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Northwestern Toy & Mfg. Company of Chicago, Illinois
212 Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois
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Northwestern Toy and Mfg. Co.
Logo and Letterhead

The Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois began as Charles Kennard, former co-founder of the Kennard Novelty Company, left the latter. The man from which the company derived its name, simply couldn’t stay away from manufacturing talking boards. Kennard had his own talking board patent (No. 462,819), and according to him, he invented the Ouija board itself. (The legend of Charles Kennard’s involvement with inventing the Ouija board remains highly unlikely.)

After he left the Kennard Novelty Company he approached the former branch factory of the Kennard Novelty Company, of which he was the manager, located on 212 Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois and made them a lucrative offer. Why couldn't they recreate the success of the Ouija board with one of the original founders? They had already been making talking boards, and all they needed was a new design and a new name. The Volo talking board was born and production began.

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Charles Kennard's
Northwestern Toy & Mfg. Co.
Volo Talking Board

Ernest G. Pound, Frank Vickers, and Ernest L. Eschbach, acting as commissioners, applied for the necessary paperwork to incorporate The Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois on January 12th 1892. The company’s charter would last for five years. The three then formally filed the paperwork on January 25th 1892 with the capital stock of ten thousand dollars, one thousand shares, each share worth ten dollars. Five men would initially hold stock. Charles W. Kennard would hold the majority at four hundred and thirty-three shares at four thousand and thirty-three dollars, Frank Vickers at two hundred and thirty-three shares at two thousand three hundred and thirty-three dollars, Charles Vickers at two hundred and twenty-four shares at two thousand two hundred and forty dollars, William A. Boole at seventy-five shares at seven hundred and fifty dollars, and George Hohmann at twenty-five shares at two hundred and fifty dollars.

On February 9th 1892 the company held it’s first meeting at 5608 Jackson Avenue, Chicago, Illinois at 8 o’clock PM where they elected its first directors to serve for an initial term of one year. The six directors elected were Charles W. Kennard, Frank Vickers, Charles Vickers, William A. Boole, (name unreadable), and R. Martin Dorsey. On February 23rd 1892 the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois officially incorporated. Charles Kennard was named President, Charles Vickers Treasurer, William Boole Secretary and E. L. Ashbaugh as General Manager.

Though they had the facilities and experience to give the Ouija board a run for its money, they didn't have the one thing they needed to protect their investment. On February 28th 1891 Charles Kennard and William H. A. Maupin had sold, assigned, and transferred their right, title, and interest in Elijah Bond's Ouija patent (No. 446,054) to the Kennard Novelty Company. Holding that patent, the Kennard Novelty Company, later the Ouija Novelty Company, didn’t see Charles Kennard’s involvement as amusing. They quickly filed a “Bill of Infringement” against the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois as well as Charles Kennard himself. On February 24th 1892 Northwestern and its officers were served with subpoenas and by April of 1892 Northwestern issued the following notice to the trade:

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Northwestern's Letter
To The Trade

“Please take notice that the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Illinois, and having a usual place of business at 212 Illinois Street, at Chicago, in said State, has withdrawn from the manufacture, sale and lease of the “Volo” and talking boards of all kinds and descriptions, in consideration of the withdrawal of a Bill for infringement brought against it by the Ouija Novelty Company of Baltimore City, now pending in the Northern District of Illinois, Northern Division, Seventh Circuit U. S. District Court.

We have taken this step after a careful consideration of the matter, and desire to refer all persons wishing to purchase talking-boards to the Ouija Novelty Company being the sole manufacturers and owners of the well-known talking-board “Ouija.”

Thanking our customers for their past favors, we remain,

Very respectfully,
N. W. Toy and Manufacturing Co.”

A month later on May 3rd a settlement was reached and The Kennard Novelty Company dropped their suit. Besides not being able to manufacture talking boards, Northwestern and Kennard agreed to pay the court fees.

If Northwestern began production of the Volo talking board in January of 1892 and ceased in April of 1892 then it was only manufactured for three short months. Charles Kennard was again shut out of the talking board business by his former partners. However, he resurfaced in the world of talking boards five years later. In 1897 Kennard helped form the American Toy Company of Baltimore, Maryland who manufactured the Igili talking board.

The Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois’ charter expired after five years and was never extended. No taxes were filed with the state on their behalf, and it would seem they never recovered from that initial turf war with the Ouija Novelty Company. That isn’t to say the company only manufactured Volo talking boards.

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William S. Sharpneck
Patent 486,131
Match Lighting Cane

On November 15th 1892 William S. Sharpneck, of Chicago, Illinois registered and assigned patent (No. 486,131) on a cane which not only held matches but lit them as well! Perhaps this cane was paired with Charles Kennard’s cane and handle designs which are detailed on his biography page. Of Sharpneck’s forty-eight patents, eight of them bear Elijah J. Bond’s name as a witness on his patent drawings. These patents were filed between January 29th 1883 and November 7th 1887.

In 1909 many of the streets in Chicago were divided into east and west and their numberings changed. Today 212 Illinois Street is now 21 West Illinois and it appears Northwestern's home is no longer standing.

(Special thanks to Mike Jendreski who's early Kennard Ouija Box was key to this puzzle as well as the National Archives - Great Lakes Region whom we pestered relentlessly!)