Mystery Photo: Boy behind the wheel circa 1924

The postcard photo above is dated 1924, making it 100 years old. It shows a boy driving a car with a sign on the grill that reads “Western Steel Products Company, New Duluth, Minn.” That doesn’t technically mean the photo was shot in the New Duluth neighborhood, however, so the primary mystery of the photo’s location perhaps hinges on whether the houses in the background match any present-day Duluth homes. The identity of the people in the car is the longshot mystery to solve.

The photo above, from the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Archives and Special Collections at Kathryn A. Martin Library, shows the Western Steel Products Company’s manufacturing facilities on the southwest corner of Prescott Street and Commonwealth Avenue in New Duluth. Perry Gallagher is credited as the photographer; 1925 is speculated as the year the photo was shot.

Western Steel made metal products such as fire escapes, tank stations, culverts and boiler-plate furnaces at its New Duluth facilities until the Coolerator Company took over the location in 1935.

Below are a few Western Steel Products Company advertisements.

3 Comments

Ghist1

about 4 months ago

Here's my theory: the owner of the car was using a labeled piece of cardboard or metal that happened to have that company mark on it. Radiators of those types of cars were fragile and could be damaged by rocks, etc. 

My great-grandfather (whom I never met and was from southern Minnesota) patented a moving radiator protector in 1919. The full text can be found online.

So, even though those houses look like they could very well be Duluth, I don't think this necessarily places the photo in Duluth. Just a customer of a Duluth company.

Matthew James

about 4 months ago

In consideration of the theory above, I was looking for a way to determine the photo was not from Duluth, even if I couldn't figure out where it was from. I only see two really distinctive elements in the photo: an unusually wide sidewalk and an unusually tall fire hydrant. A wide sidewalk could appear anywhere but if that fire hydrant was of a model not used in Duluth at the time -- and it doesn't really look like the fire hydrants you see around the city now -- that might demonstrate the photo was taken elsewhere. But it seems that Duluth had quite a bit of fire hydrant variety in the 1920s. 

Looking through Minnesota Reflections for 1920s images that contained fire hydrants, that one could be from Duluth -- and of course from elsewhere too. So my work concluded nothing. But I did learn something about the history of fire hydrants and created a rather odd collage that I kind of like, so it wasn't a total loss.
  

BigOleBluestem

about 4 months ago

My mailbox is stamped as being manufactured by Western Steel Products, assuming they stopped operation in 1935 it may be original to our 1915 house. An impressive life for a mailbox.

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