BY JIM MERCIER
Take a quick look at the photo showing a pair of hand-held manual clippers…what are your thoughts? I think I know what you’re thinking: “I would NEVER submit to having MY hair cut with one of those…that has to hurt when it pulls your hair!” Well, you’re probably right. However, many parents used manual clippers like these on the their children when they were very young, and you probably wouldn’t remember being subjected to having your hair cut at such a tender age. What some of us don’t know is that many of these manual clippers were made right here in Racine. Just as interesting is how Racine got involved in manufacturing these in the first place! So, let’s read on and increase our knowledge of Racine’s history, shall we?
Of course, we all know what hand-held hair clippers are…an instrument used to cut human hair operated by squeezing a pair of handles together, and then releasing them in rapid motion. They were often used by the military, in prisons and in boy’s schools to cut hair close to the skin. Many barbers used them as well, but sales to households (a “do it yourself” kit) accounted for the largest segment of sales, since they were inexpensive to purchase, and didn’t require any electricity. Later, electric clippers gradually began to replace the manual ones.
Let’s go back to 1918, when a young Matthew Andis, Sr., a trained tool and die maker, wanted to start his own business. When John Oster and Henry Meltzer found out about it, they went to Andis’ home and requested to become partners in the new venture. The Andis Tool Company, a tool and die shop, was now in operation. By 1920, the partnership was dissolved, and the fledgling company was incorporated under the name of Andis, O. M. Manufacturing Company.
Mr. Andis left the company in 1922, while Mr. Oster departed two years later. That left Mr. Meltzer, who reorganized the company as the Allover Mfg. Company, with the help of Martin Svoren (my wife’s grandfather), Julius Schultz and Julius Boerger. Meltzer, Oster, and Andis all formed successful companies right here in Racine, drawing on the knowledge and experience gained from their partnership.
Andis would go on to develop a highly-successful compact electric clipper for use in barber shops and in the home. The Andis Company is still in business, and is considered to be a leading manufacturer of quality hand-operated clippers, trimmers, curling irons and other products for hair grooming.
Oster started the John Oster Mfg. Company in his garage back in 1924, producing hand-operated hair clippers. They were purchased by Sunbeam in 1960.
So, I’m sure that you are all wondering how this original tool and die company ever got involved with producing hand-operated clippers, right? Well, one thing is for certain…they never anticipated entering the hair clipper industry. Here’s what happened: one of their customers, a hair clipper manufacturer, ordered tooling for their hand-operated clipper. While accounts differ, that company went bankrupt, leaving the Andis, O. M. Manufacturing Co. stuck with the unpaid tooling order. This unexpected turn of events forced the company to “make lemonade out of lemons”, so to speak. They took a chance, and purchased the remaining parts and materials needed to complete the original order. Simply put, the company took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself, and found themselves in the manual hair clipper business!
It’s surprising to note that I have almost 80 different brand names of Racine-made hand-operated hair clippers in my collection. By far, the most prolific was Oster, accounting for nearly two-thirds of them, followed by Allover, with about a third (Andis was primarily an electric hair clipper manufacturer). Here are a few of the brand names: Captain, Belle City (our local connection), Gold Medal, Vulcan, Dandy, Freshman, Urban, Marine, President, Commander and the Doughboy. Even animal names were used, including the Bear, Tiger, Beaver and Badger. Who thinks of these names, anyway?
Well, there you have it. Now you know how we got involved in manufacturing the manual-powered hair clipper when the right opportunity presented itself. Fortunately, the Andis Company is still carrying on this tradition of producing quality hair products which started here almost 100 years ago!
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia and displays some of his collection in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit.