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The "Lakeside" Axe of Montgomery Ward and Co.

In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward started his classic mail order business in Chicago, Illinois, that would soon be known as “Montgomery Wards”. Over the next 128 years, right up until the closing of all of their “brick and mortar” stores, “Wards” would market their goods under a wide array of trade and brand names. Among these was the “Lakeside” brand, which was used on both axes and hatchets between the 1920s and the late 1940s, with a variety of marks and stamps representing the line.

The Lakeside name was used by a number of businesses in the Chicago area during that time due to the proximity of the city to Lake Michigan. Business directories from Chicago for the early 1900s noted names like Lakeside Button Company, Lakeside Medicine Company, and the Lakeside Press. However, a series of “companies” incorporated in the first decade of the 20th century would lead to the use of the “Lakeside” name on tools distributed by Montgomery Ward and Company. In August of 1904, prior to any use of the tradename “Lakeside” within the company, records show that a business named “Lakeside Vehicle and Implement Company” was incorporated in Chicago by three men: William A. Curtis, William Townsend, and George R. Durgan. At the time, William A. Curtis was listed as an employee of Montgomery Ward and Company, and George R. Durgan was listed as Ward’s attorney. No address was listed for the newly formed company. At around the same time that year, a second business, the “Lakeside Foundry Company” of Chicago, was incorporated. The new business was associated with incorporators Henry A. Oberman, Nathaniel A. Tighe, and Charles F. Dolan, and was started with $2,500 capital stock. Oberman was employed by Montgomery Ward and Company as a division manager, and Tighe was a stock buyer that the census noted as a “Clerk” for “Stoves” around the time the Foundry business was incorporated. The President of the new company was noted as William H. Jarvis, another manager for the Ward company, and the same George R. Durgan who was listed as an incorporator for the Lakeside Vehicle and Implement Company, was listed as Secretary. The foundry business was listed as being headquartered at 120 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, which was, at the time, the main location of Montgomery Ward and Company. Though incorporated with the state of Illinois as separate entities, it was quite easy to see that both new companies that used the Lakeside name were subsidiaries linked to Ward.

Despite the incorporation of the smaller businesses, Montgomery Ward and Company catalogs and advertisements for 1904 had no mention of the word “Lakeside”, and would be devoid of the word through 1907. In 1908, however, seed catalogs for the company specifically noted the brand name and noted that seeds labeled with “Lakeside” were “the best grade in farm seeds” and of a “fancy grade”. Later in 1908, the state of Illinois would recognize the incorporation of yet another company located at 120 Michigan Avenue there in Chicago. This business was noted as being named the “Lakeside Saw and Tool Company” and was incorporated by John F. McFadden, J.K. Mayne, and, once again, George R. Durgan. The company would be listed as holding a capital of only $1000. McFadden was noted as a bookkeeper and auditor of Montgomery Ward and Company, and by 1908, Durgan was a lead attorney dealing with real estate ventures for Wards. That same year, Montgomery Ward and Company would complete construction on their massive new building located at 618 West Chicago Avenue in Chicago. This location would come to be known as the Montgomery Ward & Company Catalog House and would serve as the new company headquarters. Interestingly enough, the address for the Lakeside Foundry Company, the Lakeside Vehicle and Implement Company, and the Lakeside Saw and Tool Company would be noted as 618 West Chicago Avenue from then forward as well. The 3 “Lakeside” subsidiaries continued to be noted as holding limited capital stock, the highest being $2,500. This amount points to administrative work, not production or manufacturing. As the agents noted as involved in the incorporation were managers, buyers, and lawyers, it’s simple to deduce that these were purchasing departments for the retail giant. Comparison of the company names to future catalogs would show that the Lakeside name would center around 3 main groups: Vehicles and implements pertaining to them (the Lakeside Vehicle and Implement Co.), Stoves and Heaters (the Lakeside Foundry Co.), and Saws and Tools, including axes and hatchets (the Lakeside Saw and Tool Co.).

By 1909 the Lakeside trade name was noticeable in most Montgomery Ward and Company catalogs. Wood Planes were noted in 1909, and the second decade of the century would see hammers, adzes, striking tool handles, axes, and hatchets grace the pages of the same catalogs. The 1916 catalog specifically noted a wide range of axes and hatchets by the company, with Lakeside noted on Claw Hatchets, Half Hatchets, Broad Hatchets, Shingling Hatchets, Flooring Hatchets, and even a Boy Scout Standard Axe. A close look at the labeling of these hatchets notes “Lakeside Saw and Tool” noted on the labels in the illustrations. The company’s catalog offerings for axes that year note “Lakeside Special Axes”, “Lakeside Clip Cut Axes”, “Lakeside Razor Blade Axes”, and “Lakeside Easy Chop Axes”. Of great interest is the description of the Lakeside Special axe, which is noted with the following description: “Made of special analysis steel, accurately shaped, carefully tempered and finished in a handsome jet black rustless finish. Flint edge, hand honed, ready for use.”

Two portions of this statement, “Black rustless finish” and “Flint edge”, were descriptions specifically used by the Kelly Axe Manufacturing Company to describe some of their lines. To add to the thought of the Kelly company providing the Lakeside Saw and Tool Company’s products, the Lakeside Clip Cut Axe was also available with bevels, and the bevels pictured were the patented and trademarked blue painted Kelly style bevels.

As the next decade came into being, the catalogs for Montgomery Ward and Company had grown substantially larger, mirroring the growth of the company itself. A few notable changes in the axe offerings were easily seen in the 1920 catalog. The first of these is the omission of the word “Rustless” in the description of the Lakeside Special Axe. Though still noted as having a “jet black finish”, the typical “rustless black finish” still noted in Kelly Manufacturing Company catalogs was altered. The standard Kelly bevel was also missing from all the offered axes, though a new bevel had taken its place. The main bevels now noted as being offered were the true “Phantom bevel” that had been under the control of the American Axe and Tool Company. Students of that company’s history will note that by 1920, the A. A. & T. Co. was under the rule of the Kelly company, so the changes likely had more to do with a rate change in the purchase of axes by the Lakeside company than with a divergence of purchasing from Kelly. The “Rustless Black Finish” was associated with the more expensive lines, such as the Black Raven and the Registered Axe, and the Kelly bevel typically was set at a slightly higher price point then the “conquered” Phantom bevels of the American Axe and Tool Company.

The catalog of 1921 would show further changes in the company’s axe offerings. The most apparent and visually appealing change was the inclusion of the “Cursive” or “Script” etch or stamp on the Lakeside axes. This imprint in the metal heads was extremely similar to the “Warren Brand” of axes from the Warren Axe and Tool Company of Warren, Pennsylvania, from the same time period. Though the cursive was quite similar, the axes bought directly from Warren had the word “Warren” stamped in the heads. A close look at the Lakeside and Warren prints shows extreme similarities in the “i” and “e” used in both. Descriptions of the top of the line Lakeside axes now occasionally included the word “Rust Proof”, where there had been no similar mention prior. Some ads would include “Baked enamel jet black rustproof finish” or “rust resisting” as well. The similarly marked axes directly from the Warren Axe and Tool Company were noted as having a “Black, anti-rust” finish. As seen earlier in the decade, no significant bevels would be offered on Lakeside axes for the time being.

1926 would see a new marking for Lakeside axes and hatchets, though the “Cursive” marking would continue alongside the new one. This new marking was an emblem, somewhat floral in appearance, though primarily circular. The image was somewhat of like a gold metal award, implying a higher value than other offerings. However, around the same time, Montgomery Ward and Company would notice the possible profit of the newly developing power tool industry as well. This would lead to the development of the Powr-Kraft line of tools and hardware, which would eventually, along with the “Wards Master Craft” lines, see the end of the Lakeside line’s solo dominance at the company. Over the 1930s, the Lakeside line would retreat to a lesser grade status (mirroring it's longtime "low end" brother, the Eclipse line) than its new brethren, becoming severely minimized in comparison by the 1941 Ward’s catalog. Shortly after WWII, the Lakeside brand would fade from the market spotlight, with the last notes of media advertising of a Lakeside axe coming around 1948, after which the brand would disappear for good.

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