Midwesterner Contributions to American Culture
Aaron Montgomery Ward invented the mail order business in Chicago in 1872. Ward was a traveling salesman of dry goods who was unhappy seeing rural Midwesterners being taken advantage of by local store owners. Ward was a driven man, and started clerking at a local general store where he worked his way up to head clerk, and then manager. He moved on to a competing store where he learned the retailing business. Ward wanted to start providing goods to the local farmers at a reasonable price, without the high middleman markups that they were paying. His first inventory was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, followed by the departure of both of his partners. Despite being hated by rural retailers, who openly burned his catalog, and copied by the likes of Richard Warren Sears, Ward persevered and literally invented the catalog business.
Many of us have heard the jingle: “Call Roto-rooter, that’s the name, and away go troubles down the drain.” The Roto-Rooter brand was born in the late 1920s in Des Moines, Iowa after Samuel Oscar Blanc fought with a clogged drain in his son’s apartment. In 1933 Blanc created his device from a washing machine motor, 3/8” steel cable and roller skate wheels. It was his wife’s idea to call it the Roto-Rooter. He fashioned sharp blades on the end of the cable to cut away roots from sewer lines and it’s pretty much the same machines that Roto-Rooter servicemen use today.
Henry Ford believed that consumerism could bring about peace for humankind. He also intensely believed in lowering costs through innovative technology while paying workers a decent wage. In 1893, when he was with the Edison Illuminating Company, he began experimenting with gasoline engines; resulting in a vehicle he called the Ford Quadricycle in 1896. Ford introduced the Model T in October of 1908. It was easy to drive and inexpensive to repair. In Detroit he developed an aggressive publicity campaign and set up dealers in nearly every major city in America. Not only is Ford the father of the automobile, but he’s also the father of the assembly line.
Mystery Science Theatre:
If you’re a fan of the former Emmy-nominated, American cult comedy series, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, you’ll definitely appreciate this! Minneapolis is the birthplace of the series, known as MST3K. The pilot was shot by Twin-cities comedians Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein. Minnesota is also the home to the only two official fan conventions for the show; one in 1994 and the other in 1996. The series made the term riffing popular, which is the term used to describe watching a movie while making humorous commentaries on it.
Although not the healthiest choice, we do love our burgers! We can thank Ray Kroc, from Illinois, for giving us McDonald’s. In his youth, Krock started as a salesman of a variety of items, including multi-mixers in 1954. Surprised by a huge order from two brothers in California, he was equally shocked that they were experiencing huge success by selling only a few items: burgers, beverages and fries. This allowed them to focus on quality rather than quantity. The McDonald’s vision was born, Krock pitched his idea and by 1958 he had sold his 100 millionth hamburger. Krock built an empire based on consistency and value.
Imagine our lives without the contributions of these Midwesterners! The Midwest has given this country some of its most basic elements of popular culture. These elements are things that we tend to take for granted. The next time that you pull up to a McDonald’s or browse a catalog, think of their origins!
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