Sometimes an idea is sparked by a simple thought, a notion, or a gesture that stays with us. We let it mull around in our minds for a while, keep it close, and when the time is right we put it to use in our physical world. These kinds of ideas mass produced by all of us contribute to our personal experiences and essentially create and dictate the world we live in. Other times, it is almost like the form of an idea runs quickly across our consciousness and is filtered out. Gone. Was it a missed opportunity for exploitation? Doubtful. I like to think that ideas that brushstroke our consciousness are in fact faulty thoughts gone astray that our mind was supposed to weed out and dispose of in the trash receptacle space of our unconscious mind. But who knows? All I do know is we are lucky creatures to have the intellect that we do and the physical means to share it. When I read or hear a personal story that entails an idea that take hold, grows, and shapes our world or someone’s individual life path, I love to share it. So here we go……
I recently came across a fella by the name of R.C. Mudge who lived in Detroit in the late 1880’s. In his youth, he loved to attend parties in the hopes of meeting a special young lady. In the winter months, his walks to those parties were cold ones. On one particularly cold night, he decided to put some newspaper underneath his coat for insulation. What he found out was that it served as a good insulator.
He used the newspaper all that winter to brave the cold. One evening it caught the attention of his friend, Edgar Wasson. The two men got to talking about the matter, the talking sparked some ideas, and their ideas eventually led them to design and make a paper vest out of sulphite fibre. They were so happy with their design and product they became convinced there was a market for it.
They applied to patent their design in July of 1888, and by February of 1889, their patent was approved. At the time they filed for patent, Mudge and Wasson decided to go forward and began a manufacturing company in Detroit under the name American Co. They hired a handyman from Canada, John C. McLaughlin, to help them and started manufacturing the garments. Within a few months, they had produced and sold 20,000 paper vests, and the orders kept coming. Because their supply of sulphite fibre had to come from Ohio and they lacked the capital to expand, they could not keep up with the supply to meet demand.
At the end of December 1889, it came to Mudge’s attention that a sulphite fibre company had opened up on the Black River in Port Huron. The company was called The Sulphite Fibre Works. Lacking the funds to expand and the fear of losing his business caused Mudge to make the journey to Port Huron in early May of 1889 to ask local capitalists to invest their money with him. With a spring in his step and a dream in his pocket, Mudge met with a group of men and proposed forming a stock company with the capital to manufacture his paper clothing in Port Huron. Some of the men he met that day included: Henry Howard, James Goulden, H.G. Barnum, Dr. F. Lohrstorfer, O’Brien J. Atkinson, Philo Truesdeli, E.J. Spaulding, S.L. Ballentine , W.F. Davidson, and Henry McMorran.
After hearing Mudge out, the men made an initial investigation. They decided to give Mudge and his new company a chance. On May 25, 1889, the stock company was organized under the name R.C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company, and the necessary funds were subscribed in the amount of $75,000. The Directors took a vote and elected the following officers:
President – W.F. Davidson
Vice-President – Philo Truesdeli
Treasurer – E.J. Spaulding
Secretary – E.M. Wasson
General Manager – R.C. Mudge.
Mudge and his business moved to Port Huron in July. He brought John McLaughlin and Edgar Wasson with him, and once again they were in business. Initially Mudge planned to manufacture 1,000 garments a day, but they soon had to double that figure to meet demand. In addition to making men’s paper vests, they started producing ladies’ vest, skirts, blankets, and shoe insoles.
In 1889, Mudge and Wasson sponsored a company booth at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair where they displayed their paper clothing. Their booth drew large crowds and was considered one of the popular booths. A newspaperman summed up the whole experience in a spotlight article on the company in the Detroit Tribute: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices. These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments. Wind will blow through wool. It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”
By November of 1889, the company employed 110 people, 97 of them women. When the company started in July, it employed only 3 women. To have enough space to mass produce their products, the company had expanded their operations on Butler Street into two buildings located next door. They were looking to occupy two more buildings on the block in the next few months, and there was talk of the need to build a brick factory within the next year. It was predicted the factory would employ approximately 500 people.
The main building of the company was powered by electric light from the Excelsior Electric Light Works. Electricity also powered 27 Singer electric sewing machines. Women working for the company used the machines to sew the garments together and finishing touches, such as color sateens sewn over the paper were hand sewn. Orders were coming in from New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and all parts of Michigan. The women were paid wages of between $2.50-$6.50 a week for their work. The highest paid employee was John McLaughlin, who acted as the head cutter. He earned a wage of $25.00 per week.
I love the humble origin of the R.C. Mudge Paper Company, and I’m so glad I could share it with you. But R.C. Mudge was not only an idea man. He was also kind, handsome, generous, and talented. My favorite characteristic about him was the generous spirit he showered upon his community. So, it is no small wonder the Port Huron community opened their arms and embraced him. If only for a little while.
Oh, goodness, there is so much more of this story to tell and I have run out of time to tell it. One blog on this one is just not enough. I guess it will have to keep for another day.
Until then……if you can……take a moment…… and THINK ALL OF THE THINKS YOU CAN POSSIBLY THINK and if one good THINK stays with you…. share it, savor it, cultivate it like a garden, and try like a mad hatter to grow it. And most importantly, remind yourself that sometimes in life all it takes is a good IDEA in your head and a DREAM in your heart to make the impossible POSSIBLE. I am sure Mudge and McMorran would more than agree with me.
Til’ next time.
Captured image of the Excelsior Electric Light Works, (1887). Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan, Sanborn Map Company, [Image]. Library of Congress. Retrieved from: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114pm.g041591887/?sp=5
Don, the Up North Memories Guy, (2016). Sulphite Paper Works, circa, 1907, Plant No. 2, Port Huron, MI [Image], flickr. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/upnorthmemories/28696337560/in/photostream/
Google Patents, (n.d.). Paper Garment No. 397,437, February 5, 1889. Retrieved from: https://patents.google.com/patent/US397437A/en
Hug emoticon, (2017). The Happydemic Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.thehappydemic.com.au/why-the-world-needs-hugs/
Michigan Art Company, (1904). Men in Michigan: A Collection of the Portraits of Men Prominent in Business and Professional Life in Michigan, Michigan Art Company: Detroit. Portraits of Wilbur F. Davidson and Henry G. McMorran [Image]
R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Co.Garments envelope with logo, (1889), [Image], Treasurecoastamp, Ebay. Retrieved from: https://www.ebay.com/itm/R-C-Mudge-Paper-Clothing-Co-Garments-Port-Huron-MI-Multicolor-Cover-188-XX0142-/332558595649?autorefresh=true
The Alice T. Miner Museum Blog, (2016). Ariel view of the Fair, circa 1889, Detroit. Retrieved from: https://minermuseum.blogspot.com/2016/03/forgotten-worlds-fairs-detroit-1889.html
The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, May 25). A New Enterprise.
The Port Huron Daily Times, 1889, November 2). Paper Clothing.
The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, June 27). Paper Clothing Company.
The Port Huron Daily Times, (1901, July 9). O’Brien J. Atkinson [Image].
The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, September 28). The Way it Came About.
The Times Herald, (1949, June 22). Silas L. Ballentine [Image].
Wikpedia, (2018). Henry Howard [Image]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Howard_(Michigan)
Wink Wink emoticon, (2015). Faith, Sigh & DYI Blog [Image]. Retrieved from: https://faithsighanddiy.com/2015/04/14/artists-and-imagination/a-winking-smiling-emoticon/