Author Archives: carljohnson

Today’s Hottest Hits – At Hudson Valley Asbestos

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Hudson Valley Asbestos Corp 1941We’ll admit we were confused when, searching for something else, we found this business brief from the Knickerbocker News in 1941 announcing that four area appliance distributors were switching the lines they sold. Initially, our confusion was over Albany Garage dropping the DuMont TV line. This was confusing because Albany Garage was a parking garage. But it was also an auto sales center, appeared to have some recreational facilities, and sold appliances.

But what really caught our eye was the name of the company that was relinquishing Motorola in order to get hold of the DuMont line: Hudson Valley Asbestos Corporation.

Hudson Valley Asbestos was, by all other accounts, just what it sounded like: an asbestos insulation contracting business, founded in Albany in 1922 by Marshall Pursel. But at some point, it also got into the appliance business, and, as so often was the case in those days, that also meant that they got into the record business.

An ad from the Times-Union in 1932 says:

The Hudson Valley Asbestos Corporation, 170 Central Avenue has been efficiently serving the the public for some nine years, specializing in heat and cold insulation for the home and factory, automotive products, electric refrigeration, radio for the home and automobile. One is sure to find outstanding values and willing service.

Hudson Valley Asbestos 1957They’re listed as one of Albany’s record distributors in Billboard magazine in 1948, and, as shown here, were still selling televisions in 1957, though by this time they’d gotten back on the Motorola wagon. (And who wouldn’t? They had a wireless remote control timer and an exclusive on-off push button!) That R.H. Pursel is shown demonstrating the new Motorola removes any question of whether the mention of Hudson Valley Asbestos in the appliance trade is just a series of unfortunate typos – Robert was Marshall’s son. In 1965, they were selling Emersons at their showroom at 10 Railroad Avenue. They also sold sewing machines.

Later on, in 1974, Hudson Valley Asbestos would become entangled in an anti-trust case against Tougher Heating and Plumbing and E.W. Tompkins. By then Hudson Valley had branched into other unspecified areas, but were still engaged in some form of insulation contracting, which is what they were fighting over. Asbestos restrictions were just starting to come into play at that time. We can’t put a closing date on the operations of Hudson Valley Asbestos, though in 1970 their Railroad Avenue location was given over to a corrugated container manufacturer, so perhaps the retail operations were done by then.

Having even dared to mentioned asbestos, Hoxsie expects to hear from some spambot lawyers.

No Journey to the Center of the Earth

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Mocha dick 1870 UK reprint.jpgFrom Munsell’s “Annals of Albany,” under Notes from the Newspapers we find this brief item from 1828:

Oct. 7. Reynolds, who advocated the theory of the interior of the earth being hollow, delivered a lecture at the Atheneum, on the utility of a voyage into the interior of the globe by an entrance at the north pole.

This would have been Jeremiah N. Reynolds, a newspaper editor, explorer and author who adhered to the thoughts of John Cleves Symmes, Jr., that the earth is hollow. They lectured together for some time, and eventually Reynolds went on lecturing on his own. Unfortunately, we’re not certain of the location of the Atheneum, which was a literary society but clearly also a meeting space used by a number of organizations. Unfortunately for those of us who love a good folly, by the time Cook or Peary or somebody got to the North Pole around 1909, the theory had long fallen out of favor and no one tried to drill an entrance.

Reynolds had another Albany connection, almost as tenuous as his likely single night of lecturing. In 1839, in The Knickerbocker, he published an account of a white sperm whale who bedeviled a generation of whalers for thirty years before succumbing to one of them (sez Wikipedia). “Mocha Dick survived many skirmishes (by some accounts at least 100) with whalers before he was eventually killed. He was large and powerful, capable of wrecking small craft with his flukes.” Reynolds’s tale was titled “Mocha Dick: Or, the White Whale of the Pacific.” In 1851, former Albany resident and Lansingburgh teacher Herman Melville published “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.” A famously white whale.

Don’t Leave Your Car Doors Unlocked

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10,000 Autos Stolen in 1921Ahh, for the simpler times, back when we could all leave our doors unlocked and never had to fear crime. Turns out that was just fine, as long as it wasn’t your car doors you were leaving unlocked, because the early days of automobiling saw a surprising amount of theft.

An article from “Motordom” in 1921 says that 10,000 automobiles were stolen in New York State cities in 1921, a 42 percent jump over the previous year. Albany, by no means the leading city, had 234 vehicles stolen (of which 177 were recovered). That year, there were 582,000 passenger cars in the state, so just about 2% were being stolen.

The most recent statistics we found showed that in 2006, 241 cars were stolen in Albany.

A Boal of Grog for Thomas Sager

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A boal of grog for Sager from Munsell's Annals City DocumentsWe confess: we don’t really know what this is about. In Joel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany, Vol. 6,” among the many scattered “city documents,” we find this item titled “A Corporation Bill For Punch.”

“On the 3d of Sept. 1782, Hugh Denniston, who kept a noted tavern in Green street, furnished certain persons for the benefit of the city, with the following articles:

9 Boals of Punch£1160
1 Mug of Beer009
1 Boal of Grog for Sager020

The Mayor was requested to pay the bill out of the corporation money. The following is a facsimile of the signature of the person who drank the two shilling boal of grog.”

Why Thomas Sager was called out for drinking a two-shilling “boal” of grog, we can’t begin to imagine. Who drank the nine-pence mug of beer? We are not told.

Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth

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Died Long Ago - A Giffen AlbanyFrom the Schenectady Cabinet in 1855, this odd little advertisement that we suspect was meant to turn a particular phrase but which lost something in a spelling error: “Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth!” In reference to the dyeing and scouring establishment of Mr. A. Giffen at Albany’s old City Mill on Water Street, we have to assumed it was meant that he “dyed” long ago, and then we could all appreciate the pun instead of being somewhat weirded out.

“Mr. Giffen promises that no pains or expense shall be spared in shis endeavors to please, both in regard to colors and finish. Gent’s Coats, Pants and Vests dyed, scoured and pressed in a manner equal to new goods. Ladies’ Silk, Satin, Velvet, Merino, M deLaine and Bombazine dresses, dyed in every variety of shade.” And so on. A few years after this, in 1861, A. Giffen would still be in business, at 80 Beaver Street.

Lest you think he was the only dyer (or scourer) in Albany, please let us inform you of the miracle of steam scouring, and of the former editor of the Scientific American who came to Albany to die. We mean, dye.


William Bolles Has Something for Country Merchants

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W.F. Bolles ad Schdy Cabinet 1855While we’re stuck in 1855, let’s take a look at this ad from the Schenectady Cabinet for the shop of William F. Bolles.

“Country merchants will find at 81 State-street, a large assortment of Paper Hangings, School Books, and Letter and Cap Paper, at New-York prices.”

We can only presume that by advertising to country merchants, Bolles was at least re-selling, if not actually wholesaling, the stock of items he was offering, presumably to general stores that dotted the region. Paper hangings are wallpaper; “cap paper” probably refers to foolscap (so named for its original watermark), or perhaps flat cap or legal cap. All were varieties of coarse paper.

His shop was at 81 State Street, but his residence, at least in 1860 (when he was listed as supplying books and stationery), was at 77 State Street; not clear whether that could have been the same or just an immediately adjacent building. Later, in 1864, he was boarding at 10 Liberty Street. Bolles was born March 23, 1819, in Connecticut. He was the son of a printer in Hartford.

Possibly Painless Dentistry

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B. Stickles DentistFrom an 1855 edition of the Schenectady Cabinet, an advertisement for B. Stickles, surgical and mechanical dentist. Let’s take “mechanical” to mean that he could create things like false teeth and bridges, not that he was a wind-up automaton. All branches of the profession carried on, and all work warranted. Chloroform or Ether administered when advisable. With our limited knowledge of mid-19th century dentistry, we’d venture it was usually advisable.

We can find nothing further about B. Stickles; he doesn’t appear in the city directory just five years later.

The Rota-Ray Map and a Blinger of a Campaign

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rota_ray_system_map_albany_schenectady_troySome time ago, the folks at All Over Albany stumbled on this great little scrolling map device, posted at the David Rumsey Map Collection. Not only is it possibly the coolest motoring map device we’ve ever seen, but it appears to have generated quite a bit of excitement in those early days of motoring in the Capital District. Well, at least it excited P.J. Kehoe, secretary of the Schenectady Club of the New York State Automobile Association. In the organization’s “Motordom,” there was clearly anticipation of the club’s membership drive, which was going to be aided by the press corps of the Rota-Ray corporation, makers of this ingenious little navigation device that allowed motorists to scroll from map to map as they traversed the state.

As MOTORDOM goes to press there is impending at Schenectady, scene of the annual meeting in October, a membership campaign that will be well worth watching from the standpoint of new methods involved and co-operative action on the part of a live wire membership.

With the slogan, “Make It Three Thousand,” the Schenectady Automobile Club, using the organization and press team of the Rota-Ray Map Systems, is putting on a blinger of a campaign. The thing has been in preparation for two weeks and with the heartiest support of the newspapers of Schenectady and vicinity the campaign is almost certain to come through with a great deal of glory for all concerned.

Noting that a “live” campaign would show the optimism of business men regardless of what business conditions may seem like, Kehoe’s report said that the auto industry was on the edge of another boom that would herald the “resumption of normalcy.” Enrollment in the auto club was 1200, and they were seeking a 200 percent increase from the 9000 car owners in the district.

Of course there are always certain people in a community that join the automobile club annually as a matter of course, but on the other hand there are more who have to be shown and led to righteousness by means of personal and individual effort.

The big feature of the campaign was to be a “transcontinental race” with cars entered by “practically every dealer in Schenectady – nearly 40 all told.” The race was to start in Schenectady’s public market, with Mayor Lunn firing the starter pistol. It turns out it wasn’t a race at all, but a competition in which dealers and others racked up “miles” and passed certain cities as checkpoints according to the number of new automobile club members they signed up – and the Gazette routinely reported this “race” in ways that made it appear it wasn’t out of the ordinary. “Running parallel with this are all sorts of stunts to put the jazz into the ten big days when the automobile and the Automobile Club of Schenectady will occupy the center of attention in that immediate vicinity.”

The president of the club, E.D. Manson, and his “live” board of directors, with the assistance of the Rota-Ray organization, were able to add “uncorkable pep” to the campaign, which was to mobilize city officials, organizations, theaters, and Boy Scouts “into a big mobile driving force that is going to move things.”

The Schenectady Gazette of Sept. 16, 1921, headlined one story “Arrows Point Out Motorists’ Duty”:

This morning Schenectady awakens to the slogan “Follow the Arrow” After the city went to bed at midnight, cars with bundles of cardboard arrows departed from the club headquarters at the Mohawk hotel for the various through-routes leading into Schenectady and from the outskirts of the city brought long lines of the markers into the business section with the club headquarters at the Mohawk hotel as the focal point. All motor car owners of Schenectady who have not yet become members of the club are asked to “Follow the Arrow” and “sign up.”

Barringer & Co., The New York Store!

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Barringer's adBack in 1855, one of the finest stores in Schenectady, New York, was Barringer & Co. (“The New-York Store!”), at 87 State Street. In this ad, they proclaimed that they were now receiving, and offering for sale (a good move, business-model-wise), a complete assortment of British, French and German staple and fancy dry goods, including rich black and colored silks, new mousselin (similar to muslin) delaines, brocha long shawls, cloths and cassimers, linen shirting and sheeting, and carpeting, oil cloth, matting and more. “The extent and variety of our stock, and low prices, are unequalled by any other house in the trade.”

1855 happens to be the year that an ambitious gentleman by the name of Howland S. Barney bought into the Barringer Company; it would only be three years before he would buy out his partners and establish H.S. Barney Co. He built a landmark department store further up State Street in 1872; the building stands to this day, and Barney’s still stands strong in the memories of Schenectadians despite having closed in 1973.

Barringer small ad 11-13-1855William Barringer may have gone on to other ventures; he was only 45 years old when Barney bought him out. In 1870, he was listed as a retired merchant with real estate worth $10,000 and personal property valued at $40,000, so the rag trade seems to have treated him pretty well. Born in Columbia County around 1810, he moved to Schenectady somewhere around 1837. He married a younger woman (13 years younger), and had sons late in life, when he was 43 and 45. In 1865, he was living with his sons (but no wife) at 2 Union Street, at the corner of Washington Avenue, a building of odd personal meaning to Hoxsie – in the 1970s, it was the home of the Schenectady County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and much time was wasted there in important activities of the teen years. Decades later, it had been returned to use as a private home and, in one of those coincidences life throws at you, was owned by a friend and colleague.


Look for the Name “Joe”

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Joe Green's Ad 1922While digging up the dirt on Spiro Agnew’s father’s Hygienic Lunches, we ran across many, many ads by this character, Joe Green, whose menswear store was at 412 State Street in Schenectady, over the Hygienic Lunch (some years after Agnew had decamped for Baltimore). Many of the ads exhort the reader to

Look for the Name, “Joe,” and the Real Joe’s Picture Over the Door – If You Don’t See the Name, “Joe,” and His Picture, You’re Not in the Right Place.

Very specific instructions. Is it possible there was a non-real Joe Green somewhere nearby? Was there someone posting a picture of a Joe Green look-alike inside their walk-up menswear store, hoping to confuse those who weren’t sure of just where they were? It’s a mystery.

Joe Green's Ad 2