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G. A. Shoudy Soap Company
Before the days of the great meat packing plants located in Chicago and other major cities, butcher shops and slaughter houses dotted the land, every community had two, three or a dozen according to its size. All kinds of livestock were butchered at home and most of the meat consumed by local people. All kinds of scraps and trimmings resulted that made fine soap grease and small soap factories were found in nearly every sizable town, including Rockford. One of these manufacturers was John H. Morrill who founded a soap and candle company in Rockford in 1857. Morrill operated the business and made a nice profit for himself manufacturing soft soap. In 1869 he would sell the business to George Augustus Shoudy, and retire. Shoudy was born on May 4, 1835 in Niles, Michigan accompanying his parents to Earlville, Illinois when 8 years old. He grew up and worked on the family farm until he was 21 years of age. At that time, George went to Rochelle, Illinois and forming a partnership with D. A. Elmore, and they engaged in the drug and grocery business. It was there he married Sophia James, daughter of Jonathan James and Sophia George Bunker. Accumulating some property, he moved to Rockford a few years thereafter, where he would spend the rest of his life.
The soap factory at that time was located on South Sixth Street between Fifth and Sixth streets on the banks of Keith Creek in a three story frame building. Shoudy started in a humble way, manufacturing his soap and retailing it by wagon through this immediate part of the country. His wagons were busy in collecting the materials for the soap from all parts of the city, and delivering soap to his customers. Little by little the business increased in volume, and Mr. Shoudy began making hard soap. He manufactured a laundry soap called "Shoudy's Wonderful Soap" and another toilet soap called "Telephone Soap" in honor of the new invention called the telephone. The excellent quality of this soap gained new customers rapidly and forced him to find new quarters to manufacture his soaps.
Johnson & Anderson's furniture factory at Seventh Street and Railroad Avenue was vacant, the building being deserted when the Forest City Furniture factory started operations, and at a time when the furniture industry was at a low ebb, no one was dreaming of the prosperity soon to fall upon it, it was offered to Mr. Shoudy for $4,500.00. It's purchase was a great bargain and gave Mr. Shoudy what he wanted, plenty of room. Soft soap became a thing of the past for the company, and laundry and toilet soaps of twenty varieties would soon be manufactured at the new factory. The large building was filled with the most modern machinery. Two large iron vats extend from the basement to the upper floor. They are funnel shaped, and at their large open mouths on the upper floor, the process of soap making begins. Each vat would turn out at one filling 45,000 pounds of soap. The quality of soap depends upon the proportions in which its ingredients were mixed and the quality of the ingredients involved. Into each of these vats were poured about 20,000 pounds of oil and tallow and the remainder of the weight of the soap came from the lye. 20,000 pounds of oil and tallow taking 25,000 pounds of lye to make 45,000 pounds of soap. The mixture completed in one of those vats for some particular kind of soap, the lye is turned into the vat. When it was made the next step in its manufacture took place in the basement. There the soap was drawn off the vat and into a crunching or mixing machine which stirred and mixed small portions of the boiling soap until it was cool enough to be allowed to flow out into frames that could contain about 1,800 pounds. After standing three or four days, the sides of the frame were stripped off. Now came the time when the soap was allowed to cure and the longer it stood the better it became. They were allowed to stand from one week to two months, the time depending on the kind of soap and the rush of orders. When wanted for market it was cut into bars by a frame of wires, wrapped and boxed for shipment. The output of the factory averaged 125,000 pounds of soap per month. It was generally thought that any mixture of grease would make soap, and so it did of a certain kind, but with a hodge-podge mass, the kind is unknown and uncertain. The better the oil, and it would seem the more nearly fit it is for food, the better the soap. The ingredient used the most largely in this factory was cottonseed oil, of which they used a carload per month. Tallow and coconut oil was also largely used. The "Wonderful", the choicest variety of laundry soap was made from a mixture of coconut and cottonseed oils, the proportions being discovered by George Shoudy after many experiments. In order to make it easy for the public to locate the factory, a large sign extending the full length of the building was painted on the exterior wall in May 1880.
After George's son, Fred G. graduated from the east side high school, he joined his father in business and gave his father not only assistance, but a new incentive to broaden out. Fred had conceived the then "new" idea that if advertising would sell drugs and dry goods, it would also increase the sale of soap. Up to that time a common, everyday necessity like laundry soap had not been deemed "eligible" for advertising. It seemed preposterous that the crude necessities, the things that folks had to buy if they kept house and ate and slept, needed the stimulant of publicity. The pioneers in the field were subject to ridicule and even the publishers of those days had their doubts. They gladly accepted new and strange accounts but even then, they had to be convinced that they were not taking money under false pretenses. And the Shoudy's were one of the pioneers, the Shoudy "Wonderful" soap was the first laundry soap ever advertised. "Wonderful" was the invention of the senior Shoudy, a special cake of cleanser calculated to knock the spots out of dirt and grime quickly. Fred wanted the world to know of its good points in a hurry and he suggested advertising. And thus was the first laundry soap advertising campaign launched from right here in Rockford. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent in soap advertising every year by soap manufacturers. Ten to twelve men were employed in the factory, and four traveling salesmen were disposing of the Shoudy soaps all over the whole northwest.
Much of the extreme advertising done by Mr. Shoudy was to bring to the notice of the people the merits of his products. The Shoudy Soap Company had a display at the Annual Autumn Fair held at the Fairgrounds on Kilburn Avenue in 1882 that featured a novel exhibit in the shape of a large cake of soap, weighing 1,800 pounds. They also distributed picture advertising cards, also known as Trade Cards at fairs in Illinois and Iowa, and offered stand up displays that you could take home if you purchased 3 bars of Wonderful Soap from your local grocery. The cards became so popular and collectible that the G. A. Shoudy Soap Company placed a notice in the local newspapers after putting out 156,000 fancy chrome advertising cards to be distributed at fairs in Illinois and Iowa, that gave notice to card collectors and small boys and girls that the office doors will always be locked and strongly barred against applicants for picture cards.
On March 25, 1886, the G. A. Shoudy Soap Company was incorporated by George A. Shoudy, Fred G. Shoudy and Frank Ballard with a capital stock of $50,000. Mr. Ballard was a cousin of Mr. Shoudy. The incorporation was just a family concern, and there was no stock on the market. Mr. Shoudy and his son Fred held two-thirds of the stock, and the remainder was held by Mr. Ballard.
George A. Shoudy through hard work, diligence and economy succeeded in pushing the business until it became one of the important industries of the city. After he became afflicted with Bright's disease, he was advised by his doctor to take a much-needed rest. Owing to the prosperous condition of the business for some time past, the company had been far behind on their orders, part of the time being forced to work nights. The greater part of the management and running of the business had been thrown upon Mr. Shoudy and consequently he had neglected to take this rest until he was obliged to do so. The illness forced him to give up the business he worked so hard and advertised so extensively to establish. First he organized the G. A. Shoudy Soap Company and afterward sold his stock in that enterprise, retiring entirely from active life. In May 1888 the G. A. Shoudy Soap Company was sold to Alex M. Waddell.
Alex M. Waddell purchased a controlling interest in the corporation, along with the direct management and control of the business. Mr. Waddell came to Rockford in 1876, and was employed in N. C. Thompson's office, in the collection department for five years. From there he went to New York City and acted for some time as a cashier by the largest wholesale grocery house in that city. From there he again returned to Rockford and accepted a position with the People's Bank, one he had held since 1882. D. J. Waddell, of Chicago, who was the manager of the sales department of the Chicago office of the Shoudy Soap Company, continued in that position. In his hands the reputation the Shoudy Soap Company had increased to such an extent in Chicago that they sold nearly two train carloads of soap each week in that city. Fred G. Shoudy, who had control of the marketing department of the business and recently the entire management, remained with the company for a short time. Fred would soon leave, and start the Rockford Wholesale Grocery Company.
On June 6, 1888 the G. A. Shoudy was re-organized with the following officers: President and treasurer, Alex M. Waddell; Vice president, A. M. Trenholm and Secretary, H. H. Hamilton. A. M. Trenholm, the vice president, had been in the business for twenty-five years, and thoroughly understood the soap making process in all its details. The new officers increased the capacity to 200,000 pounds of soap per month.
After months of suffering George A. Shoudy died on March 29, 1889 at his residence, 806 Sixth Avenue. It had been evident for some time that the end was near, and death came as a relief to the sufferer. He was originally afflicted with Bright's disease, but heart ailments developed, and dropsy followed, death soon resulting. By hard work and sterling integrity he amassed a considerable fortune. Mr. Shoudy's business tact and integrity was recognized on every side, and his demise was a severe blow to Rockford. Participant in many clubs and organizations, he left his widow Sophia and three children, Fred G. Shoudy, Mrs. H. H. Hamilton, and Mrs. J. H. Marsales, all of Rockford.
But there was trouble ahead for the small soap factories and the hundreds of small slaughter houses scattered over the land. When soap grease was sent to Chicago on the hoof, when train loads of cattle began their journey to the stockyard centers, monster soap factories began to lift their walls in the big towns and the small factories began to dwindle and disappear. Some big Chicago creditors started pressuring the company for repayment of loans, even as the company was doing a large business, the collections were very slow. On March 25, 1891 the G. A. Shoudy Soap Company failed. M. Waddell decided to make an assignment and turned over their entire plant to August Traholm, a real estate agent of Chicago, as receiver. Waddell stated at the time, "The Chicago parties who had claims against company had been crowding them and he thought the best way out of the trouble is to make an assignment, and then all the creditors would get an even divide." The sudden failure of the company was a considerable surprise to many people of Rockford.
On June 19, 1892 the Shoudy Soap Company plant was sold at a public sale to satisfy its creditors. The Forest City Furniture Company purchased the old Shoudy Soap plant to accommodate the constantly increasing business of the concern at the time. This was added to the four additional buildings it owned along Railroad Avenue, they now owned the entire block between Seventh and Eighth Streets. After the demise of the Forest City Furniture Company in 1919 the building served a variety of uses for different factories including the Rockford Art Glass Company. The building has since been demolished.
Our 'Choice Soap' was another G. A. Shoudy Soap Company brand
Early G. A. Shoudy Advertisement from May 29, 1873
The G. A. Shoudy Soap Company issued many trade cards during their existence
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