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The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder

The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder image The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder image The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder image The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder image The Saga of the Men Behind “Ralphie” Parker’s Coveted Red Ryder image
Bryce Ford
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

It did not take Henry William Baker long to decide that he should head back to Michigan; bullet holes emerging from the floor of the room you are sleeping in tend to make people reassess their situation. He had ventured out from the family farm at Cooper’s corners, in Plymouth Township, to visit his younger brother Chauncey, and maybe get in on some of the action in the post `49er boomtown of San Francisco. His brother had rented a room above a tavern, and the men below proved that in the Wild West, drinking and weapons go hand in hand.

Henry William Baker was the eldest of ten children belonging to Samuel Baker, but Henry did not follow in the cooperage business of his father, or in the agricultural ways of the generation that preceded him. The New Englanders who flooded southeastern Michigan after the opening of the Erie Canal had cleared and improved the land, but the civilization builders were now raising villages, and in the 1860’s we find Henry in business with his older cousin Edwin, proprietors of a photo gallery in Ypsilanti. Edwin P. Baker would spend more time in Ypsilanti than Henry, taking on a handful of partners and apprentices, in different locations, and finally selling off his business interest in 1876 to Mr. J. J. Stephenson. Photography would be Edwin’s calling the rest of his life. In addition to being on the forefront of new media, it is noteworthy that the use of “New York” as a name for their Gallery was well ahead of the marketers of that period. Henry moved to the neighboring village of Plymouth in 1866, closer to the majority of his family, and would branch out into other endeavors.

The prime of Edwin’s life coincided with the gilded age of the late 1800’s. Henry operated a dry goods store with Calvin B. Crosby, dabbled as lumberman, was the guardian and stockholder of the Plymouth Savings Bank, became Justice of the Peace in that village, and built a striking brick house that still stands to this day. He married twice, and in 1882 he was a founding partner of the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company.

This Company would erect the second factory in that village, behind the Fanning Mill that had been in operation since about 1850. This stock for this company was launched with a $30,000 sale and supported the development of the Metal Windmill concept, an idea of inventor Clarence Hamilton. Also joining Henry in this commercial undertaking was his Dry Goods partner C. B. Crosby, brother-in-law Lewis Cass Hough (both would serve in the state legislature), and a who’s who of Plymouth Businessmen of that era.

The company’s product was plagued with issues. The windmill was metal and needed to be oiled, rust became an issue and advertising and transportation were obstacles. Low sales numbers, coupled with unhappy customers threatening lawsuits, led the management of the Windmill Company to consider liquidating after a half dozen meandering years.

But the inventor C. J. Hamilton was not going down without a fight, being one of the largest stockholders of the Company. He designed an all metal air rifle that was spurred on by the successful business product that was being made around the corner from the Windmill plant, the Markham Company’s ‘Chicago’ Air Rifle. The Plymouth Iron Windmill directors bit on Mr. Hamilton’s newest contraption, allowing it to become an add-on with the purchase of a windmill. It did not take long for demand to prove that the ‘Daisy’ Air Rifle was what the purchasing public actually wanted.

The success of this product led to a reorganization for the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company. Director Theodore C. Sherwood, who lived between Mr. Baker and Mr. Hough on Plymouth’s Main Street, and who was tapped by Governor Cyrus Luce in 1889 to be the first Bank Commissioner for the state of Michigan, proposed in early 1895 that the firm drop the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company name and switch to the Daisy Manufacturing Company. Fellow Directors Henry Baker, Lewis Hough (pronounced Huff), and Clarence Hamilton agreed unanimously. Within 40 years of the change, Daisy would monopolize the industry, producing 90% of the world’s air rifles by the mid 1930’s.

At the turn of the 19th century, the company was run by relatives. Mr. Baker was President, his brother-in-law L. C. Hough was General Manger, their nephews, Charles H. Bennett served as head of the sales force, his younger brother Frederick was Superintendent, and Lewis’ son Edward Cass was Secretary. Mr. Clarence Hamilton had spun off and started a new company, the C. J. Hamilton & Son Rifle Company, around the block from the Daisy Plant.

In 1901, Lewis Hough did the opposite of what financial planners would advise today. Instead of diversification, he began to consolidate his assets and devote his time solely to the Daisy Company, selling to the McLaren Family the grain elevators he ran with his only son. Also, he profited handsomely on the sale of timberland that he and his nephew Fred F. Bennett had purchased eleven years prior in Mississippi. At the end of 1901, the former state Senator from the 1st district, Lewis Cass (named in honor of the Territorial Governor) Hough becomes connected to the Dr. Reed Shoe Company of Detroit. However, at the beginning of 1902 Mr. Hough succumbed to pneumonia. The void of his deft talents would reverberate throughout Plymouth. His absence leads to a financial misunderstanding within the Daisy family that prevented the officers of that Company from securing the horseless carriage deal of the century.

Charlie Bennett was about to have a lahlahpaloozer of a day. On a spring morning in 1903, he hopped on the train at the Plymouth station and headed 25 miles east into the heart of Detroit. His intentions were to live large. But no one saw the Leviathan that rolled into his path. He first stopped in to visit his tailor, Mr. Charlie Mulhausen, to get fitted for some new threads. While getting sized, he jokes that this outfit better hold up in the new car he intended to purchase later that day (an Olds). Overhearing this conversation in the adjacent fitting room was an architect who knew Charles, having worked on a house for one of Charles relatives. Charles is informed by this Architect that he should hold off on purchasing that automobile because his cousin Alex has a better product coming.

In the heart of Detroit’s financial district stood an impressive office building that the Mechanics’ Society of Detroit had built in the year 1874. Two years later it would be acquired by a Mr. Thomas McGraw, a gentleman that was raised between Ypsilanti and Plymouth on a farm at Canton Center near Cherry Hill. Mr. McGraw had made his fortune as a Wool Merchant. The building which sat across from City Hall had many offices; a number of banks, an impressive library for use by Mechanics or tenants of the building, a Business College and was the office base of Alexander Y. Malcolmson, the ”Hotter than Sunshine” Coal Dealer, where Charles found himself in an impromptu meeting. Charles Bennett knew the building in which he sat; his only formal education outside of the Plymouth School had been acquired in the Business College that operated for many years within the Mechanics Block, the same school attended by the gentleman who rolled up this fateful day, Henry Ford.

Mr. Ford had previously failed to gain traction with two prior car companies; A. Y. Malcolmson was now his main partner in launching this third attempt. Henry took Charlie for a ride in the prototype with the vertical engine, and they had a chat. At the end of the day, Charlie assured the gentlemen that he would wait for this automobile to get to market before he made a purchase. Heck, he had made it through life without one so far, but when exactly would their product get to market?

The next day in Plymouth, Henry Ford came to town with a much bigger proposition than the sale of an advanced quadricycle; Ford and Mr. Malcolmson had a talk after Charlie left the previous day, and they wanted to know if Daisy would tie-up and take a 49% interest in the proposed Ford Motor Company. Mr. Ford knew that the factory in Plymouth had been churning out products for two decades, and that the Daisy name could open up sources of financing. The idea appealed to Charlie and his partner, Edward C. Hough, who jointly controlled the majority of stock within Daisy. So the proper inquiries were made. Charlie grabbed two machinists he trusted, Brother Fred, superintendent of Daisy, and the son of Clarence Hamilton, Coello, Head of the Hamilton Co. (Clarence Hamilton had passed away the previous year).

These gentlemen went down to see the brothers Horace and John Dodge, whose shop was producing the engines for Ford and Malcolmson. Satisfied, they moved on to the rest of Daisy shareholders, who would have to agree to this Ford proposal. In short, the sticking point was some old business between Fred and his late uncle, L. C. Hough. This led to a rift between Fred, and his cousin E. C. Hough, head of his father’s estate. The Mississippi timberlands that Fred and Lewis had become interested in around 1890 had paid out a handsome profit when sold off in 1901. Fred had done the groundwork, starting and running the mill on the lands in Mississippi while also scouting neighboring property that was also acquired, while “Uncle Cass” had financed the deal through a mortgage on the Hough family’s land grant farm, which sat at the intersection of Warren and Haggerty in Canton Township. The abrupt death of Lewis Hough left the timberland business unsettled and was the main reason for his heir, Daisy Manufacturing Treasurer Edward Hough, to shoot down the Malcolmson-Ford idea. Even though Edward Cass was a controlling officer, he would be liable to the minority stockholders (Fred F. Bennett, in particular) if the tie-up went wrong. Mr. Hough was facing one financial battle with Cousin Fred; he could not open himself up to more risk, and possible ruin.

The Bennett brothers would both get what they were itching for; Charlie was corralled by Mr. Malcolmson, and in 1903 became one of the 12 men to form the Industrial Giant of the 20th Century, The Ford Motor Company. E. C. Hough was adamant that business was settled concerning the southern lumber, so Fred took legal action, the case landing in 1905 in the lap of the Michigan Supreme Court, with the Justices siding with Fred to the tune of $15,000. Joining Edward as defendants in the case would be the widow of the late Lewis C. Hough, Mariette (Baker), and Ed’s Sister, Mary Hough-Kimble. E. C. Hough had missed the Ford deal and took a loss against his own relative, but in the midst of all this, his wife gave birth to a son. These contested cousins would coexist within Daisy for 12 more years until it was necessary for Fred to leave the Daisy Plant and try to remedy a situation that had arisen within the Michigan Crown Fender Company of Ypsilanti.

Growing pains were to blame for Charles Henry Bennett’s early departure from the business he started with Henry Ford. Charlie did not appreciate the way Alex Y. Malcolmson had been shut out of the formation of the Ford Manufacturing Company and therefore wasn’t around to receive the Horace Rackham type money that some of the original stockholders realized. Daisy’s export agent Robert Lockwood was brought on with Ford Motor through Charles, and Mr. Lockwood would oversee most of the international business outside of Canada. Charlie Bennett got out of Ford a tad early, but he maintained there were no regrets; and it would not be his last foray into the automotive world.

More than forty years after Henry Baker moved on from Ypsilanti, his brother-in-law, George F. Chadwick came to town in 1908 as a sales agent for the Grinnell Music Company. The Husband of Jennie (Baker) Chadwick found conditions so nice, that his planned 10 day sale turned into a business that would operate in the city for decades. Edward Hough had stood witness to their marriage. And Fred Bennett’s daughter Margaret would eventually keep the books for this Grinnell store.

Fred came to town in a different mood than his relatives, the Chadwick’s. The Michigan Crown Fender Company that he was financially backing with Brother Charlie and other gentlemen had come across some disturbing information concerning their Manager John Welch, and his fiscal ethics. Ypsilanti had assisted in financing the factory that sits to this day at the corner of Lowell and Huron in the year 1916, and Charlie heavily recruited Mr. Welch away from his job with the Dodge Brothers. To woo Mr. J. R. Welch into employment, the officers put in his contract 10,000 worth of Michigan Crown Fender Stock that he was entitled to on his first day of work.
A little more than a year into his employment, John Welch took on 500 tons of steel more than what was necessary to fill an order the Fender Company had inked with the Republic Motor Truck Company. He pocketed the difference after selling the excess steel to Cadillac and Ford. The directors of the Firm learned of this, and called a meeting with their employee. Mr. Welch did not like the line of questioning; his temper flared and he flung insults upon the Directors. One wishes for the day that calling people “little men” was a high insult. The funny thing is, Charlie Bennett was a very little man, and he was not happy with what had unfolded. His Brother had been superintendent of the Daisy plant for 19 years; Fred was now tasked with replacing Mr. Welch.

The F. F. Bennett’s would make their home in Ypsilanti within the year, and the Michigan Crown Fender Company would take Mr. Welch to court to recoup the money he had made on his side deal, and to take back the 10,000 worth of stock they had fronted to bring him aboard. By 1920, the lawsuit found its way to the State’s highest court, Crown Fender would get the profit (over 5,000) made on the Steel, but the contract Mr. Welch had signed entitled him to the Company stock.

In late November of 1919, Mr. Henry Baker died at his home in Plymouth. He had been ill for many years, and his nephews Charlie and Edward had been the de facto heads of Daisy for a long while. It was not until January of the following year that Charles H. Bennett became the 2nd president of Daisy. It is unclear as to why there is a delay in Charlie’s election. Mr. Baker’s estate, the holidays, or maybe indecision as to whether E. C. Hough should take the reins might all have been factors. In actuality, Daisy would always be a co-presidency between C. H. and E. C. These 1st cousins were akin to a binary star, or better, they were like one of their products, the 1939 Model 104 Double Gun-2 triggers, 2 barrels, 2 shots. Charles the entertaining salesman, with all the fixings of that skill, Edward the stern accountant, making sure the dollars made sense, together an indomitable team. With his election, Charles Bennett became the President of two firms, Daisy Manufacturing and Michigan Crown Fender.

Around this time, Edward’s son Cass Sheffield was becoming a man. After finishing his High School Studies at Culver Military Academy, Cass headed west from his parents home on Ann Arbor Trail towards the University of Michigan, where he would study Astronomy, and learn to fly towards all those stars. He graduated in 1925, the year Michigan Crown Fender disposed of its interests to the United Stove Company. The family business was waiting with open arms, but Cass threw his father and “Uncle Charlie” a curve by staying at the University of Michigan to teach. After a year, he comes headfirst into the Daisy fold.

In the waning years of Michigan Crown Fender, Fred Bennett added to his list of patents by dabbling in stoves. The Crown Fender Company did produce some, but it is unclear if the Bennett Brothers got out of this business whole, or if they held any interest in the United Stove Company which took over the plant. Fred had married off his daughter Margaret to Olin Bowen and the two were living with him by the Normal in 1936 when he was struck down by a massive heart attack. He was gone before help arrived. The previous week, his brother Charles had been elected President of the Plymouth United Savings Bank. Charles had outlived all his younger brothers and he would do the same to the gentleman he started that business with in 1903.

Cass Sheffield Hough was the heir to the Daisy throne, and he had earned it. Inking the deal with Fred Harman and Stephen Slesinger for the rights to tie up with their comic strip hero Red Ryder, was just one example of his many triumphs. The debut in 1940 of this iconic Air Rifle was only slowed by World War II, which instead starred Colonel Cass Hough as the gentleman that first flirted with the sound barrier. Cass had been flying for over two decades when in late 1942 he ascended the English sky in a P-38 Lightning to 42,000 feet; he nosed down the warplane and performed a vertical dive of 5 miles, leveling off at 18,000 feet. He did the same in February of ’43 with the P-47 Thunderbolt. It was reported that Hough had surpassed 760 miles per hour in the descent, but it would not be until 1947 that Chuck Yeager would officially go supersonic, which is a speed of 768 mph.

After the war, the Daisy plant, which was part of the war effort, returned to making Air Rifles and Cass resumed his duties. Charlie was in his Eighties and Edward was nine years his junior. These gents were definitely in the autumn of their years. Cass would have to wait to be President, but he would make the tough decision that rocked Daisy’s hometown of Plymouth.

The husband of Ypsilanti’s Nancy Quirk, Governor “Soapy” Williams would be the name that represented the politics that caused Cass to take the Daisy Manufacturing Company from the village it had operated in since the 1880’s. The company needed a new plant, and union pressures were taking their toll. Charlie and Edward had witnessed a sea of change in their long business life. They remembered a time when you got paid a day’s wage for a day’s work, and they did not believe this to be true in the business climate of 1950’s Michigan. Cass began a search for a new home that would allow Daisy to thrive.

When Cass settled on Rogers, Arkansas, he hired his friend John G. Hoad, whose engineering firm was located on 8 E. Michigan Ave in Ypsilanti, to design the new home for Daisy. Of the 757 people employed within the Daisy family in Plymouth, 24 hailed from Ypsilanti. Employees that wished to stay with the firm were offered chartered flights to Arkansas to take a look see. The new plant began operation in 1958.

Charles Bennett lived to be 93 years old; he had lived quite a life. He was an industrialist, trustee at his Alma College, a noted layman for the Presbyterian Church, Bank President, was deeply involved with the Red Cross, served on the board of Education in Plymouth, was a member of the DAC, a Rotarian and Mason. By the September of 1956, he had earned the moniker “Mr. Plymouth.” His cousin Edward succeeded him as President.

E. C. Hough did not want Daisy to leave Plymouth, he never looked at the blueprints for the new Plant, nor did he visit. Charlie was gone, and his son had whisked away the Company that he had spent almost six decades cultivating. He maintained and frequented his office within the empty plant, and worked on philanthropy, like the gift he gave to the Plymouth Library from the Hough-Kimble Foundation. He died of a broken heart in January of ’59.

Cass felt the blow. Could he have held the Plymouth Plant together long until his father’s time had come? Considering that Ed’s mother Mariette had lived to 100, Cass probably thought that his old man would’ve been around longer. He had no doubts about the business decision to leave Plymouth, but like any son who loses his father, he was shaken.

In response, Mr. C. S. Hough would gift the Hough Memorial Library in Rogers, Arkansas. In Ypsilanti, he also gave the Library for the second Cleary College building, which was built at Hewitt and Washtenaw, in the name of his Father. As a trustee of that Business school, he served as an honorary pall-bearer at the funeral of Owen Cleary. In 1981, he gave his personal Aeronautical Library to Arkansas State, reputed at the time to be the finest personal collection known.

The time C. S. Hough walked away from a crash landing at Willow Run in the Daisy Jet is another story to be told at a later date.

(Bryce Ford is the great, great, great grandson of Samuel Baker and is related to most of the gentlemen mentioned in the article. In studying his family history in Plymouth he noted that a number of family members were associated with the Village of Ypsilanti. Bryce expresses thanks to Heidi Nielsen of the Plymouth Historical Museum and Northville’s Mill Race Village, Dave Curtis of the Canton Historical Society, former Daisy President Dick Daniel (5th President) and family, the curators of the McCrary Museum, and the helpful folks within the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A copy of the 1864 Ypsilanti Business Directory which lists E. P. & H. W. Baker under “Photographers.”

Photo 2: The Baker and Benham photograph gallery was called the New York Gallery.

Photo 3: Ad for the Michigan Crown Fender Company located in Ypsilanti.

Photo 4: Charles H. Bennett served as the President of both the Daisy Manufacturing Company and the Michigan Crown Fender Company.

Photo 5: Advertisement for the Michigan Crown Fender Company located in Ypsilanti.

Photo 6: In 1923 Frederick Bennett filed for a patent on a “Wick Burner.”

Photo 7: The building in Detroit which included the offices of Alexander Y. Malcolmson, the ‘Hotter than Sunshine’ Coal Dealer.

Photo 8: The United Stove Company took over the plant from the Michigan Crown Fender Company.

Photo 9: The Daisy Red Rider BB gun that Nine-year-old Ralph "Ralphie" Parker wanted for Christmas in the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.”


Ypsilanti Gleanings