Filter posts by tag:  

Posted on

Trading wind

Everything changes, everything progresses…’

This Gem is a trade card, a business card for companies which would have been distributed to clients and potential customers to advertise their products, services and contact details.

This card was produced for the French wine company, Byrrh, probably during the 1930s. It was part of a series of trade cards called ‘Looking Ahead’, each of which showcased a different new or developing technology with a brief explanation of it on the reverse. The range of cards included farming, interplanetary planes and thermal energy.

This card displays a wind turbine, which was first invented in 1888 but was just starting to really develop and gain popularity by the 1930s, with the invention of the Darrieus wind turbine in 1931 which upgraded the conventional horizontal-axis wind turbine to a vertical axis, accepting wind from any direction with no need for adjustments, and allowing the heavy generator and gearbox equipment to rest on the ground instead of on top of a tower.

The gradual change from traditional windmills to modern wind turbines in generating power would have been at the forefront of the public psyche at this time, which is reflected in the concluding phrase on the reverse of the trade card:

“Everything changes, everything progresses…
Only Byrrh cannot improve because it is the perfection of cinchona tonic wines.”

Despite the same phrase being displayed on every trade card, and obviously being a way to humorously advertise the ‘perfection’ of Byrrh’s wine, this rather fatalistic yet also optimistic philosophy of everything changing and progressing is very reminiscent of the approach many people took to the industrialisation of milling, and the progression from traditional milling with wind and watermills to modern milling with roller mills and electronic machines.

The contrast between the poetic past in which windmills are often depicted, and this modern wind turbine is shown in the futuristic style of the painting, which may well have been influenced by the building popularity of sci-fi novels during the early 20th century, spurred on by new inventions in science and technology which were stoking people’s imaginations. Interestingly the turbine is given a similar design to the Eiffel Tower which had its own vertical wind turbines installed in 2015.

Byrrh was started in 1866 by the brothers Pallade and Simon Violet. The drink, a wine-based aperitif flavoured with cinchona, was originally marketed as a health tonic due to its inclusion of quinine, as well as to stop it competing with other established French Wines. Prohibition and changing French tax incentives almost killed off the brand, but in more recent times it has regained some of its former popularity, with exports to America restarting in 2012.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Learn more about the technique that brought art to the masses and made making this trade card possible here.
  • Further Reading: Learn more about the history of trade cards here.
  • The Wing Major: Wind Turbines only really began to be taken seriously thirty years before this card. Find out more about how this happened here. 
Posted on

Breathing fire

Transport links are the lifeline of milling.

This photograph shows a steam wagon outside Sonning watermill. The wagon is called Catherine Cooper; it was produced by Foden Trucks, a British truck and bus manufacturing company, and is an overtype steam wagon. The man on the right is the mill owner Mr Witherington with his son, whilst the man in the cab is Jim Girdler.

One of Sonning Mill’s largest flour customers was Huntley and Palmers biscuits in Reading. As this was relatively close but too far to carry the flour by hand, they needed a suitable way to transport it to the factory: the steam wagon was perfect for this role.

Traditional mills had always been local to the community they served, however, as milling became more industrialised and the number of mills became fewer, developing transport links became crucial to their operation. Mills began to be built on canals so that flour and grain could be transported on barges, then with the development of steam railways, many mills built their own auxiliary lines to connect their mills to the main network. For shorter journeys most would still rely on the horse and cart, until the development of steam wagons.

Steam wagons developed in the early 20th Century and were very popular until fading out of production in the 1930s. There were two types: ‘undertype’ which had the engine below the cab, and ‘overtype’ which looked more like a cross between a lorry and a steam traction engine. Foden’s produced their first steam lorry in 1900 and built their last in 1935, by which time they had made a total of 6,500 wagons.

Gem from the Brian Eighteen Mill Collection

Related links

  • Transport: Without transport links, it would have been impossible to get grain into mills and flour out. Find out more about the crucial yet often overlooked lifeline transport provided to milling.
  • Sonning Mills: Our Mills Index contains information on thousands of mills. You can learn more about Sonning Mill here.

Posted on

Unfolding a new era

You never know what may lie inside an advertisement.

This Gem is a trade card for Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills, produced in around 1890 to advertise their Gold Standard Flour. What makes this trade card a Gem is the fascinating folding design: the picture of a traditional windmill on the front of the card folds out like a folding children’s book to show a modern roller milling complex inside. This shows the progression from traditional flour milling to modern, industrialised flour milling. However, conversely to the wistful, sentimental portrayal of traditional windmills and their contrast to a more negative view of the industrialisation of milling that we often see, this trade card views modern milling in a very positive light, stating that

“There’s as much difference in the Flour of some mills, as there is between an old wind-mill and the most modern milling plant in the world.”

Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills was an American company based in Minneapolis, set up by Cadwaller C. Washburn in 1856. The original mill was called Washburn’s Folly as it was criticised for being far too large for the demand of flour. Nonetheless the company was successful, leading to the building of a larger mill called ‘A’ Mill in 1874. In 1874, soon after the expansion, an explosion destroyed ‘A’ Mill, killing eighteen people. In response, the company invested in more modern and safe technology, making it the first mill to use automated roller technology, increasing their capacity to 5,500 barrels a day.

In 1928 the company merged with twenty-six others to create General Mills, a global food company which continues to operate today and produces well-known products including Cheerio’s and Nature Valley. They have expanded from just milling and food production, and were responsible for the invention of Black Boxes for planes and the submarine that explored the wreck of the Titanic when it was first found. 

Interestingly, the reverse of the card describes the flour in a way that may not be quite so popular today:

‘This flour contains a large percentage of the gluten of wheat, and a very small proportion of starch, and for this reason bread made from it, does not become dry and tasteless, but retains the sweet flavour of the flour, and will keep moist for several days.’

Practical as this sounds, modern tastes have changed. In 2015, over 850 products sold by General Mills were gluten-free, whilst in 2005 it was the first major food company to make all of its cereals with whole grain. Indeed, modern advertisements make much of this for the health-conscious consumer – bringing it all back to the beginning, but with a contemporary twist.

Companies have constantly sought new and novel ways to appeal to consumers through advertising. This trade card does just that, whilst also demonstrating the development of milling technology.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Learn more about the technique that brought art to the masses and made making this trade card possible here. 
  • Further Reading: Click here to find our how Trade Cards developed into a popular method of advertisement. 
  • Calendar Trade Card: This isn’t the only way companies tried to set their cards apart. This one, for William Perrin, a corn, flour and seed merchant, is a calendar.