Kenosha Insulator Co.
Insulators Made by the Company
Only two insulators were made by the Kenosha Insulator Company, located in Kenosha, Wisconsin. One insulator is known as the Kenosha hook, so named in an 1878 Western Electric catalog. The other insulator is known as the Pond's insulator, so named after its inventor, Charles H. Pond of Cleveland, Ohio. Pond received letters patent no. 122,961 which was issued on January 23, 1872 for an insulator made of wood, coated with a nonconducting substance, and protected by a metal cap.
The Ponds insulators can be either embossed on the dome (rarer version) or unembossed and threaded or threadless. The embossed version has the patent date in a circle on the top PAT JAN 23 72. The insulator to the right is unembossed but seems to be sealed onto the pin so it is not possible to know if it is threaded or threadless. James Doty shows one on his web site. The write-up of a marked one owned by Bob Wilson can be found on the Insulators.info web site. Elton Gish owns one that he also posted elsewhere on that web site.
The zinc cap on these is often loose, allowing it to rotate. The caps come in different shapes. The skirt is very thin on these insulators but becomes thicker towards the top of the insulator. About 2 inches into the pin hole, there is a slight ledge where the pinhole begins. Three evenly spaced punctures can sometimes be seen on this ledge.
Where the Insulators Were Used
These insulators were used in Illinois. The court case of The Western Union Telegraph Co. Vs. The Paducah R.R. Co. contains information that in August, 1874, a bill for $560, was rendered by the Kenosha Insulator Company to the Chicago and Paducah Railroad company for insulators ordered by that company. These insulators were used on the railroad line from Streator to Altamont that the company constructed in the winter and spring of 1874 (Ladd 1879, p. 411).
Barker (1966, p. 76) writes that insulators from the company were used in the South and Southwest between 1872 and 1876.
The 1875 Kenosha City Directory indicates that "recent test experiments in England give the Kenosha Insulator a marked preference over the best European inventions in this line." The Directory continues with production information by reporting that "the present conveniences enable the company to complete about 4,000 weekly, which find a ready sale in this country and Europe."
An 1876 ad in The Telegrapher states that the Kenosha hook and Ponds were used by "The North Western Telegraph Co., The Western Union Telegraph Co., as well as many railway and other telegraph lines." The North Western Telegraph Co. was based in Wisconsin.
During a trip to Donner Lake, California, A.S. Kalenborn (1910) found Kenosha hooks discarded next to a telegraph line. He reported:
This wooden insulator was used on the line which followed the old emigrant road westward past Reno, Truckee, and through Donner Pass to the Pacific Coast, and must have been part of the system. of the old Overland Telegraph Company. This company completed a line through to Salt Lake City from California, sending its first message October 29, 1861.
The insulators have been found by collectors in a variety of places. Gerald
Brown writes that two of the Kenosha hooks were found "on a freight house
of the Grand Rapids and Indiana R.R." in Kendallville, Indiana. Mike Guthrie
reports one was found in the Amana Colonies in Iowa. In the 1990s, Ed Peters
purchased a Kenosha hook in the collection of a Minnesota lineman.Several of
the Pond insulators were found in eastern Minnesota in the 1970s. A Ponds was
found in Green Bay, Wisconsin about the same time. Over the years, Larry Volmer
has found pieces in Colorado. In 2009, Colin Jung purchased one at a flea market
in Fremont, California.
One final place a collector might hope to find a Kenosha insulator is in the factory dump. Unfortunately, there is not much chance of this. The factory was located on the east side of Lake Street between Market and Pearl. It would be difficult to find this spot without more information since the street names have changed. Today, the location would be on the east side of 5th Avenue between 56th St. and 55th St., right on the shore of Lake Michigan. To the north of the factory was a cheese box factory and a fanning mill, all made of wood and involved in working with wood. This last point is one reason the factory dump would be hard to find since this area experienced fires several times over the years.
It may have been possible that some part of any dump that may have existed there ended up in Lake Michigan. Could a scuba diver recover some artifact of the company? Probably not. Natural erosion removed the shore over the years, followed by the land being filled in again, followed by several dredging of the harbor by the Civil Corp of Engineers. At one point, any artifact found during the dredging was taken to the Kenosha County Historical Society & Museum to identify but no insulator, hook, or even a zinc cap from a Ponds insulator turned up.
Different sources and arguments give different dates for the beginning of the company. Below are some of the dates suggested for the beginning of the company and the basis of each date.
The end date for the company is equally unclear. The company was in operation until at least 1878. The insulators are shown in the 1878 Western Electric catalog and stock was issued to Z.G. Simmons in February 1878 (certificate #52). This latter fact comes from Z.G. Simmons' great-great-grandson Sanford Simmons, Jr. who owns both certificate #50 shown above and certificate #52.
At the heart of the Kenosha Insulator Company is its founder, Zalmon. G. Simmons. Simmons is best known as the founder of the Simmons Mattress Company, the largest maker of mattresses. Before this, however, Simmons began as a dairy farmer who made cheese and shipped it to surrounding towns in cheese boxes bought from Chicago. The price of shipping these boxes, however, was so high that he went into the business of making cheese boxes for himself and others. I suspect that the wood used to make cheese boxes was the same wood used to make insulators. In addition, by 1856, according to the April 15, 1951 Milwaukee Journal, Simmons was half owner of the Wisconsin State Telephone Co. which later expanded as the North Western Telegraph Co. until it was leased to Western Union. Simmons was also president of the Kenosha, Rockford & Rock Island Railroad Company beginning in 1861. He was the long-time president of the First National Bank of Kenosha, served as mayor of Kenosha, and constructed a railroad to the top of Pike's Peak.
Edward Curry was the Secretary of the company as well as the Secretary of the North West Telegraph Co. His residence was at the southeast corner of Park and Chicago.
Barker, Eugene Campbell, and Herbert Eugene Bolton. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Vol. 69. Texas State Historical Association, 1966.
Brown, Gerald. Unique Collectible Insulators. Two Buttes, Colorado: Privately published, 1975.
Guthrie, Mike. "Early and Unusual Telegraph Insulators: Kenosha Wood Insulators
1960's." Insulators.info. November 18, 1977. Accessed May 1, 2009.
Haskins, C.H. "Kenosha Insulators." Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and of Electricians 2 (1873): 124.
Journal of the Telegraph. Vol. 9 (1876): 26, 58. [Ads for Kenosha Insulator Co.]
Institution of Electrical Engineers Radio Section. Journal 2 (1873): 124.
Kalenborn, A. S. "Suspension Type Insulators." Stone and Webster
Public Service Journal 7 (1910): 331-4. <http://reference.insulators.info/publications/view/?id=3607&h0=kenosha>
Kenosha County Wisconsin Directory. First edition. Kenosha: Webster & Harrison's Printing Establishment, 1875.
Ladd, W.W., Jr. The American Railway Reports: A Collection of All Reported Decisions Relating to Railways. Vol. XVII. New York: Cockcroft and Company, 1879.
Milwaukee Journal. April 15, 1951.
Simmons, Sanford, Jr. Email and digital image sent to Rick Soller. July 9, 2011.
Soller, Rick. "The Kenosha Insulator Company." Show Directory: The
National Insulator Association's 28th Annual National Convention, Show and Sale.
Chicago: The Greater Chicago Insulator Club, July 25-27, 1997.
State of Wisconsin. Governor's Message and Accompanying Documents Delivered to the Legislature in Joint Convention, Thursday, January 15, 1874. Volume 1. Madison, 1874.
Western Electric Manufacturing Co. Catalog. 1878.
Last updated July 15, 2011