|View single post by Darryl Hudson|
|Posted: Wed Mar 29th, 2017 09:46 pm||
|Hello Fan Collectors,
We are looking forward to our 17th Annual Carolina Regional Fan Meet coming up here in just a few weeks, held at our fan shop here in Aiken, SC on April 20, 21, and 22. Hope all of you will be here.
I have been communicating with Terry Edmonds, who is the son of the founder of LeJohn fans. Terry lives in North Carolina and is interested in obtaining a few LeJohn fans. If any of you have any LeJohn fans you are willing to part with then please bring them to Aiken.
Below is an article that Terry wrote about his father and some history of the LeJohn Company.
Le John Manufacturing Company
I have three working Le John fans in my possession. One is a small, eight-inch desk fan, and the other two are hassock “circulator” fans. I also have two Le John handheld hair dryers. One dryer is in its original box. But, I’m not really a collector or even very knowledgeable about electric appliances. My interest is strictly personal. So, if you are hoping this article is full of technical information, I hope you will not be too disappointed.
My father, George Carlton “Carl” Edmonds, was one of the founders of Le John. While Le John was certainly not one of the major fan manufacturers, I thought it might be of interest to the Fan Collector Community to write down what I can remember about Le John and its history.
Le John was organized in Huntington, West Virginia, in the late 1940s, right after World War II. The principal organizers were Sam Politano, who became its president; Herb Caldwell, who became the comptroller; and Carl Edmonds, who became the sales manager. I believe each of these men had a one third interest.
The Le John Manufacturing Plant was located near the foot of 22nd Street near the Ohio River. This was the sole manufacturing location during the life of the company. Le John produced fans for the government and for the retail market. Later, hair dryers were added to the product line and produced at this same location.
Le John went out of business in the late 50s, overwhelmed by the industry leaders such as Westinghouse, GE and Emerson. While Le John made a very reliable product, it found it harder and harder to compete against the big boys with their buying power and their large advertising budgets. In the end, Le John sold out to Dumont-Airplane & Marine Instruments, Inc. Then, Dumont in turn went under.
The information above is a bare-bones look at Le John, but there is more to the story that might be of interest.
It might be said that Le John had its origins in the early days of WWII in Hawaii. Not too long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Carl Edmonds volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy and was commissioned a Lieutenant (J.G.). He was immediately sent to Hawaii and because he had absolutely no naval or officer training, he was assigned to the Shore Patrol as a duty officer as he awaited further orders.
In the early days of the War in the Pacific, and because of the damage done to the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Navy had little with which to strike back at the Empire of Japan, except the fleet submarines. Submarine missions to the far reaches of the Pacific became the fist of the first punches landed by the Navy on the Japanese Fleet. The successful attacks, when they occurred, became a great morale builder for the American People in particular, and the Allies in general.
Many of the submarines and their crews were based at Pearl Harbor. The names of many of the submarines became household words, and the successful submarine captains became celebrities. Between their very dangerous missions, the submariners were housed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where they relaxed and unwound. Sometimes they unwound a lot.
On one such occasion, some the officers of the submarine Pompano, including Lt. Slade Cutter, ran afoul of the Honolulu authorities. It seems that Lt. Cutter and a couple of his brother officers, looking for a little diversion, “borrowed” a Jeep and went for a little ride. While riding around, they discovered there was a carbine on the Jeep in a scabbard. Shortly thereafter, a pineapple-shaped water tank became the object of some target practice.
They were arrested and taken to police headquarters. Since they were uniformed military personnel, Lt. Cutter and his buddies were handed over to the Shore Patrol. The commander of the Shore Patrol was all in favor of court-martialing Lt. Cutter and his friends. He was adamant. But one of the younger officers, Lt. Edmonds, helped convince the Shore Patrol commander to release Lt. Cutter and his cohorts back to duty. He
reasoned that the submariners could not continue to sink Japanese ships from a place of confinement. Lt. Cutter was reprimanded and went back to doing the Japanese serious damage. By the end of the War, Cutter was a captain and recognized as a true hero, and he would remember to return the favor to Lt. Edmonds.
When Le John was in its formative stages, the three partners were looking for opportunities to help them get started. One of the things that came along was a chance to compete for a new Navy fan contract. During WWII, Navy submarines used a DC electrical system. Since submarines in that era ran on battery power while they were submerged, a DC system was used. But at the end of WWII when a whole new generation of subs were being designed and built, the Navy decided to convert all systems on all ships to AC. One of the things that had to be converted over to AC was the bulkhead-mounted fans. The Navy asked for interested companies to submit fans for evaluation. It was a competition of sorts. Le John heard about the opportunity, and one of the partners, Carl Edmonds, went up to Washington to find out more. At the Pentagon, on desk duty in the submarine office, Edmonds found Captain Slade Cutter doing his tour as a desk officer.
Yes, Cutter remembered the “Pineapple Incident”. To make a long story short, Cutter introduced him to a couple of senior Navy chiefs who knew what sort of rigorous testing would be done to fans submitted for evaluation. Edmonds took the information back to Le John, and the fan that Le John built and submitted for testing not only passed the tests, but also was selected by the Navy for purchase in quantity. Le John now had a nice order base on which to build their business.
When Le John was getting started in the early 50s, very few people could afford air conditioning, and virtually no houses had A/C in those days. The early 50s also was a time of tremendous growth and economic expansion. People were optimistic, families were growing and there was a boom in residential construction. It was a good time to start a business and a good time to sell fans.
With the Navy contract in hand, Le John created a product line and started chasing the consumer market. Since the sale of fans was highly seasonal, the first thing that needed to be done was find manufacturer’s representatives in the major markets that would
take on the Le John line. The reason for using reps was that they were paid by commissions earned as sales occurred. That way, there were no salaries to pay during the slow months when it was cool. Finding reps was one of my dad’s principle chores. Le John was not a household name, and it was probably hard to attract good reps to handle the line. But, in time, the rep network came into existence. Le John obtained sales people in most of the key markets: New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Miami. Dad traveled extensively by train to work with the reps. I can remember going to the station with my mother when I was very young to pick him up when he returned from trips.
With a sales force in place, Le John started to get fans to the consumer though the major retailers like Macy’s, Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field and Rich’s. Le John fans also became one of the more popular premiums offered by the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. and the Pillsbury Flour Co.
Part of doing business with the major retailers was being creative with distribution. Using professional weather forecasting companies, Le John would move fans by freight car into position based on the forecasts for the first heat waves of summer. When people showed up in the stores looking for fans, Le John could
tell a department store purchasing officer that fans were
available and on a siding on the edge of town. In business,
that’s what is called being nimble.
The fans being made under the Navy contact were small fans designed to be mounted on a vertical surface. I have seen two sizes, an eight-inch and a twelve-inch. These fans could easily be used as desk fans with a small modification.
In addition to the small desk fans, Le John developed two other fan types. One was what I call a hassock fan. This type of fan was about eighteen inches tall and sat on the floor and directed air upwards and around a cone shaped flat top. The result was the 360-degree dispersal of air. There were several models, evolving
over time, but all had the same basic shape. One model had a heating coil in the base and when the fan was run on the slowest speed could serve as a space heater.
The workhorse of the product line became the Direct-Aire model. There were three variants, all based on the same fan motor and housing. The fan and its housing were about eighteen inches in diameter, and the motor was very strong and air velocity was very high. The first variant was mounted in a short frame, which allowed for it to pivot about 180 degrees in a vertical arc. The second variant was similar to the first, except that the frame brought the fan up about chest height and the fan in its housing could pivot almost 360 degrees in a vertical arc. I have some of the patent documents for that one.
The last variant was a window fan. This unit employed the large pivoting fan and housing mounted in an adjustable frame that could adapt to a variety of window sizes. This fan could pivot about 360 degrees horizontally. With the air flow pointed out, this fan was powerful enough to serve as a whole house exhaust fan. Our house had one of these in an upstairs window and it worked great.
After Le John went out of business in the late 1950s, my Dad looked over the business landscape and decided to move to North Carolina. With a little left from the break-up of Le John, my Dad, at age 50, started over and went on to find success as a manufacturer’s representative. I followed in his footsteps and helped him find a comfortable retirement while I continued the business.
In a sense, a few potshots at a pineapple-shaped water tank in WWII helped start Le John, and even today, continue to contribute to the prosperity of my family. The Le John fans also continue to contribute a nice breeze and comforting hum to my own home.
Written by D. Terry Edmonds, July 2016, all rights reserved.