Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 15

Click to enlarge

[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Here we have one of the most interesting and entertaining letters from the Hoge Brush Company files, this one written in 1963 by Viola Scott, president of the Bill Kirk Mfg. Co. of Amarillo, Texas, which manufactured a product called Bill Kirk's Old Scratch Cow Scratcher.

The letter suggests that Hoge Brush president Carl Werheim had apparently seen Scott appearing on What's My Line?, a then-popular TV quiz show featuring celebrity panelists who tried to guess a mystery person's occupation. (Since Scott's occupation was "cow scratcher manufacturer," she must have been a very challenging subject!) Werheim, sensing a potential new client, had evidently sent Scott a note suggesting that Hoge could meet any brush needs she might have. But as Scott explained in her reply, shown above, Bill Kirk's Old Scratch Cow Scratcher didn't involve any brushes or bristles (it featured metal washers that a cows could rub against, with the washers then releasing a mix of oil and insecticide into the animal's hide), so she had no need for Hoge's services.

Thanks to the internet's tendency to catalog virtually everything, it's easy to ascertain that Viola Scott's appearance on What's My Line? took place in the 41st episode of the show's 14th season, which aired on June 9, 1963. (No video appears to exist online, unfortunately.) Scott's letter to Werheim indicates that his original letter to her had been dated June 10, so he apparently didn't waste any time in pursuing his potential new customer.

As far as I can tell, the Bill Kirk Mfg. Co. is no longer with us. The company and its eponymous product were featured in Time magazine in 1951. The cow scratcher itself was patented in 1953, and Kirk filed a patent-infringement suit against a rival manufacturer in 1958.

It's not clear, at least to me, if Viola Scott later acquired the company from Bill Kirk or if Kirk hired her as company president. Either way, she's the one who got to appear on What's My Line?

Interestingly, the Hoge Brush files include a flier from an Omaha firm called the Farnam Company, which manufactured some devices that appear to have been very similar to Bill Kirk's Old Scratch Cow Scratcher. Here are the front and back of the flier (click images to enlarge):

Unlike the Bill Kirk product, however, these Farnam contraptions did involve brushes. Here's the key passage from the flier:

When [the cattle] enter to scratch, an ounce of oil-base insecticide (ROTEN-OIL) or any of the other powerful new "war-tested" insecticides, such as Farnam ROTENOX in water solution, is automatically released through brushes onto the animal's back and is curried-in by stiff fibre brushes.

The flier is dated 1948 — a full 15 years before Carl Werheim saw Viola Scott on What's My Line? So perhaps Farnam had already been a Hoge customer, and Werheim figured the Bill Kirk Mfg. Co. was making a similar product, not realizing that the Bill Kirk device was brush-free.

The Farnam Company, like the Bill Kirk firm, is no longer in business.

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)


  1. While the video may not be available online, it almost certainly exists. GSN used to show What's My Line regularly late at night, and the shows from that era are intact. They're currently being shown on a network called Buzzr which is on digital channels in some areas.

  2. While I guess it's technically true that the Farnam Company is no longer, it was acquired by a larger firm just a few years ago, and the Farnam name is well-known as an ongoing product line of animal health products, especially for the horse industry. They still maintain a big web presence under the Farnam Companies name.