By Steve Staub (Staub Manufacturing Solutions)
“The address of
319 Central Avenue in , was made famous by being where the first electric self-starter for automobiles was invented in Edward Deeds’ barn in 1911. But little has been written on the unique company that was formed in a playhouse there by his son, Charles, and Charles’ friends the year before. Dayton, Ohio
The Juvenile Manufacturing Company was organized on February 26, 1910. The corporation was made up of six children, ranging in age from eight to thirteen years, who agreed to invest two dollars each. The boys were: Charles Deeds, age 7, President and General Manager; Fulton Davisson, Jr., age 11, Vice President and Superintendent; Robert Canby, age 10, Secretary; Charles Whidden, age 13, Treasurer; and board members Stanley Rouh, age 11 and Evan Whidden, age 11.
Charles Deeds’ playhouse was remodeled into a miniature factory and furnished with a drill, saw and other woodworking equipment.
Stock was issued in the company at $1 a share. The business was quite profitable, the company paying out two separate dividends of 100% in less than a year’s time. Within the first ten months it was estimated that the six boys had sold over $150 worth of merchandise. Business had grown to the point that the company issued an 8-page catalog. On the cover page appeared a picture of the factory and
office and the company’s trade mark. Along with descriptions of the products and the prices charged, the catalog also told of future plans for the company. The catalog stated, in part, the following:
“The plant is running Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays after school, and all day Saturdays. Visitors are welcome on Saturdays.
“The purchaser of any article produced by this Company is not only getting more value for the money paid than he could get in any store, but at the same time is encouraging a Company of energetic little businessmen to get a training which is most practical.”
An unusual ad for the Juvenile Manufacturing Company appeared in the Dayton Journal on December 4, 1910. The hand-written letter on the company’s stationery stated that, during the 1910 Christmas season, the boys were opening a store at 113 North Main Street, where Andrews Bakery was once located.
Besides the usual wooden waste paper baskets and tabourets, the company offered Indian heads,
heads, match safes, and card, pin and ashtrays of solid bronze in various finishes. The waste paper baskets and tabourets (stools) were made in the mission style, much like the same items being produced by the Boys Box Factory at NCR during the same time period. The Boys Box Factory provided training in woodworking to all neighborhood children at the NCR factory. Lincoln
It is likely that the bronze items were created at NCR. An example of a round, 9” brass relief cast plaque of a Chief Indian Head was given away as a salesman’s award in 1910 and was marked The National Cash Register Company. The same plaque, marked “The Juvenile Mfg.
Co.”, sold at auction in 2004. Edward Deeds was Assistant General Manager of NCR at the time, which is another connection to the company.
The store on
North Main Street was only open from 4 pm to 7 pm, with the boys waiting on the customers in person. The nine-year-old president of the company, Charles W. Deeds, urged people to visit the store, even if they didn’t buy anything. But, he promised that, if you bought a Christmas present from them, “it will please the one who gets it, make you happy, and we will be glad.”
The story of boys ranging from the age of seven to thirteen years running a company on their own, and making a profit, was too good to resist. Coverage of the Juvenile Manufacturing Company began appearing in national magazines across the country, including stories in the Dry Goods Economist, Labor Digest and Technical World, and a whole page in the American Boy. When the book Handicraft for Handy Boys appeared in 1911, a picture of the interior of the Juvenile Manufacturing Company appeared as the frontispiece, along with praise of what the boys had accomplished.
By this time, orders were coming in so fast that the boys were soon unable to fill orders quickly. An addition was added to the old playhouse so that more equipment could be brought in.
But the boys knew that their limited offering of items would eventually hurt their business, so they brought in Professor J. I. Lambert, a supervisor of manual training in the
public schools, as an advisor. With his help they hoped to learn how to build other types of furniture and expand the number of items in their catalog. Dayton
Unfortunately, by August, 1912, the operation had closed. The suspension came when two of the boys, Charles and Evan Whidden, had to move to
with their parents. The profits were split six ways and the company closed its doors.” Canada