Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Wells Mfg. History

The following was written in early 2000 by HH Uible and was originally transcribed by Serena.  

Since 1947 Dad [CJ Uible] had become involved in a Wells Mfg. (started by George Wells in Dayton in 1945) and in which I was also active.  The first location in New Vienna is the present Senior Citizens building where the rent was $100 a month.

The original owners had several fast talkers in the organization who were paid a commission of sales and soon the company was broke.  They moved to Milwaukee and started a company called Jak Pak.

In 1949 Wells bought the old hotel at the corner of SR-73 and Main Street for $900 as there had been a fire in the building and it needed help.  The going wage rate then was 55 cents an hour and I was lucky enough to get on the payroll at $35 a week.

In 1950 Bill Horton [CJ's son-in-law] and family moved to Florida and I became more active in sales work.  At that time Wells did not make anything, they bought the jackstones, the balls and put the items together.  Then a small set retailed for 5¢.  The only sales organization was a rep from Barr Rubber in Sandusky from whom we bought the balls.  He carried the Wells line and through contacts eventually had reps in most of the areas.

Every year we would got to the Toy Show in New York City which then ran for ten days and is now (in 2000] down to three days.  In the early 1950s hotels in NYC were $4/night and we would eat hot dogs from street vendors.  Every year we would make the rounds of the major chains in New York and then swing out through Kansas, Oklahoma City, Dallas and back through Nashville to home, a two week trip.  As we all know the little guys have gone out of business and the big guys are so powerful they tell you what they will pay, so was quite happy to sell the business in 1999.

In those days we had to punch the holes out of the jack cards where the balls went.  The only material handling equipment was a two wheel truck, so when a 40,000 pound load of zinc came in, that had to be unloaded one bar at a time.  (Each bar was 20 pounds.  We bought the zinc from a firm in Chicago that had apartments in the John Hancock Tower and we all enjoyed a number of visits there.  Catherine had an intern job at Marshall Fields while in college.)

Some of the earlier Wells products included lawn sprinklers -- they were too good as they never wore out; key chains and coin holders (with the advent of parking meters); bond boxes where one kept valuable papers (really no more than a metal box about the size of a small safety deposit box); yo-yos, flying saucers where there were two balls on the end of a rubber string and when in motion the balls would go in opposite directions; cyclone spinners -- a plastic disc that had holes and when pulled by the two strings would make a noise.  Later on we made plastic bats and balls.

About 1960 we got into the bubble business and eventually had a complete packaging line consisting of a bottle unscrambler (which put the correct end of the bottle up), a filler, capper, labeler, etc.  The 8 oz. was the most popular seller and it would sell by the truckload.  Also had a 4, 16, 24, 32 and 64 oz. bottle size, all of which we made on the four blow molding machines.

Our biggest step was to start making rubber balls, and as Goodyear said it was a challenge, which we never fully mastered 100%.  Besides the rubber mill, there was an extruder to get the rubber into rope like shape and then a cutter for the slugs and finally the 21 presses where the actual balls of different sizes were made.

Over the years we had employment as high as 70 people and a lot of very loyal people, like Phyllis J. Tilton White who was there for 35 years, Donna Brown for 33 years, Esther Salisbury for 20+, Mildred Storer, Gene Williams and Fred Hughes who came for a couple of weeks and stayed for over 20 years.  Elvis Wiget who started at $2/hour and went up.  In 1999 the basic wage rate was $6.50/hour.  Not much but too much to make a profit at the selling price that competition required.

In selling jacks one of the customers suggested that we put information about obtaining the rules on the back of the card, which we did.  At the peak of business we would receive around 50 letters a day requesting the rules.  Mother [Gladys Hiestand Uible] seemed to enjoy answering these jack letters, especially after CJ's death [1969] and would mark in the atlas book where the requests came from.  Children were requested to send a dime to cover the cost which was adequate in the early days when postage was two cents.  Sometimes children would send 10 pennies which resulted in postage being due.

As it became increasingly hard to make a profit, even though I drew no salary, I announced in the spring of 1999 that we would close.  Easier said than done for I really didn't want to have an auction.  Thanks to John and his connections the business and property was sold to Grant and Glenn Douglas of Columbus who formally bought Wells in November of 1999.  Hopefully they will make a success of it.

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