CHICAGO — Some time in 1930s, Pelouze Scale & Manufacturing Company in the Loop produced an Army green "family scale" with a slanting dial. More than 80 years later, Uptown resident Andrew Clayman bought the wide-faced, metallic scale from a resale shop in Andersonville and noticed a "made in Chicago" stamp on it.
That led him to research its origins online, and he quickly became fascinated with Chicago's rich manufacturing history.
In the two years since he bought the scale, he's amassed a treasure trove of hundreds of Chicago-made items — and thoughtfully cataloged them into an online database called the "Made in Chicago Museum." In addition to tons of photos, Clayman, 35, has written detailed histories of many of the items and shuttered factories where they were made.
"It was certainly not something I'd planned on or set as a goal," Clayman says now. "But knowing how my brain works, I'm just a little bit on the obsessive side ... and it just sort of spiraled out of control."
The project now has a temporary physical home at the Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N. Ashland Ave., where you can peruse 200 items including tools, toys, candy and foods and more that give a glimpse into everyday life between 1900-1970. The display is open from 1-4 p.m. weekends.
Clayman's website also contains a citywide map (see below) that depicts the former locations of many of Chicago's manufactures and business headquarters — from Zenith Radio Corporation in Edgewater to Mars Inc. candy bars in Galewood, to Jays Foods Inc. in Pullman.
Stationed throughout his home were items like Maybelline Mascara's original red tin "cake" and brush sets — an item and homegrown brand that would come to revolutionize the world of makeup and advertising.
The collection also showcases one of Claymans's "absolute favorite" items, a 25-pound 1917 Oliver Typewriter No. 9, which differed from other typewriters in that it hammered down to ink text on a page rather than springing up.
Andrew Clayman with the scale that started it all, with his display at the historical society in the backdrop. [Screenshot/YouTube; EdgewaterHistory]Some of the 200 items Clayman has collected over the last few years, all made in Chicago. [Andrew Clayman]
Prior to making their way into the museum, all 200 of the products were displayed throughout Clayman's one-bedroom apartment.
When friends came over, "there was no avoiding the fact that there was something going on" with his blossoming inventory of precious objects, he said with a laugh.
On his website, each item is described in 1,300-1,400 word features, rich with pictures, backgrounds and supplemental interviews that provided a snapshot of what daily life was like at the time.
He'd rather not say how much his project has cost him, but said that it's "not been friendly on the pocket book." It's also hard to estimate how many hours he's logged scrupulously seeking information, but guessed it's taken him three to four hours to write each post on his website — and there are 63 companies profiled online and counting.
"It occurred to me that this is actually kind of interesting local history that should be more accessible than it is," he said.
His long-term goal is also to connect with former employees of many of the companies or their relatives to get a fuller picture of their history.
"If you think about places you've worked, you're not thinking, 'Oh I'm going to take a picture of my workplace,' or, 'I'm going to write about what my company is like' because your everyday work day is in between the stuff you actually care about," Clayman said.
"But in fact what it means is that there's all these gaps in time where people spend a huge amount of their lives working for these companies, and yet even big name companies, it's surprisingly difficult to find pictures of what the old buildings look like or pictures of workers — it's just not something we document very well."
Piece-by-piece, his project seeks to change that.