Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vanished tool makers: Walter E. Selck & Co., Chicago, Illinois



Above, a utility knife made by this firm.  Nice, ergonomic design, putting it ahead of its time.

Walter E. Selck & Company of Chicago made floor coverings, lino cutters,  a"Versi-trowel" with interchangeable blades, and "Wesco" sink traps in Canada (they had a subsidiary in Toronto). They seem to have started out making small tools such as the one pictured in the 1944 ad below:  

Popular Mechanics, September 1944

Nonetheless, their greatest market presence involved their "Hudee" sink mountings. (Apparently, this is pronounced "Hoodie" by Americans, in their typical disregard for the pronunciation rules of the Queen's English.  Curiously, the U.S. trademark for this product is listed in the category of "Firearm Products.")

Retro Renovation  
Anyway, their Hudee frames were big sellers since they greatly simplified the installation of bathroom and kitchen sinks.  The inventor was one Herbert D. Drain (seriously, that was his name, shades of Thomas Crapper) who took out U.S. patent 2,440,741 in 1948.  For some mysterious reason, this patent was acquired from the Selck Company by the Church of Religious Science out of California.  In 1955, the church successfully sued another company for patent infringement.  The legal decision read, in part:


The patented device was designed as an efficient, water-tight sink mounting which could be installed on-the-job with relatively few parts suitable for marketing as a kit and with the aid of simple tools.  
The commercial success of the plaintiff's sink mounting structure has been impressive. When introduced it met with immediate and widespread acceptance and has virtually supplanted the old methods of installing sinks on the job. Several large competitors of Walter E. Selck and Company, including the Briggs Manufacturing Company, requested and obtained licenses to manufacture the device and have paid substantial royalties. Almost six million units have been sold.

It looks like this church is still around, and considered by some to be a cult.  If so, you really have to wonder how it came to own such a profitable patent that was previously the property of a firm like Selck.  This doesn't seem to be the only Selck patent that was transferred to the church, and the evidence suggests that a fellow named F. LeRoy Hill was instrumental. (He also arranged to sell the church a property in Detroit.) This man's biography includes the following:


In San Francisco, Hill had a workshop at the back of his home where he built and designed electric motors, a wireless radio, and various other mechanical devices. His friends learned at an early age of Hill’s engineering skills when he built an electric-shock machine and dared them to hold onto the conducting rods for as long as possible.

Funny guy.  Anyway, the last I can find of Selck is a 1959 merger, promoted by LeRoy Hill, with another company called Vinco, Inc.  I can't help but conclude that the company wasn't so much culled from the market place, as cult.

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