BY JIM MERCIER
I know what you’re thinking…what exactly is a curry comb? Well, if you’re somewhat familiar with horses, you would know exactly what it was used for. However, I’ve done the legwork for you, and here is how the dictionary describes a curry comb…”a hand-held metal device with serrated ridges, used for removing dirt, and other debris from a horse’s coat” (amazing the wealth of knowledge you gain from reading this magazine, right?) Curry combs were actually made of several rows of short metal teeth with an attached handle, and removed caked-on mud, organic matter, sand, gravel, and other unwanted material from a horse. In addition, curry combs stimulate the skin to produce natural oils. These devices were used on a daily basis as part of the grooming procedure. The comb is rubbed, or “curried,” in a circular motion to help loosen embedded material from horses.
Like automobile accessories, horses required accessories as well. And true to Racine’s manufacturing history of producing a variety of unique products, it didn’t take long for two local firms to place their “Made in Racine” stamp on their curry combs. Those two Racine firms were the Hunter Curry Comb Co. (with two future name changes), and the Clean Comb Co.
The Hunter Curry Comb Co. began operations in 1892, and was incorporated the following year. L. B. Baker was the entrepreneur behind the fledgling company. Baker was also involved with the Hunter Company, a distributor of products to agents, who would in turn, sell them to retail establishments. Some of those products included portable ironing boards, men’s cuff holders, egg beaters, knife sharpeners, writing inks, and a host of other products. That business was located at 314 Sixth St.
The Hunter curry comb could be purchased for only 25 cents ($1.50 per dozen, wholesale). Their advertising brochure states that the Hunter curry comb, “doesn’t have any of the usual harshness and cleans cleaner than most other combs.” Of course, they also list many important recommendations from various groups, such as the Ringling Bros. Circus, The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (remember them from Monopoly?), Wells Fargo Express Co., numerous fire departments, and “several hundred thousand others,” as they claimed.
By 1900, Baker changed the name to L. B. Baker Mfg. Co., and leased a building in the Racine Junction, while continuing to manufacture curry combs. About 1905, the name was once again changed to the Advance Manufacturing Co., and produced curry combs as their primary product. The company eventually moved to a location at 16th and Ann streets. They were still around in 1917, but I could not find them in the 1918 Racine city directory.
The Clean Comb Company started about 1905 and was located at 212 5th St., downtown. The “clean” in their name refers to their comb actually cleaning itself, in addition to the horse it was meant for. According to their brochure, “It cleans itself automatically while you work…you don’t have to waste time and temper getting the hair and dirt out of it. The pressure of currying brings the teeth into play. The plate, set on springs, helps the teeth to collect the refuse, and the withdrawal of pressure dumps this automatically. The teeth are always clean.”
Of course, they claimed that their curry comb actually protected the horse against scratches and rough treatment, while smoothing the hair instead of scraping it. They also claimed that it gets the dust and dandruff out of the horse’s hide instead of grinding it in…or so they say. My favorite part, however, is when they state that “our confidence is supported by THOUSANDS of benefitted users!” However, those “thousands of supporters” were not enough to keep the company in operation, and they closed their doors in 1913.
With the passing of these two companies in the mid-teens, another unique product with the “Made in Racine” label disappeared forever.
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia. Some of his collection is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.