Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I was out for a walk...

...on Saturday when I came across this facade on a building just east of Union Park on the Near West Side.

What was it about this that caught my eye and made me stop and take its picture? Was it the cool art deco font? (At least I assume it's art deco.) Or was it that incredibly generic-sounding name? I mean, come on, Acme Industrial Company? Or was it that I half-expected the Road Runner to come racing down the street with Wile E. Coyote in hot pursuit?

Or was it all of the above?

At the time, I was walking west on Lake Street and talking to my mom on the phone. Because of the noise from the el overhead, I turned north on Laflin Street. I looked up and immediately told my mother I'd have to call her back. I then snapped a few of these before dialing her number again. (Yep, I really did that.)

But as I soldiered on north and west I couldn't help wondering about the backstory to this sign. (If you squint -- or just click on the picture above -- you'll notice that 200 North Laflin Street is now the home of Genieco Inc., an incense manufacturer.)

It turns out that Acme Industrial Company was founded in 1914 as a manufacturer of shaft seals, drill bushings, dowel pins and liner pins. (Whatever that means.) Acme built this plant in 1921 (hence the art deco font), survived the Great Depression, thrived during and after World War II, moved out to Carpentersville in 1970 and was purchased by Jergens, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio in 1973. Here's a picture from the company's website of the entire building:

So why Acme Industrial Company? Well, according to my research staff Wikipedia, the name Acme became popular for businesses in the 1920s, when alphabetized business telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages began to be widespread. Acme is derived from a Greek word meaning the peak, zenith or prime.

And the Road Runner connection (my emphasis)?

The Acme Corporation is a fictional corporation that features prominently in the "Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote" cartoons as a running gag featuring outlandish products that fail or backfire catastrophically at the worst possible times. 

Cartoon animation is drawn on paper and cels which have holes punched in them for registration. There were two standards: Acme and Oxberry. The names come from actual film equipment companies. Oxberry was a British company and was seen on the American east coast. Acme was dominant on the west coast. The Acme film equipment company in California not only made the hole punches, but the animation stands used by all the west coast animation studios. Acme also made lights, some cameras and a host of other film gear. Animators working at Warner Brothers used Acme punched paper shot on Acme animation stands drew on Acme disks (light tables). Whenever they ordered something, it probably came from Acme. So having products come from Acme in cartoons was an inside joke that any animator would recognize.

Cool sign, though, huh? And from my experience living in Chicago, it's one that could disappear from the wrecking ball at any minute.

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