American history, Detroit, Detroit history, Famous Train Stations, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, Lost and Found, Michigan Central Train Station, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Train Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Detroit, What to see in Michigan

Detroit’s Michigan Central Train Station: a rising phoenix on the city’s skyline.

5 X 7 Old Train Station

Michigan Central Train Station as it was in 2015

I love history shot

Ron Current

One of the first things you see when driving into Detroit on I-75 is the large, and looming, Michigan Central Train Station. To me, standing tall and alone, it looks like a tombstone; a tombstone for a city that seemed to have given up on itself.
For too many years the Michigan Central Station has stood in ruin, its windows broken out and the building surrounded by a chain link fence that tries to protect an already ravaged grand lady.

However, this is not a post of gloom, but rather one of hope and vision.
I’ll begin with a little history of the train station and then I’ll go into what we hope is its new, and exciting, future under its new owners.

A magnificent expression to 20th century progress

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The back of Michigan Central Station, with the train gate at the bottom. June 22, 2018

Michigan Central Station’s story began in 1914, right after the former stationed burned down in 1913, when Michigan Central Railroad decided to build a world class train station on its main rail line. They hired the firms of Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem, who had also built New York’s Grand Central Terminal, to do the design and construction.

The architects chose the Beaux-Arts Classical style for the station’s design, and to handle the rail company’s workers a 18-story office tower was added, making Michigan Central the tallest train station in the world at that time.

When it opened thousands of travelers would embark or disembark from one of the more than 200 trains that arrived or departed daily. These passengers could then take one of the many street or interurban railcars that converged there to get to their final destinations. Such notables that came through Michigan Central were Presidents Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Thomas Edison. Over 3,000 employees occupied the many offices in the station’s tower. In those pre-automobile days public mass transportation was how you got around, and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was one of the crown jewels in the country.

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the ruined Michigan Central Station grand lobby during the open house June 22, 2018

Henry Ford’s development vision

But the station had a major downfall; it was built on the south west side of the city, far from Detroit’s downtown. This was done because the station was to be an important part of a master plan to develop that area of the city. Henry Ford, even though he didn’t own the station, was a major contributor in these plans. Ford had bought up land around the station in preparation for this new development; however the Great Depression put an end to those plans.

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The station’s concourse taken during the open house on June 22, 2018

The station continued to thrive through the Second World War, after which it began a slow decline as cars and airplanes took over as the public’s mode of transportation. In 1971 Amtrak took over operation of the station, they made some repairs to the building and reopened the main lobby. But in 1988, with passenger rail traffic almost nonexistent, the last Amtrak train left Michigan Central on January 6th.

The now vacant and abandoned station became a target for scavengers and defacers: stripping the building of its fixtures, marble, wiring, and plumbing. Graffiti now covered its once elegant walls.

The Moroun years

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The hall way that travelers took to catch a streetcar to the city. It also where the stations shops were located. Taken on June 22, 2018.

Eight years later, in 1996, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit with Winsor Canada, took possession of the station. Moroun didn’t do much with the building until 2000, when he demolished its train shed to help convert the property to a freight depot for the Canadian Pacific Railway. But this usage didn’t last long, four years later Moroun closed the station permanently in 2004.

The relationship between Moroun and the City of Detroit, in regards to the train station, is interesting. In 2006, the city named the station as a “Priority Cultural Site.” But in 2009, even though Moroun owned the building, the City Council voted to demolish it. The station’s demolition was only stopped when Stanley Christmas, a Detroit resident, sued the city under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Little was done to renovate the old station until 2011 when Moroun, with the city’s help with funding, replaced the tower’s roof, removed some of the asbestos, and drained some of the water from the basement.

In 2015 electricity was restored to the building, and for the first time in years the main lobby was illuminated. In addition Moroun acquired a permit to install a new freight elevator. Also in 2015, after a land swap with the city, the Moroun family agreed to install windows throughout the building.

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This was the station’s restaurant. Taken on June 22, 2018.

A very special occurrence happened during the “Detroit Homecoming” celebration in September of 2017. The station was opened for an event for the first time in twenty-nine years.

There was excitement for the future of the old building when on March 20, 2018 the Detroit News reported that the Ford Motor Company was in talks with the Moroun family on purchasing the station. And on June 11, 2018 the Moroun family confirmed that the Ford Motor Company was now indeed the new owners of the Michigan Central Station.

With Ford, it comes full circle

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The front of the Michigan Central Station, June 22, 2018

William Clay Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, spoke on what the future prospects were for the Michigan Central Station under Ford Motor Company. They plan on doing a total restoration and renovation of the historic site. Not only the station is to be renovated but also the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository building next door is included in their plans. These two buildings, as well as the surrounding land, will become a campus for Ford’s futuristic autonomous vehicle division. The projected target date for completion of this project is 2022.

One of the big question asked of Ford is: will there be trains in Michigan Central’s future? And although Ford can’t answer that question for sure, they did say that they’re leaving the passenger tracks in place, just in case.

With Bill Ford’s commitment he picks up right where his grandfather left off in the 1920’s, reviving a neighborhood centered on a magnificent and grand building.

Taking a look inside the station

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After the announcement on June 19th Ford opened the train station to the public to tour on the weekend of June 22-25. My wife and I were among those who patiently stood in line for an hour and a half to enter, and experience this historic event.
As we walked in the expansive waiting area, along the halls where shops had been, stood looking up at the skeletal remains of the concourse’s roof that held the glass skylight and the

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The line of those that wanting to experience history

dark cavernous room that was the station’s restaurant, we weren’t depressed by the acts of destruction and neglect that was before us. No, we were encouraged by the possibilities to come.

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The colonnade that connects the station’s main lobby and to its concourse. Taken June 22, 2018

The rising of this Detroit phoenix says a lot about a community. A community that’s tired of the decay, and wanting to build to a new and positive future. From Ford’s commitment, to the over 20,000 people that came to see what was and learn of what will come, this is what will redefine Detroit.

There was one selfless act that I’d like to mention, and it may seem small to some, but is really meaningful to the stations history and of one person’s desire to help; as I had stated, the interior of the station had been stripped of everything that might be of value. One of those items was the brass clock face that was on the station’s gateway.

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The returned clock face

Right after the announcement was made by Ford the company got a phone call; it was from the person who had taken the clock. Without giving his name, or asking for any form of payment, he told them where they could find the clock. This important part of Michigan Central’s history will once again be back home, after restoration by the Henry Ford Museum.

In closing, I look forward to the day when I drive into Detroit on I-75 and not see a tombstone, but rather a beacon to what can be accomplished when you have a vision.

Because with a vision, there is always hope!

The photos in this post were taken by me, and the following website was used for background information in my story.

Wikipedia. “Michigan Central Station.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 20 June 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, History of U-Haul Trailers, How famous buinesses got started, Lost and Found, Ridgefield Washington, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: U-Haul

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

One of the things I love about traveling, ether overseas or around the United States, is finding little historical locations completely by accident and unexpectedly. As when passing through the town of LeRoy New York and finding that’s where Jell-O dessert was created.
This again happened on my wife’s and my visit to the State of Washington. After a day of sightseeing north of Vancouver Washington we decided to find a place to have dinner. What we felt like having was pizza but not from one of those pizza chains, something local. Using the app on our smartphone we found a pizzeria that sounded good only 3 miles off of I-5 in the town of Ridgefield. As we entered the city there on the welcome sign it read, “Welcome to Ridgefield, the birthplace of U-Haul.” We had struck obscure historical gold again.

Ridgefield sign

Photo by author

I believe that just about everyone in the United States has rented from U-Haul at least once, ether one of their trailers or trucks. The story of U-Haul is another one of entrepreneurial inspiration and hard work, but as with the story of McDonald’s and Jell-O it has a sad side also.
U-Haul’s beginnings is a simply tale of a couple needing something, not being able find it, then building a business to fulfill that need for others. The story of U-Haul begins in Los Angeles California in 1945 at the end of World War II when the newly discharged 29 year old Navy veteran Leonard “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary, tried to rent a tailer to take their belongings north to Portland Oregon. What they found was that there were trailer rental companies in Los Angeles but they could only be used around that city, and they were also very small. Cramming what luggage they could, along with their small son, into their 1937 Ford they headed north. On their way to Portland they talked about the need for a trailer rental that people could use from city to city or even from state to state on a one way bases. Besides coming up with this business plan they also came up with a name for their company, U-Haul.
With a $5,000 investment Sam began building his trailers in the garage on Anna Mary’s parent’s home just outside of Ridgefield Washington. Shoen’s idea was to build the trailers and then find partnering gas stations, which would be franchised agents, to rent them, and splitting the rental fees. Within two weeks of them leaving Los Angeles the first of their 4’ X 7’ U-Haul trailers was sitting at a Mobil gas station on Interstate Street in Portland ready to be rented.

U-Haul truck

Photo by William Grimes from Wikipedia

Shoen came up with a great marketing plan; First he developed a unique look for his trailers by painting them bright orange. Secondly he identified all of his trailers with the name, U-Haul Co. And thirdly he included advertising messages on each trailer that read: “Trailer Rental,” and “$2.00 Per Day.” In addition to helping grow his U-Haul outlets he offered discounts to customers that signed up gas station agents at their destination.
All of Shoen’s hard work and marketing paid off; by the end of 1949 you could rent a U-Haul trailer one way to almost any city in the United States, and by 1955 you could rent one throughout Canada. By the end of 1959 the U-Haul trailer fleet numbered over 42,600 trailers across North America. In 1951 Shoen reorganized the U-Haul Trailer Rental Company under a new holding company named Associated Rental Companies of American (ARCOA). In 1967 Shoen moved the corporate offices from Portland Oregon to Phoenix Arizona.
Today U-Haul remains the largest do-it-yourself moving rental company in the country. Since Sam Shoen’s first trailers U-Haul has added to its lineup trucks, vans and large storage containers. Some of their franchises also offer self-storage units, package shipping supplies, and alternative-fuels for vehicles and backyard grills.

 

A success marred with tragedies
On May 4, 1957 Sam came home and expressed to Anna Mary how great things were going for them and U-Haul, life couldn’t have been better. That night tragedy struck, Anna died of a heart attack at only 34 years old, and Sam was left with six young children to care for. Doctors had told Anna not to have children because of her heart condition, but she and Sam couldn’t resist having a large family.
After Anna’s death Shoen married four more times, three ending in divorce. He would also father six more children with his other wives in addition to the six with Anna. Shoen made all of his children stockholders in ARCOA, leaving only 2% of the stock and control for himself. In 1986 two of his sons, Mark and Edward launched a successful takeover of the business to which Sam could do nothing about.
On October 4, 1999 Leonard Shoen was killed in Las Vegas Nevada when he ran his car into a telephone pole, he was 83 years old. The Cook County Coroner’s office ruled it a suicide.
Finding the site where Shoen built his first U-Haul trailers

 

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Main Street Ridgefield. Photo from Wikipedia. 

 

I went to the Ridgefield City’s website to see if they told the location of Anna’s parent’s ranch and the garage Sam used to build his trailers in. Under the heading of, “what to see in Ridgefield,” it showed the location and an address just north of the downtown. The problem we had was that the address on the website didn’t match up with the road that was indicated on the map. We even asked those working in the restaurant if they knew where it was, to no avail. After multiple times driving back and forth we finally gave up. But somewhere on one of those back country roads north of the town is a garage where U-Haul began.
Vinnie’s
Going back to why we went to Ridgefield to begin with, to find a local pizzeria. What we found was Vinnie’s. Vinnie’s is a small family restaurant specializing in simple Italian fare.
Salvatore Oliveri, a Sicilian restaurateur, began his journey across the United States from New York city bringing his family recipe for the perfect New York style pizza with him. The Oliveri family is still very much involved is maintaining the quality and service at their restaurants.

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Vinnie’s in Ridgefield. Photo by author

My wife and I started with a delicious Mediterranean salad, followed by their “Combination” pizza. The pizza was fantastic, and a true New York style in crust and sauce.
After we finished our server asked if we’d like dessert, we asked “what do you have?” She went down a list of six items ending with Cannoli and Tiramisu, of which she said, “Mama had just made them.” We had both, and they were to die for.
We like Vinnie’s so much that we made the trek out from Vancouver once again before we left.
They also have a location in Vancouver, but we liked the small town feel of their Ridgefield restaurant, so I highly recommend going there. And while you’re in Ridgefield see if you can find that garage, the true birthplace of U-Haul.

 

if you like this post please read my others on how businesses got started: McDonald’s Restaurants, Jell-O, and Starbucks.

 

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American history, Folgers Coffee, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Nantucket, Seattle Washington, Starbucks Coffe, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington State

Where it all started: Starbucks

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

I can’t wait for the month of November to come around, because that’s when Starbucks begins to feature its Peppermint Mocha Latte. I’m sure that many of you have your own favorite Starbucks coffee or Teavana tea drink, and that’s because Starbucks is the largest, and most prolific, coffeehouse chain in the world.
Most every city, town, freeway rest area, and airport has at least one, and sometimes more, Starbucks Cafes. If you miss and happen to drive past one, don’t worry, they’ll be another coming up real soon.
We all know what Starbucks is, even if we don’t drink coffee. And most of us know that Starbucks got its start in Seattle Washington USA. But what you may not know is how it got it’s name, where their very first location really was, and what unique little historical coincidence does Starbucks have with another major coffee company.
In this post I will show you a photo of where the actual “first” Starbucks site was and tell you about that very unique little historical coincidence that even the founders of Starbucks may not have known.
So while we’re waiting in line for our coffee let me give you a short synopsis of Starbucks’ history.
It’s all about the name
The story of Starbucks begins with three University of San Francisco schoolmates: Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker. Although after graduation each had gone off to different careers (Baldwin was an English teacher, Siegl a history teacher, and Bowker a writer) they stayed in touch. They had long wanted to go into business together and were looking for just that right business to go into. They became inspired by the growing number of gourmet coffees coming onto the market, especially those from a coffee roasting entrepreneur named Alfred Peet, and his Peet’s Coffee in the San Francisco. They believed that a store selling high quality coffee beans and brewing equipment was  the type of business they were looking for.

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Pike Place Street and its Pike Place Market. Starbucks is in the building in the background on the right.

They learned the techniques of roasting and brewing coffee from the master, Peet himself. They put together a business plan, selected the city they wanted to open their store in, and where ready to go except for one thing, they didn’t have a name for their business that was a real grabber. They knew the name had to be easy to remember and able to attract the attention of consumers.
They started brainstorming for just that right name; two suggestions where, Cargo House and Pequod. None where good enough to excite them. Finally running out of ideas themselves they decided to get an opinion from someone on the outside.

Besides being a writer Gordon Bowker also owned a small adverting business with another friend, Terry Heckler. Heckler suggested that they find a name that started with the letters “s” and “t.” His theory was that names that start with those two letters sounded very powerful.
The friends had already decided to open their store in Seattle and figured that a local sounding name would be helpful. They began going through old mining maps of the Cascade Mountains looking for a name of an old mining town that started with “st”. Soon they found the town of Starbo, it was close, but no cigar.
Even though Starbo started with the right letters it didn’t have what they were looking for; however it did remind them of one of their other names, Pequod. Pequod was the name of the fictional whaling ship in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, and the ships first mate was named, Starbuck. Bingo! It started with the right letters, was unique, easy to remember, and very powerful sounding. So the name for their new coffee company would be, Starbucks.
Where was the “original” Starbucks location?

The original first location of Starbuks

2000 Western Avenue, it was here that Starbucks opened its very first store in 1971

Near the Seattle waterfront they selected a corner storefront at 2000 Western Avenue; adjacent to Pike Place Street and its popular Pike Place Market. On March 31, 1971 the three friends finally fulfilled their dream and opened a business together.
This first Starbucks only sold roasted coffee beans and coffee brewing equipment, the only brewed coffee they served was as free samples to showcase their different coffee blends. But over time, due to customer requests, they started to add brewed coffee for sale, it was then that Starbucks became more of a coffee café instead of just a coffee bean store.

The original Starbucks store or is it

What many believe as the first Starbucks is actually its second location. They moved to 1912 Pike Place in 1976. It’s still open, with very long lines.

 

In 1976 they moved their coffee café down the street to 1912 Pike Place, where it still operates today.

To most visitors seeking the “original” first Starbucks they think it’s this Pike Place location, but in reality you need to walk a half block back from that location to where Pike Place intersects with Western Avenue and Virginia Street; it’s there at that corner, now occupied by another restaurant, that Starbucks began in March of 1971.

 

That assumed first location on Pike Place has an incredibly long line, all the time. So if you want a Starbucks coffee, and don’t want to stand in that very, very long line, may I suggest that you walk a block in the other direction and around the corner to where Pike Place meets 1st Avenue, there you’ll find a Starbucks with a much shorter line.
In 1984 the three friends bought out their old mentor’s Peet’s Coffee, and in 1987 the three founders sold their interests in Starbucks to one of their former managers, Howard Schultz, and in June of 1992 Starbucks went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Starbucks has also acquired Teavana teas, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torefaziona Italia, Diedrich Coffee, and its Coffee People brand.
Today Starbucks has over 23,768 locations, and growing, worldwide. They’ve expanded their café’s offerings to include specialty food items and a wide range of hot and cold specialty coffee and tea drinks.
From three friends that wanted to go into business together, to finding the right name, the Starbucks Coffee Company is now the largest coffeehouse chain in the world, with revenues of over nineteen billions dollars.
What do Starbucks, Folgers Coffee and Nantucket Island, Massachusetts have in common?

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The main street of Nantucket Island, home of the Starbuck and Folger families.

To answer that question we need to go back to when those three founders were trying to come up with a name for their company. They chose the name of the first mate of the Whaling ship in Moby-Dick because it started with an “st” and sounded strong. But what they most likely didn’t realize is that Melville’s novel was based on the true story of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, and its misadventure with a giant white Sperm whale. But what’s even more interesting is that Melville used the names of real Nantucket families in his story. One of those families used by Melville was of one of the original investors in the purchasing of Nantucket from the Indians, Starbuck.
Now here’s that unbelievable historical coincidence, another one of those Nantucket founding families was Folger. Yes, this is the same family whose descendants would move to San Francisco and start Folgers Coffee.

Two Nantucket families , both connected to coffee.

 

 

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Jell-O, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: Jell-O

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

This post isn’t about a well-known business, but rather a well-known dessert. How I came across this story is another reason why I love “everyday history,” because you never know when or where you’ll find it. And finding this little historical gem is a perfect example.
During a quick weekend trip to New York State for the purpose of tracking down where one of my wife’s Revolutionary War ancestors had settled near the City of Batavia we passed through the small town of LeRoy, and there on the town’s welcome sign it read, “LeRoy, the Home of Jell-O.” This was an exciting, and unexpected, surprise that I had to check it out.
Like McDonald’s most everyone has a Jell-O story from their childhood. For me it was my Mother adding Pineapple chucks to Strawberry Jell-O, which is now my Daughters favorite too.
But before we tour LeRoy’s Jell-O Gallery museum let me give a short history of Jell-O and its connection to Leroy.
From the kitchen of Pearle and May Wait

Peale Wait two

Pearle B Wait, photo taken from Find-A-Grave. There are no photos of May Wait that I could find.

In 1897 a Leroy entrepreneurial couple by the names of Pearle and May Wait had been trying, unsuccessfully, to start a cough syrup and laxative business in their kitchen. After years of getting nowhere with this line of products they decided to try something they knew more about, food. What Pearle and May where really good at was making sweet syrups from local fruits and berries.
No one knows what gave them the idea to combine their fruit syrups with gelatin, then turning it into a powder that would become a tasty sweet and fruity dessert when water was added, but they did and it worked. Although gelatins had been around for a very long time no one had combined it with anything to make it taste good before the Waits. The desserts of that time were cakes and pies which took lots of time and ingredients to make. The process that the Waits developed was quick and easy to make, and a little known fact, that their Jell-O didn’t need to be refrigerated, which wasn’t available in the late 19th century. All you needed was the powder, water and let it stand for a while.
It was May who came up with the name for their new product by combining the words gelatin and jelly. She then added the letter “O” at the end, which was a popular marking practice at the time. The first flavors they offered were strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and orange.
Although Pearle and May had invented a revolutionary new tasty dessert they didn’t have enough money to advertise and promote their new treat. Unable to make a living selling Jell-O themselves they sold the formula, patent, and name to a neighbor, Orator Frank Woodward for $450 in 1899.
Woodward, with his Genesee Pure Food Company, had the manufacturing capability, and was already a success with his roasted cereal coffee substitute, Grain-O. He channeled the income from Grain-O into the marketing and sales for Jell-O, but the initial sales of Jell-O were extremely slow. At one point a frustrated Woodard thought of selling the whole business, Grain-O, Jell-O and all, for $35.
But Woodward, being a natural born marketer, wouldn’t give up. He developed a two part strategy: first he’d send his sales force out, wearing fancy suits; to distribute free samples and the Jell-O cookbook he had created. He then had these salesmen go around to the local grocers telling them that they better stock their shelves with this new product because, “they’ll be a run on the store for it.” Although it worked in the local region it didn’t have the far reaching success that Woodward had hoped.
Early in 1900 Orator became ill and his wife Cora took over running the business, she would finally develop the full potential of Jell-O. In 1904 Cora hired William Humelbaugh to help with the advertising. Humelbaugh suggested that they run an ad for Jell-O in the Ladies Home Journal, one of the most popular magazines of the time, at a cost of $336; the ad featured a smiling housewife in an apron proclaiming that Jell-O was, “America’s Favorite Dessert.” This new adverting campaign took off causing sales for Jell-O that year to jump to $250,000. Jell-O sales continued to grow, and well known artists were hired to create artwork promoting Jell-O, one being Norman Rockwell.
In 1925 the Postum Cereal Company (today’s General Foods) bought Genesee Pure Foods and Jell-O. At that time the Jell-O factory was the largest employer in LeRoy. In 1964 the corporation moved its Jell-O manufacturing operation out of LeRoy, ending almost a century in the city. The original Woodward factory has since been torn down.

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May’s grave. From Find-A-Grave

 

 

The story of Jell-O, like McDonald’s, is one of both success and misfortune. For Pearle and May Wait they sold their invention for $450, which would be around $12,000 today, while Orator and Cora Woodward’s company raked in $250,000, around $6.2 million today, in sales for Jell-O just five years later. This difference between these two stories can clearly be seen at LeRoy’s Machpelah Cemetery where both families are laid to rest.

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Pearle’s grave. from Find-A-Grave

The Woodward’s are entombed in a Greek style crypt, while Pearle and May lie side by side with only simple headstones.

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The Woodward’s Tomb. Photo from Find-A-Grave

 

 

 

 
The Jell-O Gallery

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The Jell-O Gallery. Photo by author

LeRoy is about thirty miles from Rochester, New York on Route 5 (East Main Street in the town). The museum is called the “Jell-O Gallery” and is located about a half mile east of Oatka Creek behind the equally historic LeRoy House (more on this later).To find the LeRoy House you need to just look for the burgundy and gold yard sign for the LeRoy House on the north side of the road. You can park on the street or drive around and use the parking lot in back. The Jell-O Gallery is on the second floor of what was once the Union Free School (more on that later also) building.

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The Jell-O Brick Road. Photo by author

Another thing I enjoy about doing the research for my posts is finding out information that I didn’t know, or of things that I missed while visiting these sites. This allows me to let you know what the background story is and what to look for when you visit. I almost missed when visiting the museum the “Jell-O Brick Road,” with the names of the former factory employees  inscribed on the bricks.
Besides the history of Jell-O the museum is filled with thousands of Jell-O related items, molds, advertising posters, signs, toys, recipe books, and other items. You can also vote for which Jell-O flavor is your favorite.
The museum is operated by the LeRoy Historical Society and is open April through December seven days: Monday – Saturday 10am till 4 pm and Sunday 1 pm till 4 pm. From January through March it’s only open weekdays from 10 am till 4 pm. It’s closed on major holidays.
Admission is really inexpensive: Adults $5, children 6 to 11 years old $1.50, 5 years and under are free. Also included with the admission is the transportation history exhibit downstairs.
The Leroy House and Union Free School

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The LeRoy House. Photo by author

When you visit the Jell-O Gallery give yourself time to check out the LeRoy House.
This Greek revival style house was originally built as a land office in the early part of the 19th century. These land offices were part of the independent General Land Office agency of the United States government. This agency was formed in 1812, for the surveying and distribution of public lands.
The LeRoy House was built by Jacob LeRoy, one of the early land agents and settlers to the area. LeRoy expanded the house over time, making it one of the largest and well-furnished homes in the region. In fact LeRoy hosted in this house the wedding reception for Daniel Webster’s second marriage to one of his sisters.
Today the LeRoy House is a museum displaying its history as a land office and of life in the early 19th century. When you walk through you’ll go back in time to what life was like in the finer homes on the early frontier. Upstairs is a room that is dedicated to the American Boy Scouts, featuring uniforms and other items.
The Union Free School

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The Union Free School building, now home to the Jell-O Gallery and transportation  museum. Photo by author

Besides housing the Jell-O Gallery and transportation museums this three-story limestone building was first home to the LeRoy Academic Institute, one of the first educational schools in the area, and later the local high school. It the 20th century if ceased being used for education and was converted for the manufacturing of patent medicines. It was bought, along with the LeRoy House, by the historical society in the 1940s.

 

 

 

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Lost and Found, McDonald's Restaurants, Myths and Legends, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Things to see in California, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: McDonald’s

Ron Current

Ron Current

I see history as being more than just ancient sites, people and politics. For me there is a history in everyday life. Even our contemporary businesses, that we see or visit every day, have a history. How did they get started, where did they start, and most importantly, who started them. Some of these stories we know, and some we think we know.
My next series of posts will be on some of those businesses that have become cultural icons, not just in the United States but worldwide. I hope that these posts will shed some light on the origins of these well known businesses. So sit back and enjoy “where it all started.”

 

 

McDonald’s Restaurant Museum, San Bernardino, California

The McDonald's museum

The “unofficial” McDonald’s Museum today, on the site of the original McDonald’s brothers restaurant. Photo by the author   

I can remember clearly when the first McDonald’s restaurants opened near where I lived in Mount Clemens, Michigan. To be honest I wasn’t too excited about this interloper, because we had our own “Golden Point” hamburger drive-in. But eventually Mickey Dee’s won out, and the “Point” vanished into fond memories.
Over the years McDonald’s finally became my hamburger place of choice. I remember that I could get five hamburgers, two orders of fries and two large Cokes for $1.83. But that was back in the late 1960’s and McDonald’s is much different today. Back then you’d walked up to a window that was located in the front of the building, ordered your food, which was waiting lined up in rows behind the server. The famous French fries where cut from whole potatoes, the milkshakes were hand made with real ice cream and blended with a large mixer, and you ate in your car. Also all the servers were young men.
We all have our McDonald’s stories to tell about this great American, and worldwide, tradition. However I had no idea of the history of this place with the golden arches until I read Ray Kroc’s autobiography, Grinding it Out. What I learned was that Ray Kroc really wasn’t the originator of McDonald’s, but rather the marketer and developer of what is todays McDonald’s. In his book Kroc credits two brothers in San Bernardino California for creating the process and providing its name.

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The saved historic sign. Photo by the author

While visiting Palm Springs this year I learned that there was a museum on the site of the original McDonald’s  restaurant in San Bernardino, about an hour from where I was staying, so I decided to drive over and see it. While we’re driving there let me give you a little history of McDonald’s.

 

The McDonald brothers
In the late 1930’s Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, two transplanted brothers from Manchester, New Hampshire, had a small restaurant selling Hot Dogs, orange juice, coffee and tea called the “Airdrome” in Monrovia California. Wanting to expand their offering in 1940 they moved their entire restaurant, building and all, to 14th and E Street (old Route 66) in San Bernardino California. There they converted it to a Bar-B-Q Drive-In, complete with young female car hops. There was a good and a bad to this new operation: Good, because it became the #1 teen hangout, and bad, because it became the #1 teen hangout. They had problems with unruly teens that kept families away. So Dick and Mac decided to reinvent their concept again to become more family friendly. Seeing that the hamburgers and French fries where their top sellers they decided to cut the menu to just those items.

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Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, photo from the internet

 
Dick McDonald, with an engineering background, created a flow chart to maximize speed and efficiency in the foods preparation, which they called “Speedee Service.” Dick and Mac remodeled their restaurant building and discontinued using car hops. On December 12, 1948 they cut the ribbon on their new restaurant, that they named after their family, “McDonald’s.” Not only was the food delivered fast it was very inexpensive for a family; The hamburgers cost 15 cents and the fries 10 cents, which was great for 1948.
In 1949 the success of the brother’s McDonald’s attracted the attention of milkshake Multi-Mixer Salesmen Ray Kroc. Kroc convinced the brothers that they should francize their concept, with Kroc getting the francize ownership east of the Mississippi River. Soon there became conflict on what was the vision for McDonald’s between the brothers and Kroc, so in 1961, Kroc bought out the brother’s interest and all of their rights for $2.7 million dollars. This might sound pretty good until you know that Kroc’s net worth when he died in 1984 was just under 400 million.

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The original McDonald’s as it was in 1948. Photo from the internet.

There parting was not pleasant, and with this terrible relationship between Kroc and the brothers, Kroc forced them to change their restaurant’s name to “Big M.” Then adding insult to injury Kroc built one of his “McDonald’s just down the street. Dick and Mac couldn’t compete with this new McDonald’s and closed their restaurant in 1962.

 

If you get a chance and see the movie “the Founder” you’ll get a idea on what happened, which follows the history fairly close.

The original restaurant’s site today
In 1972 the restaurant building was torn down, with only the original McDonald’s street sign being saved by a concerned neighbor. This sign helps you to find the site where McDonald brothers original McDonald’s was and the museum. The current building there now was built in 1980, and in 1998 it was purchase by Albert Okura, a big McDonald’s fan, the owner of the Pollo Rotisserie restaurants.

Inside the McDonald's museum

Inside the  San Bernardino museum. This museum has everything McDonald’s, not only dating from the brothers but current McDonald’s items. Photo by the author

Okura believes in preserving history, and knowing that the site is a valuable piece of American restaurant history, opened this “unofficial” McDonald’s museum on December 12, 1998, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Dick and Mac’s McDonald’s.
The museum specializes in the early McDonald’s years as well as items that are more contemporary.  On display are some of the items used in the brother’s original restaurant. There is also a host of McDonald’s packaging, advertising and promotional items to see.

Origanial items from the first McDonald's

Items used at the original McDonald’s. Some were used in the Movie “the Founder.” Photo by the author 

The museum does accepts donations of all McDonald’s related items, and they’d really love to have a Ronald McDonald costume.

 

The museum is open 7 days, and admission is FREE.

The McDonald’s corporation does not recognize this site, or its museum, as the “original.” They consider Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois as location #1. It has a museum also, which I plan on visiting in the future.

Next: “It wiggles and it jiggles,” the story of Jell-O

 

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