The art of developing, maintaining, and growing a business deserves the spotlight-to see what was, what will be, and what might have been. The Peoria Historical Society’s annual lecture series includes six businesses-some more than 100 years old, and one just off and running. The series continues from 10 to 11 a.m. on various Thursdays at Lakeview Museum auditorium. PHS members are free, while non-members pay $5 or may join at check-in.
This season’s lineup began September 18, with the story of the Peoria & Pekin Union Railroad, incorporated in 1880.
On October 16, AmerenCILCO, the successor to the company that began as Peoria Gas Light and Coke Co., will illuminate the history that began in 1855 and continues to evolve.
Peoria’s oldest independent grocery, Haddad’s Super Market, has adapted to the needs of grocery shoppers over the past 84 years. On November 20, owner Fred Haddad will describe how the store maintains its niche.
The third generation of the Ullman family manages Federal Warehouse, one of the country’s largest privately owned moving, storage, and logistics companies. On February 19, learn how it’s grown from a single site in Peoria to a network of 10 Illinois locations and facilities in three other states.
Racing towards success, Mercury Sports Group, Inc. has taken off with a new technology for tracking and timing foot races. Founded in Peoria and showcased this past June at Steamboat Classic, this innovative new company’s product will be on the road at the London Marathon. You can hear about it March 25.
Over the past 123 years, the Edward Hine Company has adapted to changes in printing technology, while continuing to remain a full-service printing company, the topic for April 15.
One interesting Peoria business story began in 1879, when George W. Rouse began selling high wheel cycles here. In 1893, Rouse Hazard & Co. relocated a bike factory to Peoria and began manufacturing bikes. A high wheel is part of the collection at Peoria’s Flanagan House Museum.
That same year, Charles and Frank Duryea, both born in central Illinois, developed the first gas-powered American automobile. Back in 1879-1880, Charles had made his own bicycle on his Wyoming, Ill., farm after studying pictures.
At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Charles exhibited bicycles and parts. He’d planned to display his horseless carriage, but withdrew because it didn’t get running soon enough. Of the two powered cars displayed, one was a Daimler quadricycle from Germany and the other an electric car, funded by J.B. Bartholomew, who later developed the Glide automobile in Peoria.
In 1895, Charles, who’d moved to Peoria to work on bicycles, joined with Rouse to form the Rouse, Duryea Cycle Co.
Early Duryea cars, including one that won a well-publicized race in Chicago in 1895, were built in Springfield, Mass., where Frank Duryea lived. Henry Ford himself praised that race-winning Duryea as a masterpiece. "It did more to start the automobile business than any other car that was ever made," he said. "Duryea accomplished wonders."
George W. May, recently-deceased author of Charles E. Duryea, Automaker and a past president of the Peoria Historical Society, emphasized, "There is no shred of evidence upon which Peoria can pin a fond hope that she is the birthplace of the first successful American-made automobile."
Nonetheless, the Duryea Motor Trap, a later style that Charles began building here in 1898, deserves its recognition in Peoria Public Library downtown.
May’s book also recognized Bartholomew’s Glide, built in Peoria from 1902 to 1917. In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt traveled the "World’s Most Beautiful Drive" in a Glide. But the song "Jolly Old Ride in a Glide" didn’t achieve nearly the popularity of "My Merry Oldsmobile," and production of the elegant Glide ended in 1917. Bartholomew shifted his focus to farm machinery and trucks at the Avery Company, helping identify Peoria with tractors. Meanwhile, Henry Ford’s assembly line cranked out cars for the masses near what became the Motor City.
Charles Duryea served a seven-year term as the first president of the American Motor League, and in 1905 was a founding member of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Adequate funding eluded the Duryea brothers, who pursued their passion independently after 1898. Charles built cars in five cities beyond Peoria.
With the 100th anniversaries of the Ford Motor Company and Harley Davidson and the celebration of powered flight by the Wright brothers-who began their work in a bicycle shop-it’s good to remember some of their forerunners, even though lasting success didn’t come in Peoria. AA!