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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The War of 1812, America’s second revolution 

With most events in history nothing is as black and white as we think. The War of 1812 was one of those. While American history tends to focus on the American Revolution and Civil War it was the War of 1812 that would cause more changes in the Untied States. 

After President James Madison presented to Congress the grievances against Great Britain on June 1, 1812, Congress took up the debate on formally declaring war. It’s not clear if this was the intention of President Madison since his message didn’t specifically ask for a declaration of war. The House debated for four days before voting 79 to 49 for war, with the Senate agreeing with a 19 to 13 vote. This would be the first declaration of war for the new United States. On June 18, 1812 James Madison signed the declaration into law, formally starting a conflict that both the United States and Great Britain were unprepared for.

It was only twenty-nine years since the end of the American Revolution and twenty-three years since the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The United States was just beginning to learn what being a nation was about. Many of the nation’s policies before this war were based on fears it had from the Revolution and what the founders knew of Europe. One of those fears was not having a large standing army which could be used to overthrow the government. 

After the American Revolution Congress disbanded most of its standing army, depending instead on each state’s militias to handle the defenses, as had been done before the revolution. This reliance on state militias is shown in the Untied States Contitution’s Second Amendment which starts out, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,…” Congress even passed a bill limiting the size its federal forces. At the start of the War of 1812 the United States had less than 12,000 men in its regular army. The U.S. Congress turned to the state militias to take up arms in this first declared war, but what happened didn’t make them feel very secure. In some states the war was unpopular and they refused to call up their militias. At its beginnings the new United States saw each of its thirteen states as being more independent. A united federal style government was an unfamiliar concept, so some objected to fighting outside their own state. But the biggest drawback to the militia style of armed forces was that for the most part they were under trained and poorly commanded. These state militias would struggle against the well trained British soldiers causing President Madison to say,” I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force.” 

However on the Canadian front at the start of the war the United States did fairly well. This was mostly due to the fact that the greatest number of America’s regular trained army was already there from its involvement in the Indian wars. Another reason for the United States early successes was that Britain was a little busy with the French in Europe, and had little concern about their former colonies. Although the United States saw the War of 1812 as just its war it was in reality a true globe conflict. 

Through the first two years of the war most of the fighting took place along the northern border between the United States and Canada, and on the lower Great Lakes. The defense of Canada was done mostly by the Canadians because the British were heavily involved in the European War of 1812 against Napoleon Bonaparte and France. In fact many of the issues that caused the United States to declare war were based on what Great Britain had imposed on the U.S. due of their fight against France. These were trade sanctions and the U.S. merchant sailor “impressment.” It wasn’t until 1814 that things dramatically changed in the fighting in North America, and that many of the events that American’s hold dear came about during this period.  

On March 30, 1814 Napoleon surrendered to the British and their allies after his devastating defeat in Russian. On April 6 Napoleon abdicated his power in France, and although Napoleon would return to meet his Waterloo at Waterloo this short respite allowed Britain to turn their full attention to the war in America.  

On July 18, 1814, A British 74-gun ship of the line and its support ships sailed into Passamaquoddy Bay Maine. The small American detachment at Fort Sullivan, both out manned and out gunned, surrendered. This began the occupation of Maine by the British. At that time Maine was part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and when Maine’s cry for assistance from their Massachusetts government went unheeded it would begin the movement for Maine’s eventual statehood.  1814 would also be the beginnings of the British offensive in America.

Although the British Navy had controlled the eastern seaboard of the United States since 1813 the war with France had limited a large land campaign. Britain now free from the conflict in Europe was ready to launch a major attack on the US cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 

The first encounter was the Battle of Bladensburg, just outside of Washington DC. The majority of American troops involved where the poorly trained state militia, while the British were battle hardened and disciplined. The result of that battle was what has been termed, “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” The American militia broke rank and fled, with some running through the streets of the nation’s Capital in panic. 

On August 24 the British army entered Washington as President James Madison and Congress fled. British troops burned government buildings, including the Capital and the President’s house. During the rebuilding of the President’s house it was found that white washing would hid the stains from its burning, hence the President’s house became then known as- the White House.

The taking of our capital would be the high water mark for England. The British army and navy then moved on toward Baltimore. They believed that American resistance would be equally as weak there as it had been in Washington. However on September 14 and 15, at the battles of North Point and Hampstead Hill, and the famous defense of Fort McHenry (Star Spangled Banner fame) they met a stronger and better trained American force of army regulars. The British could not break the American defenses so they withdraw back out to sea. Their new plan was to leave the U.S east coast and resume the offensive in the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. 

From the results of the Battle of Baltimore and also their defeat in the Battle of Plattsburg New York on September 6 – 11, the British felt that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the war. The United States also saw it as a stalemate with nothing to be gained by continuing, so on December 24 1814 the US and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the War of 1812. However this news of the wars end had failed to reach the British fleet and army heading for New Orleans, and the American Major General that would be there to meet them.

Major General Andrew Jackson would come out of this meeting of these two forces as a national hero that would rocket him to the Presidency. But before I discuss the Battle of New Orleans I’d like to give a brief background of this man that benefited most from that conflict.

Andrew Jackson was born to an improvised family on March 15, 1767 in ether North or South Carolina. History isn’t exactly sure on which side of the state line he was born, and both states claim him for their native son. Jackson’s lifelong hatred of the British came about due his mother and two brothers dying while the British occupied the Carolinas during the American Revolution. 

Jackson studied law and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. Soon after he moved to the new territory of Tennessee and became the prosecuting attorney for what would be the city of Nashville. When Tennessee began its application for Statehood Jackson helped to write its constitution. He would also be one of Tennessee’s first members to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jackson decided not to run for reelection to the house but rather for the U.S. Senate. After only a year in that seat he resigned to take a Judgeship with the Tennessee Superior Court. While a judge he was chosen to command the state’s militia, and fate stepped in when the War 1812 broke out. 

Jackson received national notice from his five month campaign against the British supported Creek Indian Nation, and his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Although Andrew Jackson was popular from the Indian campaign it would be the battle New Orleans that would make him an American household name. 

Hearing that the British’s were sailing to attack New Orleans Andrew Jackson raced to the city’s defense. Before he left he told his wife, “I owe to the British a debt of retaliatory vengeance, and should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.” 

The attack on New Orleans was part of the British’s three part invasion strategy: Plattsburg, Baltimore and New Orleans. Their success had been checked by the Americans at both Plattsburg and Baltimore; their last chance to gain anything from the war was to win at New Orleans. Having New Orleans in British control would have given them power over the Mississippi River and American’s western trade. 

The British faced a hodgepodge American force comprised of army regulars, state militiamen, free blacks, New Orleans aristocrats, Choctaw tribesmen, and Jean Lafitte’s pirates. These numbered at around 5,300 men. Jackson and the Americans faced over 6,000 well trained British red coats that had just come from the Battle of Baltimore.    

Between December 23 and the 28, 1814 there were a few minor skirmishes between the two armies. The main battle finally occurred on January 8 1815, when British commander General Pakenham ordered a two-fold attack on the American’s. The first phase was a partial success when Pakenham’s men took a small American artillery post. However when a rifle shot killed their commander, Colonial Rennie, the British soldiers panicked into a hasty retreat. That was one of the weaknesses of the British soldiers at that time; they were effective only when an officer was leading them.  

The next phase of Pakenham’s plan was to march directly against Jackson’s main line of defense with the full body of his troops. He hoped that the morning mist would hide his men’s advancement. However the sun burned off the fog leaving the British soldiers completely visible and open to American rifle and cannon fire. The British plan unraveled, and although the red coats fought bravely the American fire was too overwhelming. After 30 minutes the British soldiers retreated in droves leaving behind a field of dead and dying. Afterwards American Major Howell Tatum said of the state of the British casualties, “truly distressing…some had their heads shot off, some their legs, some their arms. Some were laughing; some crying…there was every variety of sight and sound.” In the end the British had lost over 2,000 of its best soldiers, including General Pakenham. Andrew Jackson’s losses were less than 100 men. 

Although the stunned British army languished in Louisiana for a few days after the battle, and there was an abortive navel attack of Fort St. Philip, the fighting was over. 

As the British troops were boarding their ships for England Andrew Jackson paraded into New Orleans to great celebration, rivaling any Mardi Gras, or a Caesar marching into Rome.

Battle of New Orleans and the end of the War of 1812 gave the young United States a shot in the arm of national pride and honor. Even though strategically America gained nothing, they had beaten the great British army and navy. The War of 1812 has been called our second revolution, and this one we won on our own. 

The War of 1812 had shown that the United States needed a strong national military force, the old militia system wasn’t effective. The national pride of beating the 19th century’s superpower would inspire the United States to become more globally active, it would also give drive to the nations western expansion challenging Span and Mexico. It was the war that put the United States on the road of being a major power in the world.

Of further interest: While traveling in Canada, especially near Niagara and the Great Lakes, you’ll find monuments to the War of 1812. The differences in these, as opposed to our monuments of that war, is these hail Canadian victories over the United States.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

By the end of 15th century Span had claimed for itself all of South and Central America and as far north in North American as California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. But claiming these lands and controlling them were two totally a different matters.

 

The professional Spanish Conquistadors sole mission was to look for gold and silver, not to create settlements for Spain. This was very true with their North America claims.  In fact Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas went completely unsettled by the Spanish. The Spanish also had problems in populating the extreme northern parts of Florida and Mexico.

Although British colonists from Georgia and the Carolina colonies had begun settling in northern Florida and its panhandle it was losing their state of Texas that worried Spain the most.

In 1689, near Matagorda Bay in Texas, they found the remains of French explorer La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis. Fearing French encroachment Spain needed some way to secure the northern lands of Mexico, and the best way was to establish settlements of their own. They chose a method that had been successful in other regions of Mexico and California, Catholic Church Missions.

The Mission system was created by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the native peoples. But it also provided permeant settlements that could attract other Spanish colonist to move near these missions.

 

The mission San Antonio de Valero.docx

The Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1786

Of all the missions constructed in east Texas during this period the largest concentration in North America were the five built along the San Antonio River. The first of these missions was San Antonio de Valero in 1718, followed by the missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada. Each of these missions is roughly five miles apart, the distance a monk could walk in a day.

Today four of these five mission churches are still being used as active Catholic parishes. Only the first, San Antonio de Valero is not, but is by far the most famous.

In 1718, the San Antonio de Valero mission was founded near todays San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. San Pedro Springs would be only the first of three sites for this mission. In 1724 it moved to its present location on the east side of the San Antonio River at an oxbow bend in that river.

In 1727 a two story stone convento, or priest’s residence, was completed, and in 1744 construction began on the mission’s first stone church. A small temporary adobe building was used for mass during its construction. This first church, with its bell tower and sacristy, collapsed in the 1750’s due to poor workmanship.

Construction on the second, more ambitious, church began in 1758. Its limestone walls were four feet thick to support a barrel-vaulted roof, dome and choir loft. Its design included twin bell towers and an elaborate carved façade. During this construction the Indian population declined causing work to stop. This building would remain roofless and never finished, except for the carvings on the façade.

During this time the mission’s need for defense drastically changed due to a massacre of the missionaries and mission Indians at Santa Cruz de San Saba in 1758. Although Spanish soldiers had begun a defensive presidio (fort) across the river in San Antonio de Bexar it was never completed. Fearing for their safety the priests and mission Indians took it about themselves to fortify the mission by enclosing the complex with an eight foot high, two foot thick wall and a fortified gate. Added to its defenses were a small number of cannon provided by the Spanish military.

For the next four decades the mission San Antonio de Valero would house and support a small number of monks and declining Indian populations, while across the river the town of Bexar continued to grow.

By the late 1700’s the population of mission Indians had continued to decline throughout Texas, and also the hope that these missions would attract more Spanish settlers to northern Mexico hadn’t happen ether. In 1793 Spain began to secularize, close down, the missions in Texas.

After secularization the San Antonio de Valero mission’s grounds and buildings were given to the twelve remaining Indians still living within its walls, and the mission’s religious duties passed to Bexar’s San Fernando church across the river. Over the next decade those twelve Indians would also move, leaving the mission compound to crumb in disrepair.

As the 19th century dawned Mexican Texas’ borders were again challenged by France. There was a disagreement over were the border actually was. Spain claimed it to be at the Red River, while France claimed it to be the Sabine River, 45 miles further west. The threat to their northern frontier became even more of a concern for Spain when the United States’ purchased Louisiana in 1803. There were already illegal French and American immigrants in Spanish Texas, and now the always expanding United States was at their very doorstep.

To help guard against further illegals from settling in Texas Spain increased their military presence throughout the region. They reinforced the small company of soldiers at San Antonio de Bexar with a Calvary company of one hundred men. These were the Second Flying Company of San Carlos De Alamo De Parras, named after the small town of San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, near Parras in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

Since a proper presidio hadn’t been built in Bexar the soldiers took up residency in the already walled Valero mission. Over time the mission Valero began to be called for the Calvary stationed there, and by 1807 military documents simply referred to the place as, the Alamo.

 

The Alamo

The Alamo Church late 1800’s, after the “hump” and roof was added.

There is a legend that says that the mission’s name came from the rows of Cottonwood (Alamo is Spanish for Cottonwood) trees near it on the Alameda road. However these trees were planted long after the mission was called the Alamo.

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American history, history and travel, Nationa Memorials, Still Current, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history, World War II

Remembering and Honoring: Washington DC’s Wars Memorials

 

First self portrait- Ron at sixty six

Ron Current

There were no “national” wars memorials in the nation’s capital until the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was propose in the late 1970’s. Since then there are now three on, or near the National Mall. These honor those who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Here is a brief history and photos of those three memorials, and what you’ll see on your visit to Washington DC.

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was my generation’s war. Many of my high school classmates went off to fight in that conflict, some not coming back. Vietnam also, because of the way our veterans were treated when they returned, helped to change the way American’s began looking at our men and women in service.

4 x 6 Veitnam War Memorial

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first National wars memorial constructed in Washington DC, and was dedicated in 1982. Of the three war memorials it is the smallest, covering just two acres.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, most commonly called just “The Wall,” is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, and across the National Mall’s reflection pool from the Korean War Memorial. The Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin, who was just twenty-one at the time. It also has the most basic design when compared to the other two memorials. Its design is to symbolically show a “wound that is closed and healing.”

The Veitnam Wall one

Hundreds of items are left at the base of the wall

“The Wall” is made up of two 264 feet 9 inchs long gabbro walls that are etched with the names of the men and women who were ether killed in action, missing in action, or a prisoner of war. These gabbro slabs are sunk into the ground, with the apex where the two walls meet being 10.1 feet high from its base to the top of the wall. The wall then taper off to just 8 inches at each end of its two wings. There are currently 58,307 names listed on the wall, those who died in action have a diamond design next to their names, those who are MIA or a POW have a cross next to theirs. When a death is confirmed of one of those MIA’s or a POW’s a diamond is then superimposed over the cross. Also if a MIA or POW returns home alive their name is circumscribed by a circle, as of this posting this has not yet happened.

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From the end of the wall looking down

When you gaze at the wall you can see your reflection along with the names that are etched on it, again this symbolically brings the past and present together. There is a pathway running along the base of the Wall for visitors. Along the wall are hundreds of notes, letter, and other mementos that have been left by family, friends, those who served with or knew one of those listed. These items are carefully collected by the members of the Park Service, and stored for safe keeping. I was told that there’s a plan to build a museum near by to display these items, and to also tell the story of the Wall and the War. There are also members of the Park Service there to help you to find a name listed on the Wall.

The Three Soldiers Vietnam War Memorial

“The Three Soldiers” statue near the Vietnam Wall

Off a short distance from the wall, so as not to take away from Maya Lin’s vision, were added three additional components to this memorial. “The Three Solders” bronze statue was added in 1984, The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, honoring the women who served in that war, was then added in 1993, and the Memory Plaques placed near the statues in 2004. This plaque is to remember those who fought in Vietnam but died after the war as a direct result of injuries stuffed there. The plaque reads, “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember your service. “

The National Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Memorial was the second memorial that was built in Washington. It is located across Lincoln Memorial Circle from the Lincoln Memorial, and south of the reflecting pool on the National Mall.

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Korean Memorial States of Soldiers on patrol

The ground breaking took place on June 14, 1992, Flag Day, by President George H. W. Bush. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995, on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended that war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The Memorial covers 2.20 acres and is in the shape of a triangle intersecting a circle. As you approach along one of the two tree covered walkways you’ll first notice the gray statues in the center. There are nineteen stainless steel statues representing a squad of soldiers on patrol, marching through juniper bushes and granite strips, these symbolizing the rugged terrain of Korea. I was told that the most moving time to visit this memorial is in the very early morning when the mist surrounds the statues. The statues range from 7 feet 6 inches to 7 feet 3 inches in height, and represents the four branches of the United States services that served there: fourteen for the Army, three for the Marines, a Navy Corpsman, and an Air Force air observer. All of the statues are all in full combat gear. One of the more haunting effects of this memorial’s statures is that no matter where you are standing along the bordering walk, one of them seems to be looking straight at you.

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Real veterans images are sandblasted on the wall of the Korean War Memorial

Going up the right side of the memorial is a 164 foot long mural wall of highly polished black granite. Sandblasted into its polished surface are 2,500 actual archival photo images of men and women who were involved in the Korean War. There is a story that actor Allen Alda, of TV’s MASH fame, was so deeply involved in getting this memorial built that his image is one of those on the wall, even though he didn’t serve in Korea.

Along the left side is the United Nations Wall, it lists the twenty-two UN member nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean effort. On the south side are three Rose of Sharon hibiscus bushes, the national flower of South Korea.

Koaren War Memorial one

No matter where you stand, one of the statues is looking at you

 

At the far end is the semicircle, at the top of the incline that the statue patrol is marching toward, is the Pool of Remembrance. This shallow 30 foot circular pool is lined in black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees. These trees create a barrel effect that causes the sun to reflect onto the pool. It is also here were the statistics of those killed, missing in action, or held as prisoners are engraved. Nearby is a plaque that reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

Korean War Memorial Freedom Is Not Free

There is also one other large granite wall there that bears this simple, but true, message, “Freedom Is Not Free.”

 The National World War II Memorial WW II Memorial sign

This is the newest of the three memorials, dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004 and opened to public on April 29th. The memorial sits at the eastern end of the mall’s reflection pool, between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

 

It is the largest of the three; the plaza is a semicircle 337 feet 10 inches long and 240 feet 2 inches wide. The plaza is ringed by 56 granite pillars, each are 17 feet high. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the 48 states in the Union at the time of the war, as well as the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii (then not states), the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

WW II Memorial Pacific

There are two triumphal arches on the north and south ends, the one on the north is engraved “Atlantic” and on the southern one, “Pacific.” These arches represent the two theaters of the war. As you enter through the main entrance off of 17th Street you walk down a slight incline of about six feet to a fountain pool at the center of the memorial. The walls that border this entrance have basic reliefs of scenes of American’s war experiences. Also inconspicuously located on these walls are two “Kilroy was here” engravings. These represent the symbol used by American soldiers to show that we were presence and protecting during the war. WW II Memorial

The large fountain pool in the memorial’s center is 246 feet 9 inches long and 147 feet 8 inches wide. On the west side of the pool is the humbling “Freedom Wall.” On it are 4,048 gold stars, each star represents one hundred Americans that gave their lives in World War II.

 

In front of this wall is inscribed a massage, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

WW II Gold Stars on Memorial

World War I Memorial

The isn’t currently a national memorial to honor and remember those that served in World War I, there wasn’t a national memorial program at that time. It was up to each individual state, or community to erected their own memorial to honor their citizens that had served in that conflict. You can visit the District of Columbia’s  World War I memorial, it’s just a short walk south of the World War II memorial.

There is now a committee formed to work on building a national World War I memorial, there are no details as to when or where that memorial will be.

 

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