In the early decades of the 20th century, manufacturers relied on salesmen, often traveling by train, to promote and sell their products.
Last week, Things That Matter featured miniature models of plows made by the La Crosse Plow Co. and carried throughout the Midwest by salesmen who took orders from farmers and retailers alike.
With smaller items, models were not necessary, and salesmen could carry actual samples with them.
This week’s artifact is a salesman’s case with still-shiny refrigerator and cooler hardware from Stoll Manufacturing. These hinges and handles were often chrome, to resist rust in humid environments, and they would have been sold to other manufacturers to use on their products.
This case was recently donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society by the founder’s grandson, Jim Nichols.
Matthew Stoll, owner and operator of Stoll Manufacturing Co., was born in La Crosse on March 31, 1889, to recent German immigrants.
He married Agnes Arenz in 1914, and they had three children. In 1919, Stoll was employed at Bump Manufacturing Co. creating dies. A few years later, he was a tool maker at La Crosse Hinge and Lock Co. While working at these La Crosse businesses, Stoll also started his own, similar business.
In 1915, Stoll Manufacturing was founded in a garage basement in downtown La Crosse. Over the years, the business expanded and moved to a building on Front Street.
Stoll expanded from hinges and locks for shipping cases to automobile accessories, such as wiper blade scrapers — an ingenious but probably ineffective tool for removing frost before cars had heated defrosters.
A ledger from Stoll Manufacturing describes sales in the Midwest to businesses such as Chicago N. Manufacturing Co., one of the largest mail order houses in Chicago in the 1920s.
Stoll Manufacturing moved once again, to a new building at 2011 West Ave. South, a location currently occupied by Inland Printing. With this move, the company expanded to include die and tool manufacturing like the refrigerator and freezer hardware in this salesman’s case. This expansion drew on Stoll’s previous work experience.
The company then purchased the building next door, to expand for a final time in 1928.
At its peak, Stoll Manufacturing employed 13 people. It was so successful during this time that it was listed in the La Crosse Tribune in 1927 as “a successor to the Stamping and Tool Company,” which had been a prominent La Crosse business until 1924.
Matthew Stoll died on Sept. 12, 1930, at age 41. He died from an illness he battled for six months, leaving his widow, Agnes, to run the company until roughly 1933. It became one of many small factories across the country that did not survive the Great Depression.
This salesman’s case and other artifacts from Stoll Manufacturing Co. can be seen in the La Crosse County Historical Society’s online database.