|By Dave McCormick
In 1910, six boys, all under the age of 13, founded the Juvenile Manufacturing Co. Their firm would certainly be the envy of many an entrepreneur today.
Charles Deeds, a precocious 7-year-old, was the president and general manager; Fulton Davisson Jr., 11, was vice president and superintendent; Robert Canby, 10, was the secretary; Charles Whidden, 13, served as treasurer and Stanley Rouh, 11, and Evan Whidden, 11 were both board members.
The firm was located at Deeds home at 319 Central Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. Charles’ father, Edward invented the first electric self starter at this address in 1911. But, it was a remodeled playhouse on the property that became the Juvenile Manufacturing Co. It was there the boys turned out an array of products such as wooden wastepaper baskets and stools made in the Mission style. They also worked with the National Cash Register Co. to produce items in bronze such as match safes and ashtrays.
The boys formed the company on Feb. 26, 1910. Although not incorporated, they issued stock at $1 per share. The enterprise actually turned a profit, paying out dividends of 100 percent during its first year; and within that same period the company sold merchandise valued at more than $150.00 ($3,750 in today’s dollars.)
This was not playacting this was a real business run by boys, sans help from any direction. They could claim excellent references as to the financial solvency of the company, and all bills were paid on time by check. The company issued an eight-page catalog; the cover carried a picture of the factory with the schoolboys busy at work.
The catalog was in part a prospectus touting the future plans for the company; included were descriptions and prices of items offered for sale. It also included days and hours of operation: “The plant is running Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays after school, and all day Saturdays. Visitors are welcome on Saturdays.”
These youngsters were proud of the products they turned out and included the following in their catalog, “The purchaser of any article produced by this company is not only getting more value for the money paid than he could get in any store, but at the same time is encouraging a company of energetic little businessmen to get training that is most practical.”
An advertisement was run in the Dec. 4, 1910 edition of the Dayton journal; it was in letter form on company stationery, composed by company president, Charles Deeds. It stated that during the Christmas season the company would open a store at 113 North Main St., taking over the space of a defunct bakery. The store was open from 4 to 7 p.m. each day.
Charles Deeds exhibited a talent for salesmanship far beyond his years. He promised his customers, if they bought a Christmas present from them, “it will please the one who gets it, make you happy, and we will be glad.” The Printers Ink, a journal for advertisers stated in their Jan. 5, 1911 issue that this letter is “as good copy as can be seen anywhere.”
The story of Juvenile Manufacturing Company was picked up by several other publications; the Dayton News, Centennial edition devoted an entire page to the boys’ endeavors, as did the Dayton Journal. The American Boy, also devoted a full page to them, and the Dry Goods Economist as well as the September 1910 edition of Technical World Magazine, each ran columns describing the workings of the manufacturing company. The Nov. 25, 1911 issue of Publisher’s Weekly ran a detailed story on the boys’ business. And as a testament to their success when the book Handicraft for Handy Boys hit the bookstore shelves in 1911, the interior of the boys’ factory served as the front piece of the publication. This was all welcomed advertising and according to Charles Deeds it created an influx of correspondence from all parts of the country. The letters covered a wide range of subjects: The boys’ plan of organization, the novelty of their products and the keys to their success.
With all the attention garnered, the boys began having a hard time filling orders. So, they expanded their operations by adding an addition to the factory. They also looked into expanding their product line. They contacted Professor J. I. Lambert, a supervisor of manual training in the Dayton public schools. It was their hope he would teach them to build other types of furniture and other sundry items. But this never came to pass. By August 1912 the Juvenile Manufacturing Company ceased operations when the two Whidden brothers moved to Canada with their parents.
This group of youthful businessmen eventually became the forerunner of the Junior Achievement franchise in the Dayton Area. And this foray into the world of business proved invaluable to these young entrepreneurs who went on to make their marks on the world. Charles Deeds went on to a successful career. In 1926 he helped found Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company; becoming treasurer and director Pratt & Whitney Aircraft division. In 1928 with the formation of United Aircraft Company he was elected secretary and treasurer to the new company based in East Hartford, Conn. In the 1930s he became president of another subsidiary, United Aircraft Exports Corporation. He later served as general manager of Pratt & Whitney. In the 1940s and 1950s he was chairman and president of the Niles-Bement-Pond Company that became part of the gun maker, Colt Industries.
As for the Whidden boys, Charles Ganong Whidden earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brandon College and was affiliated with McMaster University. His brother Reverend Evan Macdonald Whidden, listed in Canadian Who’s, Who, served as president of Brandon College as well as Dean of Theology at Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Robert C. Canby, who had lived just across the street from the factory on Central Avenue went on to serve as President of the Dayton Rotary Club in 1951-1952. And Oscar Fulton Davisson Jr., attended Yale University and became a renowned sculptor.
A bronze pin dish marked Juvenile Manufacturing Co. was recently offered on eBay for $100. So, works by the firm are still out there.