BY JIM MERCIER
Stove polish? I know what you must be thinking, “I didn’t know that we made THAT in Racine!” Well, why not… we made just about everything else here at one time or another!
Most of us know that Racine manufactured tractors, automobiles, wax products, garbage disposals, as well as some unusual products, such as fanning mills, beer, silverplate, bicycles and even washing machines. Of course, you know this from reading the “Made in Racine” column in the Belle City Magazine for the past two and a half years, right? So, let’s read about another product that you never knew was made right here in the Belle City! (and actually, the name of the product!)
However, we’ll first need to understand what the function of a parlor stove was. Yes, it was the heat source for most living and dining rooms (as well as parlors), but it was actually much more than that. They were the “center of attention” in most homes many years ago, with their elegant beauty and ornate designs.
Home owners prided themselves in keeping their stoves polished, especially when entertaining guests. However, this was no easy task, since this weekly activity was quite time-consuming.
Most existing products were made with graphite, and had to be mixed, dried and then rubbed down by hand, often leaving behind dust and blacking. That explains why most existing products had the word, “black” in their names…Black Cat, Black Silk, Black Jack and many others.
The Belle City Stove Polish was manufactured by the Wood Brothers – Aaron and Lyman. They were the owners of a hardware store located at 316 Sixth St. back in the early 1880s, selling hardware, tinware, and stoves. Unfortunately, their store burned down in the disastrous Blake Opera House fire of 1884.
By 1885, they started to manufacture the Belle City Stove Polish at a building located on 15th Street, just east of the tracks. Their stove polish was not made with graphite, as were most of the others at that time, and enjoyed some success. By 1892, however, the Racine City directory does not list any reference for the stove polish.
Here are excerpts from one of their sales brochures, explaining how GREAT their product was!
“It produces an elegant polish with less than one-fourth the labor of any other, and makes no dust. It requires no brushing or hard labor, as it is simply applied with a rag and rubbed over with a dry rag, which leaves an elegant gloss. There is no need on rubbing the skin off your hands and filling your house with dust and stove blacking.
“The Belle City Stove Polish requires no mixing, being carefully prepared ready for family use. It usually takes about one-half to three-fourths of an hour to mix the blacking and polish the stove. With the Belle City Liquid Stove Polish, it can be polished in five minutes, thus requiring less than one-fourth the time and labor than any other stove polish. We guarantee the Belle City Liquid Stove Polish to make old iron or pipe look as bright and nice as new.”
Lyman Wood went on to establish the Lyman Wood Mfg. Co., manufacturers and jobbers of hardware, wagon and saddlery specialities, buggy tops, and other products. His office and factory was located at 1433 Junction Ave., just a stone’s throw away from his former stove polish factory. After his death in 1909, the business was taken over by his son, Walter.
Did it really work? Who knows, but it did add one more interesting product made right here in the Belle City!
Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia. Some of his collection is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneur’s exhibit. You can contact Jim Mercier at firstname.lastname@example.org