Friday, September 24, 2010

The DeMoulin Brothers Catalog

This wonderful bit of Americana is back in print, and you can view a lot of it on the web. Greg Beato explains:

The company that produced Catalog No. 439 got its start decades earlier, when 31-year-old Ed DeMoulin of Greenville, Illinois began making ceremonial axes for the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal benefit organization that was formed in 1883 to provide life insurance for its members. A year later, the organization’s leader asked DeMoulin if he had any ideas that might help boost membership.

The initiation rites of long-standing secret societies such as the Freemasons and Odd Fellows were elaborate, often solemn affairs. According to John Goldsmith, who maintains a museum devoted to the DeMoulin Bros. and has written about the company’s origins for The Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, DeMoulin and his siblings believed that the Modern Woodmen could attract more members by making their initiation rites more entertaining.

To this end, Ed devised a gag in which the inductee was commanded to place his hand in what appeared to be a cauldron filled with molten lead but which in fact was merely cold water with dry mercurine powder added to it. Then, he followed up with a bucking, mechanical goat designed to take initiates on a short but wild ride.

The stunts DeMoulin dreamed up weren’t just more entertaining than traditional fraternal ceremonies. They were also better suited to the new sensibilities and mores taking root in urban America, replacing hoary aristocratic ritual with an egalitarian wise-guy slapstick that played everyone for a fool at least once. Through joy buzzers, trick cigars, exploding flower bouquets, and skeletons that popped out of altars and squirted water in the eyes of their victims, they made the fraternal initiation rite modern, a burlesque rather than a ceremony. As a result, American men flocked to them. After the Modern Woodmen began using the DeMoulins’ devices, its membership grew from 40,000 to 600,000.

Ah, for the good old days, when serious, godly Americans built the Grand Republic. Click on the illustrations to enlarge.

1 comment:

ArEn said...

I LOVE this. Was going to send it to you, but I knew you'd pick it up :-)