The creation of grain elevators made it necessary to switch from measuring grain by bushels to measuring it by weight. If you look at the photo in the previous post of the Cracker Jack Company building, you’ll notice a large, flat area to the side. That was the bed of the scale used to weigh wagons as they arrived, to determine how much grain they carried. The wagon would be drawn up so it sat on that bed, and then the clerk would go into the scale house to check the weight.
The weights and measuring device, shown above, were inside the scale house. Once a wagon was situated on the wooden platform (just outside the window behind the scale), the clerk would check the weight on this scale, deduct the known weight of the wagon, and record the amount in the book, along with the price that would be paid for the corn.
Cracker Jack, like other popcorn specialties, is definitely part of the corn story (and popcorn has an entire chapter to itself in Midwest Maize, including the origins of Cracker Jack). You may wonder what that has to do with a museum in Atlanta, Illinois, but check out this tiny little white building. This was, in fact, the original headquarters for the two brothers from Germany who invented Cracker Jack. The building was donated to the Atlanta Historical Preservation Council to replace the original scale house, which had long since vanished (though the site and the scale were uncovered during excavation, so it’s in the correct place).
And here is the documentation about the Cracker Jack Company of Chicago, posted inside the building, along with a photo of the building in its original location.
It’s astonishing to realize how modestly some big businesses started out.
This 1904 grain elevator in Atlanta, Illinois, has been turned into a wonderful museum that lets you explore an earlier version of the grain elevator-railroad combination. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the only fully restored wooden grain elevator in Illinois.
Corn would be brought to the elevator by horse-drawn wagon, and the wagon loaded with corn would be weighed and then pulled by the horses into the grain elevator. Inside, a clever device opened a trap door and tilted the wagon, dumping all the corn into the bin revealed by the open trap door.
A friend from Bloomington/Normal had joined me for the visit to the museum. The two of us had the place to ourselves, which offered us the advantage of having the docent’s undivided attention, so we were able to ask a lot of questions.
If you find yourself in central Illinois and want to visit this delightful museum, here is their website, with information on hours and location, as well as where to get a good piece of pie while you’re in town: J.D. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum.