. Another Racine company sold their product literally everywhere, including the ends of the earth. English transplant, William Horlick gave up his job with a saddlemaker (his father's trade) and arrived in the area in 1869, where he went to work in a local quarry. His younger brother James, a pharmacist, arrived four years later with an idea. Taking advantage of the state's growing dairy industry and James's expertise with a beaker, they created a process for malting milk (U. S. Patent No. 278967). Their process sterilized the milk which was then converted into a powder. Caregivers could mix the result with water and have an instant drink for infants and invalids. The brothers had started the business in Chicago but soon afterward built a main plant in Racine. James returned to England to start another factory around 1890; soon there would be J&W Horlicks factories around the globe. And at the northern and southern tips. Polar explorers from Robert E. Peary to Richard Byrd would be packing Horlicks dried milk products on their expeditions. And writing testimonials. Byrd even named an Antarctic mountain range Horlicks.

One other entrepreneur deserves mention. John Wesley Carhart of New York State's Albany County had three main passions, the church, writing poetry, and tinkering. Before becoming a Methodist minister at the age of 17, Carhart devised a miniature steam yacht which he tried out on the Hudson River. He was transferred to Racine in 1871 and continued messing around with crude engines. The locals were considerably startled when Carhart introduced his latest mechanical effort - a steam-powered vehicle he called The Spark. This noisy precursor of the automobile quickly wore out its welcome, but Carhart dismissed such complaints, saying "It must be remembered that at the time there were no liquid fuel, ball bearings or rubber tires."

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor

 

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When Reverend Carhart built a working prototype for a steam-driven land vehicle in the 1870s, before Selden and/or Ford had "invented" the automobile, he was a relative latecomer to the quest. For a picturesque look at what went before chug on over to Bill Bottorff's page at http://www.ausbcomp.com/~bbott/cars/carhist.htm where you can read about (and see marvelous paintings and early photos) of Guido da Vigevano's 1335 attempt to power wheels by wind, a 1770 French vehicle with a few drawbacks (like weighing 8000 pounds and speeding at up to 2 miles per hour, and Siegfried Marcus, of Mecklenburg, Germany who built a vehicle in 1868 with a clutch, a differential and a magneto ignition. If you don't find enough here to keep you fascinated you can back up to http://www.ausbcomp.com/~bbott/index.html for the home page of Bottorff, a Kansas dealer in antque autos (I'm bookmarking this one). Here you can click on links for Trains, Planes, Cars, Boats and Other Transportation for many more transport items. He also has also many links to article transcriptions from past local Cowley County newspapers dealing with transportation in the heartland. Probably the only Kansas transportation you won't find at this site is a green-faced evil crone on a black-contrailed broomstick.

 

© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte

 

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