Welcome to this week’s Bill’s History Corner. This is the place where we talk about all things Coppes. First, I want to say it is not my intention to make anyone sick or to make this a bad experience for you. I’m going to be talking about “hide glue,” (made from horses) the type of glue that was very common in the first part of the last century. The type of glue that 100% (that is a guess) of furniture factories used to build their products. Even today, there are professional furniture makers that will use nothing else. They think it is that good. The one appeal for hide glue is that you can undo a dry glue joint with heat. Apply heat and the glue will soften. Just don’t think about what hide glue is made from.
That’s a Lot of Glue!
Coppes, Zook & Mutschler used hide glue, Boy-O-Boy, did they use hide glue. While searching the Coppes Commons paper collection we found several receipts from the UNITED STATES GLUE CO., MILWAUKEE, WIS. This is at least one of the companies that Coppes purchased hide glue from. The C, Z & M Co. used a lot of glue. In a two-year time period from Feb. 1912 through Dec. 13, 1913, we found 13 different receipts from this company for hide glue. Each order was for “three bbls. (barrels) of ground joint glue”. The average weight of each barrel was approx. 550 pounds each. The company ordered a total of 20,781 pounds of glue in this time period. Another way to think about this is that amount is more than 10 tons of glue. The cost was $.13 or $.14 cents per pound.
How and Where the Glue Was Used
As you might expect, the C, Z & M Co. used this glue at many locations in the factory buildings. Wherever parts were assembled there needed to be a glue container at the ready. Workers glued door frames, side panels and frames. We can still tell where many of these glue operations were located in the factory, because there is a thick layer of glue on the floor there. If a workman dropped just one drop for each door he glued together, the result is the large mess on the floor today.
But most likely the largest amount of this hide glue was used in the glue room. Just off the main machinery room was the glue room. This is the two-story brick building to the far West of the building complex. This building is unused now except for storage, but in its heyday, this room was very busy. Workmen sent pieces of wood from the machine room to the glue room when larger pieces were made by gluing them together. An obvious item that was made from this technique is a cutting board where it is best to make the larger item from narrow strips that a glued together. This ensured that it did not warp or twist.
An Interesting Discovery
Several years ago, when I was sorting trash in the buildings, I found two hide glue containers. These containers were almost unique. I had not seen anything like these before, and I fancy myself as knowledgeable about tools and related subjects. After doing some patent research, I discovered the glue containers were patented July 3, 1883, by a man from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Hide glue needs to be kept warm so it will be soft enough to spread into the wood joints. There are several glue containers that have the means to keep the glue warm. Weatherly’s patent does this by attaching to a steam or hot water pipe. The water jacket is heated from the hot pipe and this, in turn, keeps the glue warm. This patent idea does allow the smaller inside glue container to be removed and carried to the location where needed, then returned to be kept warm.
Other types of hide glue containers or glue pots were available at the time. Smaller pots made of cast iron (heavy cast iron to hold the heat) worked the same way. Basically, a glue pot is two containers, the larger pot contains heated water and the inside smaller one contains the glue. Keep in mind you will need an additional heat source during a full day’s work. Electric glue pots became available when electricity became widely used.
Some Conjecture On the “Glue Man”
We just don’t know, but I suspect there was a workman in the early factory that was the glue man. It was the glue man’s responsibility to arrive early every morning and mix the hide glue for that day’s use. Think of this as cooking the glue, because that was what he was doing. The hide glue was purchased in dry flakes, (remember those barrels) and needed to be mixed with water and heated. I’m sure there was a formula for the correct mixture, but a lot of this job was done by eye, getting the right consistency for the various departments in the factory. It would need to be thicker and heavier for the gluing of frames and thinner and lighter for the veneer department. The glue man could expect some one could come to him at any time of the day with an empty glue pot and want more glue. Many workmen depended on him to keep a supply of good glue ready for use.
A Parting Thought
Just one more thing before I go for the week: I couldn’t help but notice the symbol in the upper left corner of this United States Glue Co. receipt. Here is an enlargement of the symbol. Now ask yourself, I wonder where Coppes, Zook & Mutschler got the idea of interlocking letters to paint on the outside of the building and use on company letter heads.