Monday, January 25, 2016

Of Potatoes and Dried Milk

I’ve talked about these quite a bit lately – the bolt on clips and round upper ferrules were featured in an article I titled “Rarer than Rarer (than Rare)” ( because they are so hard to find:

These two are really special: the translucent red was a nice surprise in one of those pigs-in-a-poke lots I bought online, and the clear yellow was a nice complement to the swirled white and yellow one I had at home.  My friend Matt McColm turned the yellow one up for me at an antique store in Colorado.  He texted me a picture and asked if the price wasn’t a bit steep.  Obviously I didn’t think so, and not just because of the pencil.  Most of the time, when these come with an original box, there’s a nice Autopoint sash inside the lid:


This one clearly has the original box, but this one is a little different:

The box, pencil and presentation card inside are all marked with the “Douthitt Corporation” and the company’s namesake, F.H. Douthitt:

Originally, I planned this article for a snowy Saturday article, and this story was going to have a quick, happy ending to tell you that the Douthitt Corporation of Detroit Michigan is still in business today, celebrating it’s in its 96th year.  To wrap things up with a bow, I emailed the company to ask about F.H. Douthitt.

Five minutes later, I received a terse, one sentence reply: that’s the wrong Douthitt.  At first, the shortness of the reply struck me as rude, but after researching this a little more, I get it.

At least, when it comes to a distinctive name such as Douthitt, Google Books makes it easy to find who our F.H. Douthitt was.  According to a patent he applied for in 1927, his full name was Frank Howard Douthitt, and he was from Chicago, not Detroit – and Chicago is where Autopoint Products Company was located.   In 1921, Douthitt was vice president of The Potato Magazine Company, which published . . . you guessed it . . . The Potato Magazine:

An advertisement in the September, 1921 issue included an advertisement for the National Potato Machinery Company, and a testimonial letter addressed to Douthitt, suggesting that he was working more than one job in the potato industry.  The man loved his spuds:

The February, 1921 issue included a statement of ownership for the magazine, and identified his address as Room 615, City Hall Square Building, Chicago:

In 1922, Douthitt emerges as “head of” the Douthitt Engineering Company, “manufacturers of milk drying plants and equipment,” in the Butter, Egg and Cheese Journal:

Douthitt appears to have forever abandoned his beloved spuds, and he dedicated the remainder of his career to spreading the gospel of the advantages of powdered milk across the country.  In 1925, he turns up in Oregon as a “Los Angeles promoter of the dry milk industry”:

In 1930, Douthitt visits Lamesa, Texas, where he was supervising the construction of a $200,000.00 dried milk factory:

The 1930 census shows an F.H. Douthitt as a boarder in Pennsylvania, working as a salesman in the creamery industry – the guy was really getting around.  However, as the Great Depression wore on, demand for the construction of dried milk factories inevitably waned, and in 1932, The Douthitt Engineering Company filed for bankruptcy:

By 1937, a new company called the Douthitt Corporation emerges in news reports, with the publication of a very specialized history of dried milk:

I love this story for several reasons.  First, how random is it that I’m reading publications like “The Potato Magazine” and “Butter, Cheese & Egg Journal”?

Second, and germane to the topic of this blog, we now know that my yellow pencil was made after the bankruptcy of the Douthitt Engineering Company in 1932.

Finally, and most importantly, I understand the frustration of my friends in Detroit, who for the last eighty years have been receiving calls, mail and emails – including mine – looking for a man named Frank, the former potato man with a passion for dried milk, who appropriated their company name!

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