Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Janesville

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Janesville

Wisconsin Home Town Stories: Janesville follows the development of Janesville from its early days as a growing community on the Rock River to the present. 

Premiere date: May 08, 2006

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TRANSCRIPT+

Intro

This program is brought to you by the combined resources of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television.

Narrator:
On "Wisconsin Hometown Stories," a city founded on a bend in the Rock River, sustained by rich farmland, driven by water-power; built-up by bold entrepreneurs and changed by strong-minded women. A city transformed by heavy industry that spread business, music and new ideas around the world. On "Wisconsin Hometown Stories Janesville."

Principal funders are: Bliss Communications, the Janesville Gazette, GazetteXtra.com, and radio stations WCLO-AM and WJVL-FM, providing southern Wisconsin with local and regional news, entertainment and shopping information since 1845. The Alliant Energy Foundation, supporting cultural and educational programs, and funding projects that improve the quality of life in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. Alliant Energy Foundation, available on the Web. Additional funding provided by J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc., general contractor, serving Janesville and surrounding communities since 1892. And by these funders: Friends of WHA-TV, George K. Tallman Trust, Janesville Foundation, Rath Foudation, Wisconsin History Fund.

From the writings of Henry Janes:
"Now through The Gazette, I hear of railroad arrivals and new railroads running into Janesville from all parts of the state, of telegraph dispatches, of ponderous three- and four-story buildings going up, as if by magic. And lots selling for more money than I ever saw at one time. Some of you citizens will hardly credit the story that, but little over 20 years ago, there was but one log cabin and one family was the sum total of inhabitants of the present city of Janesville." Henry Janes.

Narrator:
In the 1830s, surveyors venturing into the Janesville area found that surrounding the hills of the Rock River valley were large areas of tall grass prairie, punctuated by pockets of woodland, a good mix of open land for farming and timber for building. Only a few years before, the Sac Indian Chief Black Hawk launched an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim his tribe's ancestral hunting and planting grounds in Illinois. Pursued by militia groups and the U.S. Army, Black Hawk and his band retreated up the Rock River valley, stopping for a period in what would become the Janesville area. The eventual defeat of Black Hawk marked the end of Native American control of the land.

Maurice Montgomery:
The militia and soldieries that were pursuing Black Hawk were coming into land that, more than likely, they had not seen before. And they realized that this was prairie land, that it had oak openings, that it was rich and fertile. As they went back, they told about the land that they had seen, and that it was good land what it looked like, you know, off of it you could make a good living.

Narrator:
Early settlers crossed the Rock River at what would become a local landmark called "The Big Rock."

Maurice Montgomery:
To the American Indians who lived in this area, it marked the location of trails coming from east and west, north and south, to a shallow place in the river. So, it was a major crossing point for the Indian trails. For the settlers, it just simply became the landmark for the county. And it is after that rock that the county is named, Rock County.

Narrator:
One of the first to arrive was a settler from Virginia named Henry Janes, who became the founder of the city of Janesville.

From the writings of Henry Janes:
"If any of the wah-hoos of Janesville, who have not had the good or bad fortune to be acquainted with me, desire more information, I can inform them that I am now in my fifty-second year, weigh 210 pounds, stand 6 feet 2 inches in my socks, and have rambled with my family over more of the western country, and to less purpose, than any other man in it."

Maurice Montgomery:
He described himself as kind of a woodsman. He mentions that he found this particular area that he thought was very desirous. He blazed trees to locate his claim and then walked to Green Bay to certify his claim with the federal government. He intended, I think, to found a town because he certainly he platted out the early village of Janesville, which he wanted to call Black Hawk, by the way, but was turned down by the United States Postal Service for that name.

Narrator:
Early settlers petitioned the territorial government to grant Janes a license to operate a ferry across the Rock River.

Maurice Montgomery:
He built a ferry and charged people to go over. I believe it was 12 cents, or something like that, for a man to cross by ferry, 25 cents for a wagon with a horse. The spot that he picked became the center ever since that time of downtown Janesville. It was a tavern and was the central meeting place for what became the early village of Janesville. The first church services were held there in the tavern. Interestingly, they said that the bottles of alcohol were pushed aside and the minister presided over the bar. He had a wanderlust that caused him to leave Janesville within a few years.

From the Writings of Henry Janes:
"On the 28th day of August, 1839, I bade adieu to Wisconsin, and in the fall of '49, the Pacific Ocean put an end to my further progress toward the setting sun. And as I never varied much to the north or south, my wanderings are at an end." Henry Janes.

Narrator:
In the coming decades, settlers flocked to the Rock Prairie to plant wheat on some of the richest farmland in the world.

Tom Walterman:
Initially, it was all about agriculture. Of course, that was the great emphasis for people coming west, was to acquire their own land, their own homestead,

Maurice Montgomery:
It started out quite slow, with just a few families. And they seemed very scattered, but when we start to look at them, there are many of them, and they're coming and they settle. So really, settlement burgeons very, very quickly. Janesville was started in roughly 1835 with Henry Janes. But by 1839 it's a small village of 800 or 900 people. By the 1840s, several thousand.

Narrator:
Many of Janesville's earliest homes still stand, a reminder of those who provided goods and services to area farmers, and who built the first industries powered by the flow of the Rock River.

Maurice Montgomery:
It's been a major, major influence. At first, it was a barrier and you had to get across. Then, as time went on, it became a source of power and of energy.

Narrator:
In 1844, a dam was built to harness the power of the nine-foot drop of the Rock River. Flour mills and lumber mills soon crowded the water-power sites along the river. Powered by the flowing water, Janesville soon became a center for grinding the region's wheat into flour. An early landmark in town was "The Big Mill." Four stories tall, it turned out 300 barrels of flour a day, until it burned to the ground in 1872.

Maurice Montgomery:
And it was a large mill. It was big. It was a big mill. (laugh) And it was an important, highly important business in the community. There are other mills — saw mills, wood mills — and planing mills and factories. There were sash mills to make window frames and casings, all powered with water.

Narrator:
In 1853, Janesville became a city. By this time, it had almost 5,000 people. In addition to its mills, there were two foundries, mechanic shops of all kinds, dry goods, grocery and hardware stores, book stores, drug stores, and several variety stores, two banks, five hotels, and three weekly and one monthly newspaper. A railroad had just come to town and another was on its way. But Janesville's early residents had more than just commerce on their minds.

A Perfect Society

Tom Walterman:
This part of the state was populated largely by what was called the "Yankee Exodus" from the Northeast, everything pretty much from New York northward.

Genevieve McBride:
Wisconsin is opened up for settlement just about the time that the Erie Canal opens up in upstate New York.

Maurice Montgomery:
Good land was becoming a premium in that area. And so sons, particularly younger sons, were kind of being forced to look for new grounds.

Genevieve McBride:
People leaving upstate New York would take the Erie Canal, which shortened what had been a trip of six weeks to two months, easily, overland became a trip of a matter of a couple of weeks on the Great Lakes by boat.

Maurice Montgomery:
It is true, that in the 1830s that this area in upstate New York was known as the Burned-Over District. A great deal of religious revivalism had taken place in the preceding 20 or 30 years and out of that had come a lot of new ideas regarding how society should be organized.

Genevieve McBride:
In upstate New York, what becomes called the Burned-Over District because of the fires of a passion for reform that are lit there. There is this need to say, it is not enough for us to ensure that we live a righteous life. We, the religious, live a righteous life, and we shall, therefore, go to heaven. Instead, you need to really create a heaven on earth where people are not downtrodden, beaten, enslaved. You look around and you say, I am not really a righteous person if I have closed my eyes to the suffering of those around me. I shall witness my faith. I shall look and see what I can do to change the way life is. As they examine it and say, why is it that some of us live this good life and others don't? And look and say, well, there's slavery; there's the lack of women's rights; there's the social customs, which are so injurious to women and children, such as rampant alcoholism. And that gets these people religiously motivated into founding the abolition movement in the 1830s, the women's movement, women's rights movement, from the 1840s on.

Tom Walterman:
There was still to a much higher degree, there was still the belief in the perfectibility of man and the idea that particularly in the west, which was kind of a tabula rasa, kind of a blank tablet on which anything could be written, it was a chance to produce this perfect society.

Maurice Montgomery:
And so as they moved further west. They not only acquired lands but they brought these new ideas with them.

Genevieve McBride:
And increasingly more and more reformers are drawn to Janesville.

Tom Walterman:
And they seemed to have the idea that this might be the place you could put together a perfect society.

Lincoln Slept Here

Narrator:
In the 1850s, William Tallman, who migrated from the Burned-Over District of New York, built one of the largest and grandest homes in the state. A home now maintained as a museum by the Rock County Historical Society.

Tom Walterman:
William Tallman came here from Rome, New York, where his family had been involved in abolitionist activities — very possibly involved in some Underground Railroad activity.

Maurice Montgomery:
The house in Rome, N.Y., was a station on the Underground Railroad, taking in escaped slaves, providing them with accommodations, food and whatever they needed — passage, money — and so forth, and sending them on their way within the next few days. He himself is kind of representative of this whole new idea of coming west, the new man coming west.

Tom Walterman:
He came to this area as kind of a typical western entrepreneur. He got into land speculation.

Maurice Montgomery:
Tallman saw an opportunity in the lands that were available in the west. He thought it was a gamble. And he came out here, purchased the land and, almost immediately upon returning home, started to advertise it and advertised it not just to make money. His advertisements speak about having "actual settlers" to come. So, he's part of that general movement encouraging people to come westward

Tom Walterman:
He became probably, I'd say without doubt, the richest man in Rock Country in the 1850s.

Maurice Montgomery:
A lot of his money he plowed back into the building of "The Finest House in the Upper Midwest," as he said. You know, a showplace.

Bob Horn:
He used only the best material at the time. Milwaukee Cream City Brick, Italian Marble, French Polished Mirror Glass. And he also included all the modern conveniences at the time. As you go through the house, you'll see that it has running water. It has a communication system, (bells ringing) central heating and indoor privy, which is a real hit with the third graders when they come through to tour. But if there was any sort of convenience that was available, you name it, he put it in.

Narrator:
As an active member of the recently-formed Republican party, William Tallman's most famous houseguest was an up-and-coming presidential candidate named Abraham Lincoln.

Bob Horn:
This is the actual room where Lincoln slept. And this is the bed that he slept in.

Narrator:
Lincoln's visit came at a time when many in Janesville were outraged by the efforts of southern states to expand slavery into new, western territories.

Tom Walterman:
Well, there was a great deal of abolitionist sentiment in Janesville. As a matter of fact, the area had a state-wide or area-wide reputation for being — they called it a hotbed of abolitionist activity.

Narrator:
Frederick Douglass, a freed slave and leader of the abolitionist cause, spoke twice in Janesville each time drawing large crowds. And Lincoln, an aspiring presidential candidate, came to build on his growing reputation as an opponent of the expansion of slavery.

Maurice Montgomery:
Lincoln was on a speaking tour, actually invited to speak at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1859.

Tom Walterman:
The Republican Club of Beloit found out about this and issued an invitation to him to come and speak in Beloit. But William Tallman jumped in his buggy and went to Beloit. He buttonholed Lincoln and said, "While you're here, would you come and speak in Janesville?" Lincoln, probably not understanding the rivalry between the two communities, consented. So, when he finished his speech at Hanset Hall in Beloit, he got into Mr. Tallman's buggy, and Mr. Tallman brought him north to Janesville. He did make a very, very positive impression. His speech did. His appearance didn't. And they said that he looked for all the world like a farmer dressed up for circus day in the city. The Janesville Gazette said "...his physiognomy was peculiar." (laugh) His voice was high-pitched and squeaky. But the power of his arguments against the spread of slavery were so logical and so down-to-earth that even the most simple individual could understand them and support them.

Narrator:
The next year, Abraham Lincoln won the election. But shortly after his inauguration, southern states seceded from the union. The nation, now split in two, plunged into civil war, and Janesville's support for the Republican cause was put to the test.

Tom Walterman:
That political enthusiasm for Republicanism was also expressed in the number of men who stepped forward very early in the war. It's always been claimed, and I've never seen it refuted that proportionate to it's population, Rock County sent more men to the Union Army in the Civil War than any other county in the state.

Growth

Narrator:
Many of the houses built in the decades after the Civil War show signs of a new prosperity. New schools now served the waves of immigrants: Irish, Norwegian and German, and many smaller groups drawn to Janesville's growing farm-service economy.

Tom Walterman:
This was an area that was emerging. It was coming into it's own, almost like a third-world nation that is trying to get on it's feet and establish a viable economic base. There was a lot of interest. And there was a considerable economic and industrial development in this area, particularly related to railroads.

Maurice Montgomery:
The railroads came through Janesville because the Janesville citizens raised a great amount of money to persuade them to locate railroads here. What it did was open up markets, the eastern markets, particularly New York, Boston and Philadelphia, all along the eastern seaboard to bring wheat and oats, and grains, you know, through Chicago to the eastern seaboard.

Narrator:
During the Civil War, Wisconsin farmers shipped out tons of wheat to feed the troops. The high demand and a labor shortage on the farm encouraged farmers to start using machines to speed the planting, harvesting and threshing of the grain. In Janesville, machine shops began to gear up to meet the demand.

Tom Walterman:
People said, "Well, if we could manufacture our own agricultural instruments we won't have to rely on the east."

Narrator:
One of the pillars of early Janesville manufacturing was the Rock River Iron Works, which cast these iron columns for a Main Street building in 1869. But the company's main business was farm implements, including a reaper called "The Little Champion."

Maurice Montgomery:
It just bespeaks this diverse economic situation that we have where agriculture is prominent on one han, but we have a strong industrial base to the economy also. And they seem to work hand in hand.

Narrator:
One of the partners in the Iron Works was James Harris, who formed a new company called Harris Manufacturing to make reapers, mowers and planters.

After a fire burned much of the plant, the business reorganized and became the Janesville Machine Co., which eventually grew into the largest manufacturer in the city. After decades of providing a good living, wheat growing ran into trouble. Soils began to wear out and yields fell with outbreaks of disease and insects. Searching for a new crop, farmers found that tobacco grew well and sold even better. Tobacco production became Wisconsin's fastest-growing farm enterprise, and tobacco wholesaling soon became Janesville's most important commercial business. And as farmers began making the switch to dairy farming, the Janesville Hay Tool Co. responded by manufacturing the equipment needed to lift and move huge stacks of hay around the barn. But many in Janesville felt the city needed to create new industries that didn't depend on the fluctuating farm economy.

Maurice Montgomery:
The building behind me, the Janesville Cotton Co., is an example, I think, of 19th-century attempts at diversification to stabilize that industry. They brought cotton up from the South, processed it here and distributed it nationwide. The building was built by subscription by local Janesville citizens. Then, in the winter of 1874, they held a great party in the building for all the community to attend before any of the machinery for the production of cotton was installed. And the newspapers articles indicate that there were 2,000 people or more who partied away the evening on the three floors of the Janesville Cotton Co.

Narrator:
While the railroads shipped Janesville's products out, retailers could just as easily bring in products from the east. On Main Street, shopkeepers could offer a wider variety of goods. At several restaurants, Janesvillians could take part in the nation-wide oyster craze. At Shurtleff and Hill, customers could enjoy both their local ice cream and fresh oysters imported from the East.

Strong-minded Women

Narrator:
After the Civil War, many of Janesville's women, who had kept businesses and households afloat, and worked tirelessly to support the troops now worked to continue a women's rights movement that began in the 1850s.

Tom Walterman:
The rights of women, the right to vote was very popular among ladies in the area.

Narrator:
Most of the activists in Janesville were also part of the temperance movement to control the growing problem of post-Civil War alcoholism.

Temperance was a very, very big issue. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant emphasis of the New Englanders was countered by the Catholic "Wets" as they were called, the Irish and Germans who valued their alcoholic beverages. A great many illegal saloons were operating on Sunday and that was a cause of great consternation.

Genevieve McBride:
Interestingly in Janesville I think we see the beginning of what becomes a nationwide movement. There is a Janesville group of women in 1873 who are furious. And they march, literally march on City Hall, down the streets of Janesville. Women didn't do this sort of thing and demand that these aldermen who had been elected, promising to limit the number of tavern licenses, will live up to that promise. Instead they got in office, and who cares women can't vote, can't hurt the aldermen. [They] started granting licenses right and left. And this is the first women's temperance crusade, actually, that I find.

Narrator:
Lavinia Goodell, who would go on to become Wisconsin's first woman lawyer, organized the demonstration and wrote about it in local and national women's newspapers.

Genevieve McBride:
I think that's how it gets picked up nationwide. Women are becoming aware of what the Janesville women did, why they did it, and more important, how they did it. This is how you do a petition. This is how you call a meeting. These are things that women are not conversant with at the time. They are not supposed to know these things. In late 1873 and most of 1874, in every state in every territory more than 150,000 women nationwide are marching down streets with petitions they've gotten women to sign. They are singing hymns outside taverns. They are doing all things that Lavinia Goodell and her group did in Janesville. So, this women's temperance crusade sweeps the country, effects a lot of change, empowers a lot of women. And in 1874, they have a convention, as the crusade is winding down. They say, we have to continue this work, and joined together, and found the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, as we've called it ever since, the WCTU.

Narrator:
Within five years, the WCTU elected Frances Willard, a former Janesville Resident, to head the national organization.

Genevieve McBride:
Under Frances Willard, first of all, the organization grows phenomenally. It becomes international. It becomes the largest women's organization in the world. She was born in upstate New York, in the area that was called the Burned-Over District. But when she was six or seven, in 1846, her family took up a farm about four miles from Janesville.

Narrator:
As a strong-willed young girl, Frances Willard complained that she was not allowed to do the same things as her older brother.

Joan Wootton:
And she and her sister wanted to go to school just like he did. And so she really begged to go to school. The father finally broke down and built the little schoolhouse.

Narrator:
The Willard Schoolhouse is now preserved on the Rock County Fairgrounds, where hundreds of school children can take a trip back in time.

Joan Wootton:
The teachers who had been interested in the history of the little school and Frances Willard got together and they decided that they would invite the third graders at the end of their unit on local history to come in and spend half a day, and go through lessons the way the children did 153 years ago.

Narrator:
Frances Willard went on with her schooling, eventually becoming Dean of Women at Northwestern University. It was there she made the crucial decision to devote the rest of her life to the temperance movement.

Genevieve McBride:
And it changes the temperance movement forever. It changes the course of women's history and therefore, this nation's history forever because of her incredible skills as a speaker, as a writer, as a thinker, as a philosopher.

Narrator:
Over the years, Willard expanded the temperance movement to include the larger issues of women's rights.

Genevieve McBride:
Frances Willard brings them together. If you became part of the WCTU, you got increasing information that showed you that, mainly, women were not going to be able to affect changes and laws until they had a voice in the legal structure of this country, until they could vote.

Narrator:
In 2005, there was a celebration in Janesville as the General Motors plant rolled out its 16-millionth vehicle. A special auto show of Janesville-made cars included the first one made here, a 1923 Chevrolet, and samples of other models over the years. The history of Janesville's biggest employer is rooted deeply in its agricultural past. At the Rock River Thresheree, held each year north of Janesville, visitors can view the vintage tractors and other machinery that once revolutionized farm life. General Motors was first drawn to the area because of the Janesville Machine Co., a farm implement maker and the city's largest manufacturer.

Guy Fay:
Janesville Machine Co. starts out in the late 1850s manufacturing reaping and grain harvesting equipment. Janesville gets into building tillage equipment, planters, plows, disks. In plow competitions at that time, Janesville usually did very well. It was really a quality line of equipment.

Narrator:
Billy Durant, who had created General Motors by buying up smaller car companies, was again on a buying spree. During World War I, he decided to get into the tractor business to compete with his rival, Henry Ford, who had great success supplying tractors to Britain.

Guy Fay:
World War I has really shut down a lot of production of civilian goods. Steel is allocated towards weapons. You have to build the battleships, the destroyers, the ships to keep feeding Britain. The car business isn't so good, but Britain is starving. Tractors are something you can have all the steel you want for. In 1917, 1916, the tractor market exploded as you got these small tractors that most farmers could afford. The technology finally got to the point where it was worthwhile to build them. So, what happens in that time frame is that you get hundreds and hundreds of companies getting into the tractor business. You have everybody from some inventors in a garage up to General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Allis Chalmers. It was really a boom market.

Narrator:
Durant purchased the Samson Tractor Co. in California for GM and was looking for an implement maker to go with it. Joseph A. Craig, president of the Janesville Machine Co., found out that Durant also wanted to move the tractor plant to a Midwestern location.

Maurice Montgomery:
Craig had risen through the ranks at the Janesville Machine Co. from being an outstanding salesman to president of the company. Craig somehow became aquatinted with Durant. And it is my understanding that Craig persuaded him that Janesville would be an ideal location. It had railroads, it had the Janesville Machine Co., it had a well-trained workforce. And Durant built a new plant for the production of the Samson Tractor Co. and went into business.

Guy Fay:
He has some General Motors engineers design the Samson Type M here. It's a state-of-the-art tractor for the time, maybe even a little bit better. It's got a generator. It's got a starter, which for that time were pretty novel stuff for a tractor company. That way you could start the tractor easier. You didn't break your arm cranking the tractor, which was actually a danger. It's actually a pretty good quality tractor.

Narrator:
Samson also made a truck and a smaller tractor called the "Iron Horse."

Guy Fay:
What Samson does is a little bit different though. They decide to go with a four-wheel-drive tractor. They make it a rein drive, with the reins being held by the hand. With the rein-drive tractors, if you just let them loose your tractor would go forward. You could pull back one to go in that direction. You could pull back harder, the whole thing would spin in place. If you pulled back both reins at once, the tractor would reverse. It was really a fast-control system. It also worked well with horse-drawn implements because you could sit back in a horse-drawn implement and just have those nice long reins, just like you did with horses.

Narrator:
Just as Samson was struggling to establish its position in the tractor market, World War I ended. What followed was a post-war depression.

Guy Fay:
Farm prices crash hard. The tractor industry becomes a bloodbath. Nobody was buying. You had those hundreds of companies that got into the business in 1916, 17, 18. Now they're going bankrupt and getting back out of the business. General Motors is losing so much money. So, that's why Samson gets basically liquidated. The plant in Janesville was a modern plant. It was very well-built by J.P. Cullen out of Janesville. A local company built it. In 1923, as Samson is going out of business, the car industry starts picking up business. You've got the Roaring '20s rolling. So, General Motors took that nice new plant, started building Chevrolet cars and trucks in it and they've kept on, of course, ever since.

I Love You Truly

Narrator:
The first woman to sell a million copies of a song was another trailblazer from Janesville named Carrie Jacobs-Bond. Born in 1862 on a farm just outside of town she showed an early gift for music.

Peggy Balensuela:
She was a child prodigy. From a very young age, it was reported that she could hear a tune once and pick it out, even at a pre-school age.

Narrator:
A touring musician came to town named Blind Tom, who astounded a Janesville audience by instantly memorizing any piece of music he heard. When he finished, someone prodded a young Carrie Jacobs to go up to the piano.

Peggy Balensuela:
She was trotted up from the audience and performed. Blind Tom played a tune and she played it back much to the amazement of everyone.

Howard Kanetzke:
She had not only musical ability but she had what used to be called "a way with words."

Narrator:
After a failed early marriage, and with few musical opportunities, Carrie Jacobs moved with her son to the upper peninsula of Michigan with her new husband, Dr. Frank Bond.

Peggy Balensuela:
Dr. Bond was a physician in this iron mining community of Iron River and in the 1890s, there was a huge financial collapse, and the iron mines closed, which left him penniless.

Narrator:
One winter night, Dr. Bond took a fall on the ice and was badly injured. When he died five days later, Carrie Jacobs-Bond found herself alone with her son and only her childhood dream of becoming a songwriter to support them.

Peggy Balensuela:
She was 35; he was 12. And that's when she moved to Chicago.

Narrator:
Jacobs-Bond spent the next seven years in poverty, selling off her furniture, living in one heated room, eating only one meal a day. Battling poor health, she eked out a living painting china while the pain and tragedy of her life came pouring out in song.

Music:
All the time of feeling blue...

Howard Kanetzke:
She wrote very sentimental music; some of it just oozes sentiment. But this was a period of sentimentality.

Peggy Balensuela:
She was a composer of home songs, a composer of heart songs. So many of her early songs are indeed reminiscent of that loss and that sadness that permeated her life at that time.

Narrator:
At that time music stores in Janesville like those in almost every city, sold pianos, organs and sheet music to customers who made their own music.

Peggy Balensuela:
Of course, there was no phonograph, per se. There was no radio. There was no TV. Music making was primarily a domestic activity. It was in the home.

Howard Kanetzke:
Peddling sheet music was really a big business and it was a really serious business.

Peggy Balensuela:
Carrie made the tour and the rounds of all the publishers trying to get them interested in her songs and soon realized if she was going to be successful as a publisher, and get her songs out there she would have to do it herself.

Narrator:
Setting up something she called The Bond Shop in her apartment, she sold her sheet music and painted china, and continued to promote her songs.

Howard Kanetzke:
She was very persistent.

Peggy Balensuela:
As much as she portrayed this poor widow, voice full of tears persona, there was a rod of steel through her.

Narrator:
A big break came when she approached Jesse Bartlett Davis, the star of the Boston Opera Co., who agreed to help her publish a book called, Seven Songs.

Music:
I love you truly, truly dear...

Narrator:
Sales of one of the songs, "I Love You Truly" began to take off. And its popularity as a wedding song would continue for the next 100 years. As her songs started to sell, Jacobs-Bond began touring the country. A sunset in California inspired her to write her biggest-selling song.

Music:
When you come to the end of a perfect day...

Peggy Balensuela:
For whatever reason, it struck a chord with the public. "End of a Perfect Day" sold 25 million copies, an extraordinary amount for that time. The American success story. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, succeed against all odds. To do it as a woman, even more remarkable.

Music:
Truly dear...

Two Names

Narrator:
In the 1880s, at the Valentine Telegraph School in Janesville, a teacher named George Parker sold pens to his telegraphy students but found that he spent a lot of time repairing them.

Geoffrey Parker:
Fountain pens were not exactly reliable.

Movie Dialogue:
We'll have to postpone our business. The ink has dried up.

Geoffrey Parker:
He went out and bought some hand tools and started experimenting with ways to improve their reliability. He had some pens made that incorporated his design improvements and that was the beginning of Parker Pens.

Narrator:
Parker called his new ink-feeding system the "Lucky Curve." As sales slowly built, the company moved into the upper floor of a downtown Janesville building and Parker expanded his own pen-making operation.

Geoffrey Parker:
Back in those days the primary material for fountain pens was hard rubber. And it was a very simple, relatively speaking, process to carve it by lathe, maybe by hand, and decorate it and make it more unique.

Narrator:
As his pens developed a good reputation across the country, George Parker began to mix business with pleasure, fulfilling his childhood dream of traveling the world, while at the same time opening up new markets.

Geoffrey Parker:
Whenever he traveled anywhere, whether it was Egypt or China, he always traveled with a large supply of Parker Pens.

Narrator:
With the coming of WWI, the War Department awarded Parker a contract for a pen to be used by soldiers in the field, known as the "Trench Pen."

Geoffrey Parker:
He had little pills made. Ink pills. So you'd put the pill in the reservoir and then fill it full of water. And the water and pill would mix and you would have ink. And then he advertised that and that became very popular. And it introduced the name to a lot of people.

Narrator:
After the war, both of Parker's sons became involved in the company's management. George groomed his oldest son, Russell, to take over for him, while his second son, Kenneth, a former WWI aviator, took charge of the advertising department. With sales passing $1 million in 1918, Parker designed a modern office and manufacturing center built in downtown Janesville and the company would remain one of the city's largest employers for the next 70 years. At a time when most fountain pens were black, his sons convinced a reluctant George Parker to release their new Duofold pen in a way that seemed outrageous at the time.

Axtell:
Kenneth Parker came up with an idea for a bright mandarin red, thick pen. And it was totally different from the rest of the market. And his father said, "You're crazy, that'll never sell." 

Geoffrey Parker:
It sold very well, very well. It was large. It was in-your-face large but I believe in perfect sync with the times. It was flamboyant. And the '20s were nothing if they were not flamboyant. It was also somewhat expensive. And this seemed to have the effect of making it more desirable. So the Duofold was really the pen that put Parker Pen on the map.

Narrator:
The pen that put Parker on the world map also put Janesville, Wis. there with it.

Geoffrey Parker:
There are really two names imprinted on the side of the pen. The Parker name is there, of course, but Janesville is there too. It showed that George was proud of his home. It showed that he was proud of the craftsmanship and the quality that was built into those pens.

Narrator:
In the 1930s, Parker introduced another new pen, the "Vacumatic," which featured a distinctive arrow clip that remains the symbol of Parker Pens to this day. The pen proved to be yet another peak in George Parker's long career as the world's leading pen maker. As he looked forward to retirement, however, his world began to unravel.

Geoffrey Parker:
George's eldest son, Russell, died very suddenly in January of 1933. It's easy for me to imagine why George would have been just crushed.

Narrator:
A deeply saddened George Parker soon withdrew from the business that bore his name, and four years later, he died. The comany was now in the hands of Kenneth Parker, the risk-taking aviator, who began a project to completely redesign the fountain pen from the chemistry of the ink to the point of the nib.

Geoffrey Parker:
That pen was to become the "Parker 51." It's considered to be in all likelihood the best fountain pen ever made.

Narrator:
At first, the sales of the 51 were slowed by World War II, as the Parker plant retooled to produce bomb fuses, winning three of the military's "E Awards" for excellence. But Parker Pens also held the distinction of ending the war as General Eisenhower sent two of his Parker 51s to be used signing the German surrender papers.

Newsreel:
Victory, with the pens of peace.

Narrator:
In the Pacific, General MacArthur signed the Japanese surrender using his 20-year-old Duofold.

Geoffrey Parker:
With the end of World War II, the Parker 51 exploded in terms of sales. Production was non stop. It was truly remarkable.

Narrator:
In 1947, Parker Pen sponsored a parade to celebrate international trade, which eventually would account for two-thirds of its sales. In the 1950s, the advent of carbon copies had even the Janesville police switching to a new kind of writing instrument, the Jotter ballpoint.

Advertisement:
Get the Jotter made by Parker with the T-Ball. Where else can you buy so much pen for $1.98? And it's a Parker.

Narrator:
Today, at Janesville's Rotary Gardens, there's a memorial to the Parker Pen Co., which was sold during the leveraged buyouts of the 1980s.

Geoffrey Parker:
This is the arch that surrounded the front entrance to Parker Pen's Court Street offices and factory. A lot of people have passed under this arch — employees, visitors from all over the world. And all of them had something to do with Parker Pen's success. It's terrific that this arch was preserved so that other people who walked through those doors can come back here and remember those times.

Milestones

Narrator:
The arrival of General Motors in 1918 was the first of several watershed events that would transform the city of Janesville.

Maurice Montgomery:
There's just a whole new outlook on how things, how the community itself, should operate.

Narrator:
The next year, the Chamber of Commerce brought noted city planner John Nolen to Janesville.

Maurice Montgomery:
Nolen brought an idea and it concerned the use of the Rock River. It was kind of the back door of the community. And Nolen said, "Let's turn that around. Let's make the river the focal point of the community. And let's develop parklands for the citizens who live here."

Narrator:
Over time, thousands of acres of parkland helped fill in the Nolen plan. And eventually, Janesville became known as "The City of Parks." In 1920, women won the right to vote in national elections. In their first city elections, Janesville's women made an immediate impact, pushing through a referendum to build a state-of-the-art, million-dollar high school. Next, Janesville's women, long dissatisfied with the inefficient city government, petitioned for another referendum, this time to scrap the whole system.

Maurice Montgomery:
There was this new idea of someone who would manage the city, a city manager form of government.

Narrator:
Henry Traxler, hired as the first city manager, would guide Janesville for the next 27 years with a frugal, yet progressive hand. Paying as he went, he developed parks and paved roads, began snow removal and trash collection, and replaced men and brooms with street sweepers. In 1937, workers in Flint, Mich., occupied a Fischer Body Plant, and the sit-down strike soon spread to GM plants nationwide.

Harold Figi:
I pulled a switch that ran the line and that stopped the line.

Narrator:
Like workers at other GM plants Janesville workers had no control over the speed of the assembly line. Also at issue were low wages and harsh working conditions such as those endured by Fischer Body workers called "tack spitters," who nailed insulation to wooden frames while holding the tacks in their mouths.

Harold Figi:
That was un-human almost. You put a handful of that in your mouth and then spit them out. I have one tooth that's wore off from that.

Narrator:
In Flint, police tried to stop the delivery of food to strikers in the plant, resulting in violent confrontations. But in Janesville, City Manager Traxler negotiated a deal. The company agreed to shut down if the strikers would leave the plant.

Harold Figi:
The chief of police at that time came down and said, "There is going to be no blood shed in Janesville. We're going to do this peacefully."

Narrator:
The Janesville strikers wouldn't return until GM finally recognized the United Auto Workers Union setting the stage for better working conditions and wage increases that helped fuel a post-World War II economic boom.

Advertisement:
See the USA in your Chevrolet; America's asking you to call. Drive your Chevrolet through the USA …

Narrator:
The boom times and new roads drastically altered the way Janesville grew as many retail businesses left the downtown for more wide-open spaces. Now, the Interstate has replaced the river and the railroads as a driver of Janesville's commerce. But the downtown area still remains the city's cultural center. And there are many efforts to restore its links to the past. The historic Janesville Armory underwent extensive renovation creating new restaurants and a dinner theater. A new Performing Arts Center turned the old high school auditorium, once again, into a state-of-the-art facility. These and other ventures are bringing people back to the place where it all began, back to the heart of the city of Janesville.

Essay

Janesville, City on the Rock

Since its early days, when settlers arrived to stake their claims on the fertile river valley, Janesville has evolved into a city rich in history and culture.

Events

Burned-Over District

Many of the first settlers were idealists from New England's "burned-over area," a region heavily evangelized during the religious revival movement of the early 1800s.

Electricity comes to Janesville

Through the efforts of local businessmen, the Janesville Electric Co. began supplying power to the citizens of Janesville in 1882.

The Sit-Down Strike of 1937

A sit-down strike at Janesville's General Motors (GM) assembly plant in 1937 became a defining moment in the history of labor union relations at GM.

People

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, African-American medical pioneer

Dr. Williams's early medical education was nurtured in Janesville by Civil War hero Dr. Henry Palmer. Williams went on to have a brilliant career in Chicago where he founded the city's first multi-racial hospital and performed the world's first successful heart surgery.

Henry Traxler, legendary city manager

In 1922 the citizens of Janesville elected Henry Traxler as their first city manager. His administrative accomplishments helped develop Janseville's civic infrastructure.

Janesville Medal of Honor Recipients

The Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to a person in the Armed Services for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of The United States. There have been a significant number awarded to residents of Janesville.

Resources

Visit our Janesville Resources Page

Explore the following books, Web sites and films for more insight into Janesville's history.