Series 1 includes: news articles about the company and the Simmons family; photographs of the machinery, factories, factory workers, products and showrooms; annual reports; various corporate periodicals; audit reports; patents; and materials relating to sleep research conducted by Simmons. Series 2 includes product catalogues, scrapbooks of advertisements, advertising artwork and mechanicals, sales kits, point of purchase items, marketing plans and surveys, sales training videos and filmstrips, and commercials. Of special note are the materials on Simmons involvement in the New York World's Fair in 1964-65 and the XIII Winter Olympic Games in 1980.
Most newsprint in this collection has been photocopied onto acid-free bond paper and the originals destroyed. Unless otherwise noted, the materials appear in date order within each subseries or sub-subseries. Physically, the materials are arranged by type and size.
Series 1: CORPORATE MATERIALS, 1892-2000, n.d.
Subseries A: History, 1892-2000, n.d. - Kenosha, WI, history (news articles and other documents), Simmons Company history (news articles, correspondence, and commemorative publications), and Simmons Centennial materials. Of note are transcripts of a series of interviews conducted for the 1996 commemorative book; the interviews are in alphabetical order by the interviewee's last name. Some WWII materials are also located within this subseries.
Subseries B: Photographic Materials, 1892-1990s [bulk dates] - Included here are photographs (black and white, color), negatives, transparencies, and slides.
Sub-subseries 1: Machines, 1925-1969, n.d. - Features photos of the devices used to make Simmons mattress and furniture including the Marshall pocket machine, stitching machines, and coiling machines. The photographs are arranged alphabetically by type of machine, and there under by date.
Sub-subseries 2: Products, 1936, 1962, 1970s-1990s, n.d. - Some of the photographs may have been used in advertisements, catalogues, and other Simmons publications.
Sub-subseries 3: Personnel, 1917, 1937-1974, 1980s, n.d. - Photographs of Z.G. Simmons, Grant Simmons, Jr., sales force, and board members. Of interest are the sales force photos featuring meeting initiations and "All-American Annual Trips" for top selling employees.
Sub-subseries 4: Facilities, 1892, 1920s, 1936, 1940, 1955, 1960s, 1975, 1980s, n.d. - Photographs of domestic and foreign manufacturing plants, office buildings, warehouses, and stores.
Sub-subseries 5: Other, 1915, 1935, 1940, 1964, 1979, n.d. - Slides used for presentations and photographs that do not fit into the above sub-subseries.
Subseries C: Annual Reports, 1946, 1949, 1952-1983 - Reports given to stockholders focusing on Simmons financial returns and business activities for the year.
Subseries D: Publications, 1926-1994 [bulk dates] - Periodicals published by Simmons for their staff (sales force, plant employees, etc.) and outside parties.
Sub-subseries 1: Owl, 1947-1954 - A nearly complete run of this in-house organ; it was published about once every two months.
Sub-subseries 2: Bedpost, 1984, 1986, 1988-1998 --In-house organ. There are no examples of an in-house organ that may have been published between 1954 and 1984.
Sub-subseries 3: Other Publications, 1926, 1929, 1941, 1970s, 1980s, 1994 - Items published by Simmons and sent to merchandisers.
Subseries E: Business Records, 1903-1987 [bulk dates]
Sub-subseries 1: Records, 1903-1998, n.d. - Consists, in part, of correspondence, speeches, personnel directories, and financial accounting books. Of note is the folder of materials on Simmons participation in atomic testing in 1955.
Sub-subseries 2: Presentations, Studies, and Reports, 1936, 1958, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1987, n.d. - Business plan presentation from Gulf & Western and Wickes. Issues of Consumer Reports magazine featuring Simmons products.
Subseries F: Audit Reports, 1917-1952, 1959-1967, 1977 - Year-end financial audits for Simmons Company, its subsidiaries, and foreign incarnations.
Subseries G: Legal Matters, 1914-1977 [bulk dates] - Federal Trade Commission activities, bills of sale, licensing agreements, trademarks on Simmons logos, and lawsuit exhibits.
Subseries H: Patents, 1904-1954, ca. 1960s, n.d. - Correspondence and legal documents for foreign and domestic patents, many by John Gail. Also included here are the Patent Committee meeting minutes.
Subseries I: National Association of Bedding Manufacturers (NABM), 1949, 1952, 1960s-1970s, n.d. - Materials reflect Simmons involvement with this organization. Several Simmons employees held high ranking positions within NABM.
Subseries J: Sleep Research Materials, 1929-1970s, 1994, n.d. - Materials relating to Simmons sleep research endeavors, especially the Sleep Research Center at the Mellon Institute. Included are journal articles, booklets about sleep and bedding, and a scrapbook of news clippings related to a 1956 article, "Sleep--ust 80 Minutes a Night."
Series 2: MARKETING, 1896-1990s, n.d.
Subseries A: Catalogs, 1896-1956, 1970s, 1980, n.d. - The earliest catalogs are from the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company. Catalogs from the regional distributors of Simmons, as well as from England and Canada.
Subseries B: Price Lists, 1939, 1940, 1952-1957 - Institutional and divisional price lists for Simmons products.
Subseries C: Records of Marketing, 1920s-1930s, 1950s, 1970s-1990s, n.d. [bulk dates] - This subseries reflects the business materials used to market Simmons mattresses to consumer groups and merchandisers including artwork for advertisements, mattress labels, television and radio commercial scripts, and pamphlets aimed at consumers.
Subseries D: Advertisements, 1920s-1990s, n.d. - A nearly complete continuum of Simmons advertising. The scrapbooks were dismantled to ensure proper preservation. They have been kept intact and the pages numbered to ensure order. The contents of the scrapbooks, in many cases, are duplicated both in the loose advertising and in other scrapbooks. A few of the scrapbooks were completely dismantled and integrated into the loose advertising. There is no record of the original order of these scrapbooks.
Sub-subseries 1: Consumer Advertisements, 1920s-1990s, n.d. - Advertising pamphlets, mailers, local advertisements, and national advertising campaigns. Competitors' advertisements are included in this sub-subseries.
Sub-subseries 2: Trade Advertisements, 1920s-1980s, n.d. - The trade advertisements are aimed at the bedding industry and related home furnishings publications. Literature for hospitals, hotels, and interior decorators is found here. Some trade advertising is located in scrapbooks with the consumer advertising; an effort has been made to note these occurrences in this finding aid.
Subseries E: Sales Kits, 1931, 1933, 1946, 1950s-1998, n.d. - These kits were mailed or presented by Simmons sales force members to dealers/merchandisers. The materials feature Simmons products, upcoming promotions, and advertisements that could be customized for each store's location. **Please note, the Sales Kits, Sales Force Materials, and Dealer Materials, in some instances, are interchangeable. Similar items can be found in each subseries. It is therefore wise to look in all three areas to find comprehensive information.
Subseries F: Point of Purchase Aids, 1960s-1990s, n.d. - Items placed at the store to be used in conjunction with Simmons products. These include counter cards, informational cards and pamphlets, and display material.
Subseries G: Sales Force Materials, 1923-1927, 1931, 1937-1939, 1940s-1980s, n.d. - Materials aimed at the sales force featuring Simmons products, upcoming promotions, goals and objectives in selling the products, and correspondence. Sometimes these materials could also be shown to dealers/merchandisers. The "All-American Annual Trip" materials are found here, featuring the winners (the top sellers), travel itineraries, and commemorative posters.
Subseries H: Dealer Materials, 1920s-1980s, 1990, 1998, n.d. - Materials aimed specifically at the dealer/merchandiser of Simmons products. These items feature Simmons products, upcoming promotions, and advertisements that could be customized for each store's location. Many contain promotion and publicity items designed to help the dealer/merchandiser sell Simmons products.
Subseries I: Marketing Studies and Research, 1933, 1939-1949, 1986-1989 - Simmons used marketing studies to customize advertising and further promote products to the proper demographic. A study done in Danbury, CT, Simmons "Mattress Buyers : Their Homes and Occupations" (1933), and the "Magazine Interview Promotion" (1936) contain photographs of the mattress buyers and their homes, personal information, and reasons why they chose to buy a Simmons mattress.
Subseries J: World's Fair Materials, ca. 1964-1965 - Simmons participated in the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. This subseries reflects their preparation and participation mainly through artwork and photographs. Most of the preparation was probably done years prior to the Fair taking place.
Subseries K: Olympic Materials, 1978-1980 - Simmons was an official sponsor of the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 which took place in Lake Placid, NY. Official Olympic sponsor materials make up the bulk of this subseries. Olympic Games related advertisements can be found in Series 2:D:1 and 2:F.
Subseries L: Audio/Visual Materials, 1940s-1990s - Film, video, filmstrips, and audio materials featuring sales force training, commercials, and point-of-purchase videos for the consumer to view in the store. **The materials are currently arranged by medium. This arrangement will change; please see the audio-visual archivist.
Sub-subseries 1: Videos, 1940s-1970s, 1983-1990s, n.d. - Training videos for sales force, in-store videos, television appearances on MSNBC and QVC, and commercial compilations.
Sub-subseries 2: Films, 1970s, 1980, n.d. - Commercials, films sent to dealers featuring upcoming promotions.
Sub-subseries 3: Filmstrips, 1963-1964, n.d. - Informational strips on sleep research, strips directed at sales force training, and a factory tour.
Sub-subseries 4: Audio, 1963, 1965, 1976-1979, 1991, n.d. - Cathy Rigby's fitness program LP, sales force training, radio commercials, and sales meeting recordings. Audiocassette and reel-to-reel.
This collection is organized into two series.
Series 1: Corporate Materials, 1892-2000
Series 2: Marketing, 1896-1990s
Biographical / Historical:
An article in the Simmons in-house publication The Owl states Zalmon G. Simmons "was not the inventor or first manufacturer of bed springs. His contribution was in lowering the price so that everyone could afford them. He took a hand-made item that sold for around $5 wholesale, and developed machinery which would enable its sale for as little as 80 cents."
Simmons was born in Montgomery County, New York, in 1828. He moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, at the age of fifteen with $3.00 in "tangible cash assets." Upon finishing school, Simmons became a teacher and worked as a clerk in a general store; eighteen months later he bought the business. Simmons was an enterprising individual and eventually became the President of the Rock Island Railway Company, the Northwest Telegraphy Company (which was bought by Western Union), and the First National Bank of Kenosha. In addition, Simmons served as mayor of Kenosha.
On April 16, 1871, Simmons purchased a cheese box factory, which also made wooden telegraph insulators for his telegraph company. As payment for a debt at his store, Simmons accepted a patent for a handmade, woven-wire bedspring. Thus the Simmons legacy of mattress making was born. The company incorporated in 1884 as the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company. The name was changed to the Simmons Manufacturing Company in 1889. "By 1891 the company was the largest of its kind in the world."
When Zalmon Simmons died in 1910, his son, Zalmon Simmons, Jr., assumed power and continued expanding the company. "By 1919 the company had plants from coast to coast plus sixty-four warehouses and the beginnings of an export business." Zalmon Simmons, Jr. became Chairman in 1932 and his son, Grant G. Simmons, became President of the company.
Since it appeared on the market, the Simmons name has become synonymous with its best selling product, the Beautyrest mattress. Simmons introduced the Beautyrest in 1925 for the price of $39.50, about three to four times what the consumer was paying for a wire mattress at the time. Immediately the company began advertising using an innovative testimonial campaign featuring "celebrities" like Henry Ford, George Bernard Shaw, and Thomas Edison. By 1929 Beautyrest mattress sales had reached $9 million. Grant G. Simmons wrote, "The consumer demand for Beautyrest stimulated by our national advertising literally forced hundreds of retailers who then had no interest in doing business with Simmons to carry our products."
Card tables and folding chairs were added to the Simmons line in 1926. In 1940, the Hide-A-Bed sofa (which grew out of the studio couch of the 1930s) was born. Fold-out springs and mattresses were engineered to create the pull-out bed. The Hide-A-Bed became one of the company's most famous products manufactured through the 1980s. During WWII the company shifted its production to wartime needs, manufacturing 2,700 different items. Almost immediately after the end of the War, Simmons resumed production; and in 1947 it introduced the Babybeauty mattress. Other Simmons mattress models have included, most notably, the Deepsleep and Maxipedic.
Throughout the years the Simmons Company has had many innovators and inventors make improvements to its mattresses and manufacturing machinery. John Marshall's pocketed-coil spring and John Gail's improvements and modifications to the manufacturing equipment are many of the most significant contributions. Together, Marshall's coil and Gail's pocketing machine made the Beautyrest mattress a reality.
The Sleep Research Foundation, established in1946 with a grant from the Simmons Company, "instituted a vast research program into the scientific aspects of sleep...dedicated to an objective study of sleep from a physiological and medical point of view." The Sleep Research Center and its findings were a common feature in Simmons advertising.
Simmons has continued to use advertising as a way to make its brand known to consumers. Celebrity endorsements and "glamour girls in expensive lingerie" have been a mainstay in Beautyrest advertising. Newspaper advertisements featuring so-called sale prices also have fueled demand for the products.
Company headquarters moved to New York City in 1923 and then to Atlanta, Georgia in 1975, where the company still resides. In 1979, Gulf & Western acquired the company, shifting control to outside the family for the first time. Wickes Corporation purchased Simmons from Gulf & Western in 1985. In 1991, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, Inc. acquired a majority interest in the company. Today, Simmons has 17% of the bedding market share, second only to Sealy with 22%.
. "Zalmon G. Simmons." The Owl, December 1952, p. 10-11. Box 1, Folder 4.
. "Kenosha Bank Celebrates 90 Years; Zalmon Simmons Is Remembered." Kenosha Evening News, 17 May 1941, n.p. Box 1, Folder 3.
. Ibid. n.p.
. "History of Simmons Company." Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 4. Box 1, Folder 3.
. "Brief History of Simmons Company." ca. 1941. Box 1, Folder 2.
. "History of Simmons Company." Report to Stockholders for 1946: Diamond Anniversary, 1871-1946, p. 5. Box 1, Folder 3.
. "Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend." Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.
. Simmons, Grant, Jr. "Simmons Company, 1870-1963." p. 7-8. Box 1, Folder 5.
. Ibid. p. 11.
. "Simmons: The Bedtime Story That Became a Legend." Advertising News From Newsweek, 1969, p. 3. Box 1, Folder 5.
. In 1990, the Simmons Company sold the division that made Hide-A-Beds and recliners and licensed the use of the name to a manufacturer.
. "Chronology of Simmons Company." ca. 1955. Box 1, Folder 4.
. Simmons, Grant, Jr. "Simmons Credits Research and Merchandising in Sales Rise." The Christian Science Monitor, 28 June 1957. Box 1, Folder 4. & "Simmons History." ca. 1955. p. 3. Box 1, Folder 4.
. Simmons, Grant, Jr. "Simmons Company, 1870-1963." p. 9. Box 1, Folder 5.
. Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands,1994 ed. S.v. "Simmons Beautyrest" and "Sealy."
Materials at the Archives Center
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, ca. 1724-1977 (Beds and Bedding) (AC0060)
Ivory Soap Advertising Collection (AC0791)
Breck Girl Collection, 1936-1995 (AC0651)
Edward J. Orth Memorial Archives of the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940 (AC0560)
Larry Zim World's Fair Collection (AC0519)
Louis S. Nixdorff 1928 Olypic Games Collection, 1926-1978 (AC0443)
Lloyd A. Strickland Collection of 1936 Olympics Photographs, 1936 (AC0743)
The collection was donated by the Simmons Company through Mr. Charlie Eitel, Chairman and CEO, and Mr. Donald Hoffman, Senior Vice President of Marketing, to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, in June 2000.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
The John K. Parlett Collection of Agricultural Ephemera, 1859-2011, undated, is a collection of operator's instruction manuals, parts illustrations manuals, dealership materials, farming, farm life, and agriculture-related ephemera. The material is from national companies as well as local manufacturers and businesses.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of farming and rural life ephemera, dating from about 1859-2011, and undated. The materials are national in scope and include agricultural ephemera from all regions of the United States. Since Parlett's collecting interest spanned the entire spectrum of agricultural work, the collection is not livestock or crop specific. It covers many types of farming from dairying, beekeeping, poultry, cattle, sheep, and hogs to raising tobacco, small grains, hay and forage. It includes almanacs, operator's manuals, catalogues, promotional materials, pocket ledgers and notebooks, mail order catalogs, state fair advertising and catalogues, livestock care and feeding manuals, correspondence, receipts, guarantees, chemical and fertilizer handbooks, account books, "Ladies'" notebooks and calendars, directories, price lists, corporate "yearbooks," clothing advertisements and catalogues, farming practices handbooks, agent's sales order books, seed guides, National Grange material, farming co-op by-laws and ephemera, agriculture related convention materials, poultry magazines and journals, beekeeping magazines, barn and housing design material, gardening manuals, sales contracts for machinery, appliance manuals, commodity marketing guides, auction catalogues, home canning and meat processing manuals and guides, price lists, pamphlets, sale brochures, and dealer service manuals.
The range and national scope of items in the collection illustrate the progression of invention within agriculture. The machinery manuals not only describe machinery in detail, but break it down to the machinery components, how it is put together and how it is repaired. The invention aspect tracks the development of farm mechanization from hand work with intensive labor requirements to machinery developed to decrease labor costs and numbers while at the same time increasing production. The changes in agricultural technology in the later years of the Industrial Revolution, on the cusp of mechanization and the availability of mail order products for the home and farm, are documented in the collection by advertisements and mail order catalogues, for products purchased in nearby towns and equipment used in farm tasks.
The sizeable mail order component of the collection provides research opportunities into economics and marketing both to an agricultural community and an urban community. The demographic changes resulting from increased urbanization and employment opportunities in manufacturing -- and how small farms coped with them -- are documented in the collection by detailed descriptions of who was expected to do what tasks and how those tasks were accomplished. With the beginning of mail order by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872, mail order became an integral part of life in rural America. Mail order catalogs allowed rural residents to buy new equipment and follow the latest trends in fashion or household appliances without ever leaving the farm. Mail order also allowed rural American to reap the benefits of growing mass production. Homemade clothing gave way to ready-to-wear clothes sold through retail outlets and through mail order catalogues. Likewise tools and machinery that had been locally built and maintained gave way to parts and machinery that could be purchased through mail order as well as local equipment company dealers. Mail-order buying was made even more accessible in 1896 with the first rural free delivery (RFD) service.
Gender and ethnic aspects of farm life are documented in the collection. For example, sausage, lard, pudding making and similar tasks were traditionally done by women; labor was often divided along racial or ethnic lines and used different machinery and tools for various types of farms in different locations. The collection has a sizeable component of community materials related to farm life such as county and state fair catalogues, National Grange materials, and instructional booklets given away by feed and machinery manufacturers. "How to" booklets and pamphlets covering virtually every aspect of the farm and farm work targeted members of the farm family and its labor force.
The collection complements the Smithsonian's invention holdings as innovation was taking place on the farm as well as in the factory throughout the Industrial Revolution. The machinery manuals with their operation and repair guidelines, the schematic drawings and details on "new and improved" machinery provide a cohesive span of primary material to inform the evolution of farm work from hand and physical labor involving many people to the more mechanized farming capable of being done by one farmer alone or with minimal family or hired help.
The collection includes the business records (1971-1981, undated) for Custom Auto and Equipment Sales of Manassas, Virginia, a John Deere dealership. These records include equipment inventories, a John Deere Consumer Products Dealer Parts Administration Manual, JD Dart operators manual, and a Sperry New Holland dealer sales aid manual, sales accounts, all of which help document the transition from manual based accounting systems to product specific (in this case JD Dart for John Deere) computer based systems. This portion of the collection is illustrative of suburbanization. With the farm crisis of the early 1980s, Custom Auto and Equipment ceased selling farm machinery and concentrated on the urban aspect of the John Deere brand: lawnmowers, tillers and those pieces of machinery used in housing developments being built in and around Manassas. The market for farming equipment nearly ceased to exist and in an effort to salvage their business they adapted to the environment around them.
This collection also includes sales materials for Todd Equipment Company located in Chesapeake, Virginia with a branch office in Hagerstown, Maryland. Todd serves farm equipment dealers in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. They carry an extensive line of machinery catering to all types of agricultural cultivation, care, and harvesting. As of 2015 they are still in business.
The collection is arranged in eight series with items arranged chronologically and in some series alphabetically.
Series 1, Allis-Chalmers, AGCO Allis, and Deutz Allis, 1957-1980, undated, is arranged chronologically. This series contains operator's manuals, sales ephemera, brochures, service manuals, setting up directions, a lease plan, and a sales book. This series includes brand names AGCO Allis, Allis-Chalmers, Athens Plow Company, Baldwin, and Jeoffroy Manufacturing Incorporated, L&M
Series 2, Case, Case-IH, International Harvester, 1903-1986, undated. This series is arranged chronologically. This series includes brand names McCormick-Deering, Farmall, International-Farmall, and McCormick. It includes sales brochures, price lists, operator and maintenance manuals, product guides, advertisements, pamphlets and brochures, catalogues, and a program from McCormick Day, 1931 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Series 3, John Deere and Company, John Deere Plow Company, 1910-2008, undated, is arranged chronologically. This series contains publications, operator's and maintenance manuals, sales brochures and pamphlets, sales manuals, catalogues, product magazines, and safety manuals.
Series 4, Sperry-New Holland, 1975-1984, undated, is arranged chronologically. This series contains operator's and maintenance manuals, sales brochures and pamphlets.
Series 6, Custom Auto and Equipment Sales of Manassas, Virginia Business Records, 1971-1981, undated. These records include equipment inventories, John Deere Consumer Products Dealer Parts Administration Manual, JD Dart operator,s manual, and a Sperry New Holland dealer sales aid manual, and sales accounts.
Series 6, Todd Farm Equipment, Incorporated, 1973-1980, undated, is arranged chronologically. This series contains the contents of Todd's sales manual detailing various companies and their products. The series includes sales brochures, equipment specifications and capabilities as outlined in corporate sales material, and a Todd catalogue.
Series 7, Assorted Companies, Catalogues, Periodicals, and Publications, 1859-2011, undated. This series is arranged chronologically and then alphabetically for the undated material. This series contains material from a variety of companies and purveyors of farm-related equipment, products, and disciplines as well as farm culture-related materials. This series includes mail order catalogues, sales and instructional pamphlets, almanacs, advertisements, government publications, magazines, catalogues, convention and souvenir brochures, National Grange materials, manuals, cook books, record books, price lists, county and state fair ephemera, beekeeping-related materials, dairying related publications and equipment brochures, operator's manuals, and the auction catalogue from the Parlett Farm-Life Museum auction.
Series 8, Poultry, 1912-1949, undated, is arranged alphabetically. This series contains material related to the production of poultry. It includes magazines, advertisements for poultry products, and educational materials related to poultry.
The collection is arranged in eight series.
Series 1, Allis-Chalmers, AGCO Allis, and Deutz Allis, 1957-1980, undated.
Series 2, Case, Case-IH, International Harvester, 1903-1986, undated.
Series 3, John Deere and Company, John Deere Plow Company, 1910-2008, undated.
Series 4, Sperry-New Holland, 1975-1984, undated.
Series 6, Custom Auto and Equipment Sales of Manassas, Virginia Business Records, 1971-1981, undated.
Series 6, Todd Farm Equipment, Incorporated, 1973-1980, undated.
Series 7, Assorted Companies, Catalogues, Periodicals, and Publications, 1859-2011, undated.
Series 8, Poultry, 1912-1949, undated.
Biographical / Historical:
John K. Parlett (1937-2005) was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and was a life-long resident of the county and state. He was a farmer and businessman and served as a St. Mary's County Commissioner from 1974-1978 and as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1981-1986.
Parlett began collecting farm equipment and agriculture-related ephemera in the 1960s. His son, John K. Parlett, Jr., stated, "The more he collected the more his passion grew." Even though Parlett lived in Maryland, his collecting was national in scope and included materials he and his wife bought on collecting trips around the country. Parlett expanded his collection of equipment and agricultural ephemera after retiring in 1986. John K. Parlett, Jr., stated, "he [Parlett Sr.] caught 'the antique bug' . . . [they] went out almost every weekend collecting more things." Parlett did not merely collect old machinery, he sought and acquired catalogues, equipment operation manuals, posters, ephemera, county and state fair ephemera, and even records from an agricultural equipment dealer, Custom Auto and Equipment Sales, in Manassas, Virginia.
Between 1988 and 1993 the collection grew so large that Parlett built a 60,000 square foot building on his farm to hold the machinery component. He converted many farm sheds, turkey and chicken houses into display areas and a library. Parlett eventually founded the John K. Parlett Farm Life Museum of Southern Maryland located on his farm, known as Green Manor. Beginning in 1996, the museum was opened annually for the Farm Life Festival, benefitting the St. Mary's County Christmas in April program, founded by Parlett. The collection was open by appointment for study; the local Amish community consulted some of the materials in the collection for help in repairing their outdated equipment. Parlett was highly respected in collecting circles. He was a tenacious and indefatigable collector who made an effort to collect all types of agricultural machinery as well as archival materials relating to farm life. Rare or obsolete items are included in this collection, as are ephemeral items relating to farm and ranch life. "If it was used on the farm or in rural America in the last 100 years, chances are it'll be at the Southern Maryland Farm Life Festival," enthused Agrifarm.com in 2008 when describing the Parlett holdings.
The last year for the Farm Life Festival was 2009. The Parlett Collection, consisting of 1007 lots of machinery, tools, tractors, household, and general store items, was auctioned by Aumann Auctions in the fall of 2011. At the auction, some materials and machinery were purchased by The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and other museums throughout the United States.
NMAH Curators Pete Daniel and Larry M. Jones surveyed the collection while Parlett was still alive. Jones was credited with advising Parlett while he was building the collection. Jones commented on the collection in 2005, "I was blown away by what he had put together; here was a man who turned an interest into one of the best rural farm life collections I've ever seen. And John has such an eye for good and appropriate stuff. It's just a sensational collection." He reportedly wrote a memo suggesting the Museum "investigate the possibility" of acquiring portions of the collection if and when Parlett was willing to donate items. There was no further discussion of acquiring any of the collection until 2010, when Craig Orr, archivist-curator, talked with John K. Parlett Jr., who expressed a willingness to donate the archival materials as the entire collection was being prepared for auction. Orr and Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., archives specialist, surveyed the collection in early 2011 and selected the materials included in the collection.
Maid of Cotton, Cotton Council Collection, Southern Agriculture Oral History, Robinson and Via Family Papers, Louisan Mamer Papers, Harness-Maker's Account Books, Memphis Cotton Carnival Records, New England Merchant and Farmer Account Book, Hagan Brothers Account Books, Product Cookbook Collection, Maryland Farm Diary (1879-1894), Bermis B. Brown Collection, and The Cincinnati Boss Collection. The William E. Kost Farm Records, 1939-1989 and The Kent Family Records, 1879-1933.
There are holdings in the Division of Home and Community Life related to farming and agriculture including farm clothing, home arts materials such as needlework, quilts, sewing, kitchen appliances, farming implements and machinery, and 4-H objects. The Lemelson Center has assited in acquiring objects and archival collections in the field of invention and innovation in various divisions of NMAH.
This collection was donated by Catherine Parlett, widow of John K. Parlett, in 2012.
This collection is open for use.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: reproduction fees may apply. All duplication requests must be reviewed and approved by Archives Center staff.
The Gerber Fabric Cutter S-70 is part of a systematic approach to layout and cutting that has revolutionized the needle trades. This video history contains original, master, and reference videos, Dictaphone microcassettes, and tape digests and notes documenting the development, operation and use of the Gerber Fabric Cutter S-70 in three locations: H.I.S., Inc., in Bruceton, Tennessee (Chic blue jeans use of cuter); General Motors in Grand Rapids, Michigan (automotive use of the cutter); and Gerber Scientific Instrument Company in Hartford, Connecticut (Gerber corporate office and invention factory). The video footage documents H. Joseph Gerber, engineers, assembly workers, operators, and other technicians who worked with the cutter at the three locations. The footage from the Tennessee and Michigan sites provides insight into the complexity of introducing a new technology into the workplace and documents operators and managers discussing the effect of the cutter on workflow, quality, personnel, and attitudes towards the job. The footage from the Connecticut site documents the engineers who developed the cutter and provides valuable insight into the invention process. This collection includes oral history audio tapes, original, master, and reference videos, and notes documenting visits to Bruceton, Tennessee, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Hartford, Connecticut.
Scope and Contents:
The Gerber Fabric Cutter S-70 is part of a systematic approach to layout and cutting that has revolutionized the needle trades. It applies numerical control to the sizing of patterns and cutting of fabric. The use of this type of equipment made possible a radical change in the make-up of the cutting room workforce. This video history contains original, master, and reference videos, Dictaphone microcassettes, and tape digests and notes documenting the development, operation and use of the Gerber Fabric Cutter S-70 in three locations: H.I.S., Inc., in Bruceton, Tennessee (Chic blue jeans use of cuter); General Motors in Grand Rapids, Michigan (automotive use of the cutter); and Gerber Scientific Instrument Company in Hartford, Connecticut (Gerber corporate office and invention factory). The video footage documents H. Joseph Gerber, engineers, assembly workers, operators, and other technicians who worked with the cutter at the three locations. The footage from the Tennessee and Michigan sites provides insight into the complexity of introducing a new technology into the workplace and documents operators and managers discussing the effect of the cutter on workflow, quality, personnel, and attitudes towards the job. The footage from the Connecticut site documents the engineers who developed the cutter and provides valuable insight into the invention process.
The collection is arranged into five series: Series 1, Notes, 1995-1996; Series 2, Audio tapes (microcassettes), 1996; Series 3, Original videos (BetaCam SP), 1996; Series 4, Master videos (BetaCam SP), 1996; and Series 5, Reference videos 1⁄2" VHS), 1996.
Series 1, Notes, 1995-1996, includes documentation created by Peter Liebhold in preparation for his site visits to Bruceton, Tennessee, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Hartford, Connecticut. The documentation includes lists of potential interviewees, questions to ask of the employees, and general notes detailing observations at each site. The H. Joseph Gerber interview file consists of a brief tape digest keyed to each of the seven microcassettes, notes from the interview, and the questions asked of Mr. Gerber. The Gerber Scientific Instrument Company file contains a video digest for only three interviews: Ed Roth, Fred Rosen, and Larry Wolfson.
Series 2, Audio tapes (microcassettes), 1995 June, consists of seven Dictaphone microcassettes of oral history interviews with H. Joseph Gerber conducted by Peter Liebhold, Curator, American History Museum and Stanley Leven, Director and Secretary of Gerber Scientific Instrument Company.
Series 3, Original Videos (BetaCam SP), 1996, consists of thirty-eight BetaCam SP video tapes totaling approximately nineteen hours of footage.
Series 4, Master Videos (BetaCam SP), 1996, consists of twenty-six BetaCam SP tapes totaling nineteen hours of footage.
Series 5, Reference videos (1/2" VHS), 1996, consists of twenty-six 1⁄2" VHS tapes for a total of thirteen hours of footage.
The collection is divided into five series.
Series 1: Notes, 1995-1996
Series 2: Audio tapes (microcassettes), 1995 June
Series 3: Original videos (BetaCam SP), 1996
Series 4: Master videos (BetaCam SP), 1996
Series 5: Reference videos (1/2" VHS), 1996
Biographical / Historical:
Heinz Joseph "Joe" Gerber was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 17, 1924. In 1940, Gerber escaped the Nazis and immigrated to New York City and then to Hartford, Connecticut, with his mother Bertha Gerber, a dressmaker. Gerber's father, Jacob, is presumed to have died in a concentration camp. Gerber attended Weaver High School and graduated in two years (1943). He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, on a scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1947. As a junior at RPI, Gerber developed the Gerber Variable Scale, his first invention. The earliest version of the variable scale was fashioned from an elastic band removed from a pair of pajamas. Gerber created a rubber rule and scale that could flow with a curve, expand, contract, and turn a corner. The scale allows for direct reading of curves, graphs, and graphical representations, giving direct numerical readings of proportions, spacing and interpolation. The Variable Scale became the building block of what would become Gerber Scientific Instrument, Inc.
With financial assistance from Abraham Koppleman, a newspaper and magazine distributor in Hartford, Gerber and Koppleman formed a partnership and incorporated Gerber Scientific Instrument Company in 1948. Gerber served as president, Koppleman as treasurer, and Stanley Levin as secretary. The manufacture of Variable Scale was jobbed out and the distribution was conducted from Hartford. Gerber also worked as a design analytical engineer for Hamilton Standard Propellers of United Aircraft and for Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Shares of Gerber Scientific Instrument Company were eventually sold to the public in 1961, and in 1978, the company changed its name to Gerber Scientific, Inc. In the 1960s and 1970s, Gerber developed the first series of precision, computer-driven cutting systems for the apparel industry called the Gerber Cutter. The cutters introduced automation to the garment industry. In 1967, Gerber realized that the U.S. garment industry, due to a lack of automation, was faced with increasing overseas competition. Gerber's solution was to engineer the Gerber Fabric Cutter S-70, a machine that cuts apparel quickly and effectively while using less cloth.
Gerber holds more than 600 United States and foreign patents. Many of his patents relate to the United States apparel industry. In 1994, Gerber was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Clinton for helping to revolutionize the optical, garment, automotive, and other industries. His pioneering achievements include:
-a generation of data readers (electromechanical devices that converted graphical
-data directly into computer readable format);
-projection systems that interactively converted information from aerial;
-photographs for use in computers;
-devices that plotted digital output data from computer cards or tape;
-digital numerically-controlled drafting machines which verify the accuracy of the cutting path of numerical machine tools;
-a photoplotter (drafting machine configured with a unique light source to directly draw high accuracy layouts of printed circuit board masters on photographic film or glass with light beams);
-and systems with laser technology to draw at high speeds. (1)
Subsequent subsidiaries of Gerber Scientific, Inc., are: Gerber Garment Technology, Inc., (GGT); Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. (GSP); Gerber Systems Corp. (GSC), and Gerber Optical, Inc., (GO). GGT makes computer-controlled cutting and design equipment for apparel, automotive, aerospace and other industries. GSP produces systems for sign-making and graphic arts industries. GSC makes production systems for printing, industrial machinery and other industries. GO makes equipment for the optical-lens manufacturing industry. (2)
In 1954, Gerber married Sonia Kanciper. They had a daughter, Melisa Tina Gerber, and a son, David Jacques Gerber. H. Joseph Gerber died on August 9, 1996, at the age of 72.
(1) National Medal of Technology, 1994.
(2) W. Joseph Campbell, "High Tech and Low Key as Gerber Scientific Mounts a Recovery Philosophy Reflects Innovative Founder," Hartford Courant, May 16, 1994.
Materials in the Archives Center
The Gerber Scientific Instrument Company Records, 1911-1998 (AC0929)
Materials in the Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History
Early model Gerber variable scale. See accession 1994.3104.01.
Gerber Cutter, Model 70. See accessioon 1995.0229.01.
This collection was created by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation with American History Cuartor Peter Liebhold, Division of Work and Industry.
This collection is open for research use.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions. Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow. Series 3, Original Videos, 1996, is located off-site; please inquire.