Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Museum taking care of business


Items from 19th, 20th centuries preserved

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Ornate 19th-century business cards, a German certificate, labor documents, faded photographs.

[photo] Archives manager Maggie Yax arranges a display case of items from the Cincinnati Museum Center's library archives.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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The history of Cincinnati's commerce is stored in voluminous files in the Cincinnati Museum Center's library archives. The well-preserved materials provide a glimpse of Queen City business dealings throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

To mark National Archives Week last month, the library mounted an exhibit of some choice materials. The memorabilia, filling three display cases, spotlights companies essential to Cincinnati's rise to prominence, such as Gibson Greetings, Milacron Inc. (originally Cincinnati Screw and Tap Co.), the E.H. Huenefeld Co., Kroger, and Max Wocher and Son.

"We could have a huge exhibit just on companies that had their roots here and then moved on," archive manager Maggie Yax said.

The exhibit, called "A Cincinnati Sampler" contains a fraction of the documents available in the library's files. Currently, the Cincinnati Museum Center houses between 150 and 200 business collections. The Milacron collection alone fills 400 boxes and contains advertisements from all over the world.

[photo] The display includes surgical instruments from Max Wocher and Son.
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"Because of space limitations, it's difficult to save and document all companies," Ms. Yax said. "We try to sample different types of businesses, and we stay on top of things by reading the newspaper to see who's coming, who's going."

"We have about 1 million images of businesses, families and organizations," said Linda Bailey, the reference librarian/photo archivist. "Photos are one of our heaviest use collections. We get lots of requests from authors and people doing videos. Ken Burns has used pictures from our collection." Historian Burns' work appears regularly on PBS-TV.

Objects from Cincinnati's commercial past are stored at the museum center's Geier Collections and Research Center on Gest Street.

"Our collection goes back to the early 19th century when Cincinnati really was being established as a commercial center," said David Conzett, history objects curator. "For example, we have a Luman Watson tall clock, which is like a grandfather clock. The company, whose dates are 1819 to 1834, also made mantel clocks. They were all handmade wooden clocks; even the gears were made of wood, which makes them very special."

Another standout collection is a 1910 Model K Schacht automobile, manufactured by a short-lived Cincinnati enterprise.

The collection holds bronze cannons made by Miles Greenwood's Eagle Ironworks and machine tools by the John Steptoe Co., one of the first machine tool companies.

An exhibit highlighting the city's machine tool prominence is on semi-permanent display at the Cincinnati History Museum. Using objects from the archives, it replicates an operating machine shop, circa 1910, and displays popular items produced from local machine tools.

While individuals may refer to archived documents and photos during regular library hours, the objects collection is not open to the public. Instead, said Mr. Conzett, the museum center tries to get items in the collection into rotating exhibits so the public can see them.

Beginning in April 2003, the museum center will mount a major Civil War exhibit, "Liberty on the Border."

E-mail jcallison@cinci.rr.com



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