boots and badgers and commercial archaeology

During one of my very first photographic outings to Pioneer Square, I shot the following ghost sign. Notice the sign underneath the brown Duncan & Sons sign.

Duncan and Sons ghost sign

Duncan & Sons is apparently still in business though they have moved further south down on 1st Avenue.

That was in January of 2004.

Fast-forward three years to the other day. I went out into the field with an undergraduate Comm major to shoot some images of graffiti and ghost signs as well as some commentary for a short short film that he’s working on –Paul over in the Comm lab suggested he do something Urban Archives related (thanks, Paul!). So we went down to Pioneer Square and 1st Ave because I knew we’d likely find all sorts of interesting things.

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as we were walking up to the former Duncan & Sons building when I saw temporary chain-link fence set up in the adjoining parking lot. Fortunately, the large ghost sign painted on the side (north) wall was still there. The sign on the building’s facade, though, was another story.

It had been taken down and the underlying sign had finally been revealed:

Duncan and Sons ghost sign

I suspect that this must be the same as the extant Badger Meter Inc. with an office currently in Tulsa in addition to its Milwaukee, Wisconsin headquarters. Badger, get it? I more thorough internet search yielded the following historical sketch from Hoover’s, by way of

Badger Meter, Inc. was born on the afternoon of March 8, 1905, when four Milwaukee businessmen incorporated the Badger Meter Manufacturing Company to fabricate frost-proof water meters for measuring water consumption in Midwestern homes. Badger’s innovation was a meter with a soft, replaceable cast-iron bottom plate that ruptured when the water in the meter froze, thus relieving pressure on the meter and safeguarding its mechanical parts. Since frozen water pipes were an all too common occurrence in Wisconsin’s bitter winters, Badger found a ready market and by 1910 was selling close to 3,700 eight-dollar meters a year.

…In 1919 Badger moved to a new facility that included the company’s first foundry. Now able to fabricate its own metal components, Badger was soon taking on job shop work for other Milwaukee manufacturers, including bronze castings for A. O. Smith Corporation and auto hubs and fingers for Milwaukee Automotive Supply. A year later it transformed itself into a national company by appointing sales agents for Chicago, Kansas City, Brooklyn, Denver, and Portland.

Presumably, that expansion made its way up to Seattle. What more fitting (har har) place for a fluid meter and valve company than the perennially soggy tidal flats of Pioneer Square? Without further digging into the dusty old city directories at SPL Central or UW Special Collections, I don’t know when Badger left the building and Duncan & Sons moved in. Apparently, the Great Depression hit Badger, like many companies, pretty hard. Yet, they persevered and business picked up during WWII so perhaps it was not the Depression that did them in in Seattle.

In any case, the motive and opportunity for archival research excites me as I bide me time before diving back into doctor(al) skool this autumn.

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