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Farewell To The Feather Duster

March 2024
1min read

In sad contrast to Ames’s history is the quiet passing of another American industry. When a Chicagoan named William Hoag got snowbound in Monticello, Iowa, in 1872, he passed the time by inventing the turkey feather duster. It was a simple enough idea, but nobody had thought of it before. Turkey feathers are a natural magnet for dust, and Hoag’s invention made things a little easier for generations of janitors, librarians, housewives, and maids. Hoag set up a factory in Monticello, and for a century he and his descendants manufactured millions of brightly colored feather dusters. In his three-story factory feathers were steam-cleaned, sorted out by length, and dyed, split, and bundled together on wooden handles. Monticello residents grew old in the service of the Hoag Duster Company and passed on to have their places taken by their children and grandchildren. In its peak years the small town accounted for half the world’s production of feather dusters. What is surprising, perhaps, is not that the company has folded but that it held on for so long. The last few years have not been kind to the industry; turkey feathers, which once went for fifteen cents a pound, now cost three dollars a pound, and the machines that pluck turkeys today tend to mutilate the feathers. Labor has gone from ten cents an hour (seven and a half cents for women) to a dollar sixty. Still, for all this, Mrs. Shirley Hoag Eden, last owner of the company started by her great-grandfather, managed to stay in business. But finally, last winter, the plant’s antiquated boiler blew, and production came to a halt. Mrs. Eden considered paying the ten-thousand-dollar repair bill, but the new era of vacuum cleaners and aerosol cans dissuaded her. A company that manufactures computer circuit boards bought the old factory, and the Hoag Duster Company went to join the thousands of other small privately owned manufactories that once played so large a role in our national enterprise. When the doors closed, the company that had at one time been the economic mainstay of Monticello employed twelve persons.

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