Wednesday, April 13, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 2: The Wyeth Hardware Company

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 2:

The Wyeth Hardware Company

The Wyeth Hardware Company of St. Joseph, Missouri was one of the numerous wholesaling concerns that sprung up in the nineteenth century in the Mississippi Valley. This is because the river served as the demarcation point for Westward Migration, and firms like Wyeth, Blish-Mize & Silliman, and the many St. Louis wholesale hardware concerns got their start outfitting settlers.

This particular company was founded by William Wyeth in 1860. Wyeth moved to St. Joseph, Missouri in 1860 with his wife Elizabeth and founded W.M. Wyeth & Company. He grew wealthy very quickly, and notably commissioned in 1879 a 43-room Gothic mansion that stands today as a museum and as exemplary of this style of architecture. It is known today as the Wyeth Tootle Mansion.

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, William Maxwell Wyeth (1832-1901) had been in the dry goods business since the early 1850s, but got into the hardware line in 1856 with Lewis & Wyeth, a firm located in Chillicothe, Ohio. As an early Missouri history stated, "Wyeth settled in St. Joseph, Missouri, selecting it above the other localities which he inspected during…weeks of travel."

He chose St. Joseph because, as the magazine Do It Yourself Retailing declared in 1986, it was "the greatest wholesale outfitting point [for wagon trains] west of St. Louis. The wagon trains needed everything — pots, pans, tools, water barrels, lanterns." Wyeth supplied them with the goods needed to build the West.

After a disastrous fire in 1866, the company rebuilt in larger quarters and dealt specifically in hardware until 1872, when he expanded into saddle and harness making. In 1881, the company was incorporated as Wyeth Hardware and Manufacturing Company.

By this time the firm was one of the the most prosperous in the state, and joined by his son Huston Wyeth, the pair were two of the most prominent business men in the whole region. In 1901, when William Wyeth died and was replaced as president of the firm by Huston, it was one of the twenty leading wholesale hardware firms in the nation, with business in ten states and a massive saddle making subsidiary. In 1910, the company issued a Golden Anniversary history detailing its half century of growth.

(Left) William Wyeth; (Right) Huston Wyeth.

Like most wholesale hardware concerns, the company sent out massive catalogs, often 1500-2000 pages in length. These show up occasionally for sale.

Wyeth Hardware had two major trade names. The first was WYCO, which was used on everything from hammers to shotguns. The second was the "Wyeth Shield Brand" which was sold with the pithy slogan, "Wyeth Shield Brand, the Goods in Demand." This was used on everything from household to hardware items.

What is not known is whether it was branded on any fishing tackle. I suspect if might have been, but I have not seen it to date.

What I have seen, the only actual branded piece of Wyeth tackle I've run across, is a great line spool marked "100th Anniversary Braided Nylon Casting Line." At some point, Wyeth began backdating the founding of the company to 1859, so this particular spool dates to 1959.

Wyeth Hardware and Manufacturing Company became The Wyeth Company after World War II, and managed to survive the 1960s, which put many such firms under. However, it did not survive the 1980s. The last reference I can find to it was 1986.

However, the company was in business for too long to have so few pieces of fishing tackle. There has to be more than just line spools. They clearly sold tackle for many of the 120+ years they were in business, and if they were like other similar firms, somewhere there must be a reel, rod, or other piece of tackle marked WYCO or Wyeth.

Have you seen any Wyeth fishing tackle?

-- Dr. Todd

UPDATE: This bottle of Wyeth "Shield Brand" rod varnish just showed up on eBay:


Ron Yatteau said...

This is a great read about the history of a wholesale hardware supplier. Thanks

House Hasson Hardware

Jumpa said...

I have a beautiful off white Pearl or Ivory handle knife made by "WYETH Howe & MFG St. Joseph MO."
here is a few pictures of the knife
jumpa13 at gmail dot com
for more info

Jumpa said...

WYETH Howe & MFG St. Joseph MO."
Is what the knife reads with Ivory handle looks to be from the 20's

I have a beautiful off white Pearl or Ivory handle knife made by "WYETH Howe & MFG St. Joseph MO."
here is a few pictures of the knife

jumpa13 at gmail dot com
for more info

flownover said...

The family had a summer place in Park Rapids,Minn. One of the neighbors were the Heddon family and my grandparents were good friends with them. We had alot of private branded goods, but all the tackle was OEM and I never saw anything branded with the name.
William M. Wyeth IV

tfam said...

My dad owned a hardware store in south central Iowa in the 1950`s and 1960`s, Wyeth was the supply house he used, and a salesman for Wyeth, Mr. Hessmeyer, would come to the store to take orders. The fishing tackle we got from them was usually placed out for sale individually in bins, items such as hooks, plastic worms, bobbers, weights, and etc. If these items were manufactured by Wyeth no packaging would be on the items when sold. I don`t remember about the other fishing gear. I do still have some salesman cards handed out by Mr. Hessmeyer, the card was gold color foil coated,wrapped with clear plastic with a gold plated eagle claw brand hook in the plastic with the card

Unknown said...

I have a 10 foot wooden step ladder, solid as a rock, from Wyeth. Any info on their ladders?
Don Dickey, Des Moines, Iowa.