Monday, March 24, 2014

From the Golden Age of Chickens

This ad appeared in the Sutton News newspaper one hundred years ago touting the local Sutton manufacturing business of Emil Ochsner with his egg incubator and other poultry related products.


The Sutton Museum has one of Ochsner's incubators on display. Not sure how many of the younger generation actually
understand what it was used for. Explanations generally seem to be reflected back from glassy eyes.

Clay Center had the reputation for some kind of Poultry Capital for Nebraska as the Old Trusty manufacturing plant of M. M. Johnson dominated the industry. The Clay County Sun newspaper annually serialized the story of publishing the catalog for that business over multiple weeks each spring. It was a large format and thick publication with a subscriber list numbering tens of thousands and coast to coast.

The Old Trusty plant was a huge compound employing several hundred. One story was about a traveling salesman who came to Clay Center and part of his sales pitch was that he represented a business so large that it employed nine stenographers. One Clay Center businessman listened patiently to the salesman then asked him to come along with him. The two went to the edge of downtown Clay Center and upstairs at the plant where the salesman stood in awe of a room with 90 stenographers pounding away on their typewriters supporting the various business functions of Old Trusty.

The poultry incubator was the signature product of the Old Trusty line. Emil Ochsner's Sutton operation was in competition with the Clay Center operation but much, much smaller. I've also heard that Fairfield had a third poultry incubator manufacturer but I do not know the name or any other information about it.

February, 2016 addendum:

Why blogs are superior to newspapers, magazines and other printed matter:

The Fairfield Auxiliary newspaper on February 27, 1941 ran, in their "15 years ago" section, the story of the B & H Incubator Co. that had just shipped a 120-egg incubator to Greece. The 1926 paper had applauded the company for their international outreach. The gentlemen in the "B & H" name were identified as Bayles and Hayes. ...

Someday we'll maybe dig into census and other records from the 20's and 30's to locate more info on the gentlemen - first names, for instance. But, later...


The poultry business, mostly chickens but including ducks and geese was a big deal 100 years ago through at least the 40's. A typical farmstead may have had a hundred or two laying hens and a diminishing number of roosters providing protein for the farm family and selected friends in town. The county newspapers, the Clay County Sun, Harvard Courier, Sutton Register, Fairfield Auxiliary all carried weekly columns with advice to the chicken and goose growers. There were ads for feeding supplements, medicines, equipment, etc. Large poultry shows attracted growers from a wide area. One account told of stacks and stacks of crates containing show chickens and ducks sitting on the depot platform in Sutton as farmers waited for the train to take them and their birds off to a show.

Chickens and a few milk cows produced enough eggs and cream for a small and steady revenue stream that covered the weekly grocery bill for many a farm family.

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