Pressure Lamps International

United Factories Co (Kansas City)

1316 1330 1332 1385 McGee Street, Kansas City (1908)
1028 Wyandotte Street, Kansas City (1909)
1841 Factory Building, Kansas City (1909)
809 & 1043 Factory Building, Kansas City (1909)
404 Goden & Keppel Building, Kansas

 

The North Carolina Advocate of 23 January 1908 describes (on p7) a new way for manufacturers to get their goods into the hands of consumers without "burdensome profits being tacked on by jobbers, wholesalers, dealers," etc. The already popular mail order house goes some way to help, as there are only two profits, one to the house and the other to the manufacturer. It goes on to describe how, in Cleveland, Ohio, eleven big factories, in order to ship their goods on a "bee-line" to consumers, have combined under one name, The United Factories Co. The group produced their own catalogue, and were prepared to send goods on approval, allowing the buyer to either return them or pay. This innovative move must have been very popular, as up to a third of the cost could be saved, encouraging people to buy more goods. The list of goods available included paint, stoves, roofing, vehicles, wheels, incubators and sewing machines. The idea may have been borrowed from a similar set-up in Manitoba, Canada, a couple of years before. The Farmers Voice (Illinois) of 15 March 1908 describes the movement as "a neighbourly arrangement whereby the selling end of a number of factories of different classes of goods is handled by a secretary who unites in one catalogue descriptions and prices of every line manufactured".

It is not hard to see how this idea would spread, and it seems that similar groups of businesses started the same kind of arrangement in other places, including New Jersey, Ohio, and  Kansas City, Missouri. One of the most successful was the Cleveland (Ohio) group which used the trademark "UNITO". The Kansas City group did not appear to use a trademark, but an early reference to the group appeared in July 1908.

unitedfactoriesKCT04071908p1

United Factories advert, Kansas City, 1908

At practically the same time a wanted advert appeared  "Wanted: a Large Office Safe, give size, make, and lowest cash price" This advert might suggest that they were a newly organised concern, furnishing their new office. At this time you could buy a beautiful fireless cooker direct from the McKee Street address for between $6 and $12. By August 1908 they were advertising for representatives.

unitedfactoriesKCT04081909p10

Kansas City Times, Aug 1908

 

unitedfactoriesTCS11091908

Lamps as well as stoves, but a different address. September 1908

The "Wonder Oil Lamp" of this period used a burner designed and made by Fellboelin (Louis Fellberg and Hans Boelert). This model of lamp is still found in antique stores today, and has proved to be an enduring product.

An interesting article in the Chicago  Daily Tribune in May 1909 describes a form of industrial espionage, employees of the Columbia United Factories Co are applying for jobs with the National Mill Co in order to learn their trading secrets. Around this time the Kansas group are advertising for salesmen in adjoining states, (Omaha, Iowa, Nebraska,) so presumably business is still growing. Their adverts describe themselves as manufacturers of home and farm utilities, and include "ball bearing washing machines" in their products, and they claim to be the "Largest Lamp House in America" in adverts placed in New York newspapers and elsewhere.

The Morning News in Wilmington, Delaware, of 16 Sept 1909 reported that the State Dept of Delaware issued a certificate of incorporation to the United Factories Co but it is not evident which one it was. Interestingly, the United Factories Co opened a Sample Shoes Store, stating that they had stores in Chicago, St Louis and Kansas City.

 united factories KCT25111909p4

Advert from November 1909, The Kansas City Times.

In November 1909, they claimed to have 7000 agents making big money selling the "Wonder" incandescent oil lamp pictured in these adverts. That seems to be an outrageously high number of agents, but perhaps it is an exaggeration, advertiser's licence, or a misprint!

 

unitedfactoriesSLR08051910p20
May 1910, the manager's position advertised.

The advert above appeared across America, as far away as Los Angeles in California. William H Hoffstot was president of the United Factories Co in 1909, and was also President of the Sunshine Safety Lamp Co, and it seems the address of both companies was similar, both being housed later in Factory Building, Kansas City. It is logical then to suggest that the "neighbourly arrangement" described earlier would mean  that Sunshine Safety Lamp products might have been sold through United Factories with just a slight re-badging! to help spread the word, as it were. Some, if not all Sunshine Safety Lamp Co lamps were sourced through other manufacturers so there was already a precedent for renaming  or re-branding.

In the US Federal Census of 1900 William H Hoffstot's occupation was listed as "Mnf Lamps", in 1910 it was "Mail Order" and in 1920 it was listed as "Mail Order Lamps".  A completely unrelated but interesting fact is that years later in 1936 a William H Hoffstot had a yacht named "Sunshine", but we don't know if it was father or son, probably William H Jr who would have been 27 at that time while his father William H Sr would have been 70. It seems that the name "Sunshine" was still held with some affection by the family.

A 1911 advertisement by United Factories Co also shows the Wyandotte Street address, this time the advert was for the "Everkeen razor" !

Although some sources indicate that the group did not trade after 1918, other evidence suggests that the Kansas group (and groups in other cities) continued to function, remaining operational 20 years later, but how many of the original firms were still involved isn't evident.

unitedfactoriesPM111937p169a

Popular Mechanics advertisement, November 1937. Also appeared in the 1940s

 

The Popular Mechanics Magazine of January 1938 also contains a "Cook and Heat for Less" advertisement with an address of A-751 Factory Building, Kansas. The use of slight variations in addresses is believed to simply be a method of tracking where inquiries came from so that the success of various newspaper and magazine entries could be assessed.

unitedfactories1939card

1939 Advertising card

 

Other adverts stretch through into the 1940's so the group kept going for a while longer. When or if they eventually stopped trading is not known.

There are not many working examples of these branded lamps, but Dr Terry Marsh shows one on his excellent website at http://tgmarsh.faculty.noctrl.edu/coleuslampbeforemid1920s.htm

 

References:

The North Carolina Advocate, 23 January 1908  p7

Kansas City Times 4 July 1908 p1

Kansas City Times, 8 July p16

Kansas City Times 4 August 1908 p10

The Cheney Sentinel, 11 September 1908 p3

The Chicago daily Tribune, 30 may 1909 p4

The Morning News (Wilmington) 16 September 1909 p 6

The Iola Register, 1 October 1909 p4

Kansas City Times, 25 November 1909 p4

The St Louis Post Dispatch, 28 November 1909, p5

The Salt Lake Herald Republican, 8 May 1910 p20

Popular Mechanics Magazine, November 1937 and January 1938

"What's it worth" website, 1939 Kansas City Advertising card.

U.S. Federal Census, 1910 & 1920

TeriAnn's Guide to Aladdin Mantle Lamps. Web address http://www.expeditionlandrover.info/1aladdinSite/Fellboelin.html

The Terrence Marsh Lantern Gallery. Web address: http://tgmarsh.faculty.noctrl.edu/

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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