Monday, July 30, 2012

The Family Business: Electric Motor Service Co., Appleton, WI.

I have submitted this post for inclusion in the Carnival of Genealogy, sponsored by The Creative Gene. All contributors' posts can be seen by August 4. The topic for this edition is Business and Commerce.


That handsome fellow in the photo is my grandfather, Howard Herrman (1901-1978), and the business behind him is the one he owned and ran: the Electric Motor Service Co., in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was only in his shop once, in the mid-1970's, when it was being cleared out and shut down. I asked my mother for her recollections:
Dad's business was located at 116 N. Superior St., between College Ave. and Lawrence St. near the entrance to Jones Park. His main business was repairing electric motors, but he also sold new and used motors and parts.
It was a rather greasy place, since all motors require oiling, greasing, etc., so Dad always warned us to be careful where we moved, and what we touched, because Mom would yell at him (and at us) if we came home with grease on our clothes. Nevertheless, we all loved the place. It was calm and quiet and the only place to have a private conversation with Dad, since at home Mother always listened in. If one of Dad's friends happened to be there, we also could hear more adult conversations about politics, local issues, business problems, etc. -- topics that were rarely discussed at home.
(My three sisters and I)  learned to type as we entered high school, and Dad "hired" us to work in the shop once a week or so, preparing invoices and typing business letters. It was good experience, preparing us for jobs in offices when we finished school and helping to prepare me for college.
We frequently dropped in at the shop when we were downtown shopping or running errands and needed a ride home. No matter how busy he was, Dad always seemed happy to see us and would chat as he worked.
Dad rented the little building his shop occupied for many years -- before he met and married our mother, until I was away at the university. Apparently the elderly owner of the property died, and the new owner wanted to raise the rent beyond what Dad wanted to pay, so he then moved to South Superior St., the store now occupied by a bicycle shop.
The photo above must have been the original shop, because I found an ad for the second location in a 1958 Appleton newspaper through NewspaperArchive.com:


That appears to be the address on the picture below, which was from my grandfather's collection. He was an avid amateur photographer and kept a darkroom in the basement at the house.


It was interesting to hear my mother describe her father's business as the place where she could have a private conversation with him, and I know the reason why: Howard's younger brother told me that Howard did not allow his wife to set foot in his shop. He considered it his domain, and "no wife of his was going to interfere" there. Apparently, that rule did not apply to his four daughters.

20 comments:

  1. What a cool photo of your grandfather and his shop! And your mom's recollections are quite interesting.

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  2. What a delightful story! I love how you shared your mother's recollections. If my dad had followed his heart and had the ambition to own his own business, I believe he too would have owned a motor repair shop. His favorite past time was repairing old motors (mostly from lawn mowers) in the garage behind our house. It was his domain and he spent countless hours there. He never made any money at it though. Never even tried. It was just a hobby. Thanks so much for sharing your family story in the COG, Jessica. I hope we'll be reading more from you!

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  3. How great that your grandfather took photos of his shops and that you were able to get your mother's memories of it.

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  4. What a delightful post. Love the photos mixed in and the news article. And, the "inside scoop" on your grandfather's space. Loved that part! :-)

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  5. Isn't it funny that the wife wasn't allowed in his shop!
    Welcome to the Geneabloggers family.
    Regards,
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

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    1. Apparently she was allowed to stop by if she needed a ride, but that was it! Thank you for the welcome, it is so appreciated.

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  6. Loved the photos and remembrances. His daughters had a gem of a dad!

    Jessica, I just found your blog thanks to GeneaBloggers, and am looking forward to taking a look around and also following your future posts. Love your attention to details--down to the "definitely not a bird watcher" comment on your profile statement.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Jacqui!

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  7. What an interesting post and such wonderful photographs of your grandfather and his business. Lovely to read your mother's recollections. I now wish I had asked my grandfather more about his life when I was able to do so. The trouble with youth is you're never interested in your past until it's too late.

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    1. I agree. So many times I find myself wishing I could ask so-and-so about something. I do find that if I ask other people, sometimes they asked so-and-so, which is wonderful but also not quite the same.

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  8. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    http://thehomeplaceseries.blogspot.com/
    http://www.examiner.com/x-53135-Springfield-Genealogy-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-58285-Ozarks-Cultural-Heritage-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/heritage-tourism-in-springfield-mo/dr-bill-william-l-smith
    http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/drbilltellsexcitingstories
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: http://www.indepthgenealogist.com/

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  9. Jessica, really like hearing about your grandpa's shop in your mom's words. Nice touch, along with great pictures. Thanks for sharing this bit of history with us.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words.

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  10. What a great post, Jessica, and I love your blog name! I keep trying to climb over a Jones' brick wall! One of these days, will see over that wall to the answers!

    I loved your post, and it brought back memories of hanging out in the garage on the farm with my dad and brothers. It was greasy, smelly, and there were always motors, vehicles, or tractors being taken apart or put back together. It was wonderful!

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    1. Keep working at it! You'll get it eventually - when you least expect it, some little thing will piece it all together! (And be sure you write about it when you do to inspire us all:-)

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  11. I'm chuckling at your grandfather "putting his foot down" about his wife not entering his shop. It's good you asked your mom to share her memories -- great to capture those while you can.

    I wonder if he liked his second shop better than his first. Looks like the second one would have had lots of natural light with the big front windows.

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    1. My mom says grandma was allowed to stop by "if she needed a ride home." Grandma never allowed anyone in "her kitchen" so I guess fair's fair!

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  12. An article like this is always a good read. This is so inspiring especially to entrepreneurs who want to achieve success for the coming years. Kudos to your successful grandfather. :)

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