The People of Enterprise
Originally Published in Flourishing May/June 2013
Linda and I were in Beloit on May 24 to visit the Green Mound Cemetery in the southeast corner of Mitchell County. Green Mound occupies five acres in the northeast corner of the 160 acre farm homesteaded by Linda’s great, great-grandfather, Karl Petterson. Karl had emigrated from Sweden, and his first home on the property was a sod-covered dugout. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? One of Karl’s great, great-grandsons now lives on the farm, and he’s currently remodeling Karl’s second house. Power tools.
Anyway, our primary purpose for visiting the cemetery that day was to buy our own burial plot. It was $100 for the two of us. It did seem like a long way to drive for a bargain—about one hundred and ninety miles—and the digging is extra. But, as we told the caretaker, we’re in no hurry for that, and our kids can afford it when the time comes. We drove on to Hays that day to visit my parents’ grave site. I was reminded by the bordering lilacs of my mother’s thirtieth birthday; she would have been ninety-two on May 26. I pulled out my calculator to be sure, and yes, I am that old. I miss my parents, of course, but their newest great-grandson, Teague Michael Harvey, came to visit us the next day. Teague was a year old on May 12. Did you know that you can take pictures of your grandchildren and post them instantly on Facebook? Beam me up, Grandpa!
About the time that Karl Petterson was crossing from Sweden, Harold Warp’s Norwegian immigrant parents were settling into their new sod home about one hundred and twenty miles northwest of Green Mound in south central Nebraska. Harold was born in that house in 1903, and educated in a nearby one-room country school. Harold was the youngest of the Warp’s twelve children. He didn’t have digital cameras, power tools, or the Internet, but young Harold was fascinated by that era’s high-tech industries, especially plastics.
As a teenager, Harold noticed that young chickens grew faster and that hens laid more eggs in the summer than in the winter. So, he spent his high school years developing a clear plastic sheeting that could provide greater warmth and sunlight to the chickens through the harsh Nebraska winters. He documented the chicks’ improved health and productivity and applied for a patent. While he waited, he saved. When his patent was approved, Harold and two of his brothers moved to Chicago—the center of the direct mail universe—and starting with $800, began manufacturing “Flexo-Glass”. They advertised. That was in 1924.
Initially, the Warp’s marketed their product to chicken farmers for use in hen houses, but rural Americans soon found other uses. What was good for hen houses, worked just as well on home windows and doors. As sales increased, Harold reinvested his profits in still more production and advertising, and by the time he was forty, he was a wealthy man.
From his own experience, Harold could appreciate how rapidly American entrepreneurship had transformed the world. He thought that knowledge of that transformation should be shared. As you’ve travelled the highways of Kansas and Nebraska these past sixty years, you’ve probably seen Harold’s billboards proclaiming “See How America Grew”. If you haven’t yet been drawn to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village, it’s not too late. Linda and I, guided by my cousin Robert and his wife Debbie, visited for the first time on May 9 through May 11.
Harold Warp lived most of his life in Chicago, but his real legacy lives on in tiny Minden, Nebraska, where he grew up. Seventeen buildings house more than fifty-thousand artifacts. You can see a one-room school house, the books unopened since 1937, a genuine Nebraska “soddie”, a pony express station, a blacksmith shop, a church, and other frontier buildings. There is a collection of American kitchens dating from 1820. There are ox carts, surreys, and horse-drawn sleighs; and a Wells Fargo stage coach. The Wright brothers and “Lucky Lindy” are represented, along with Henry Ford, Ransom Eli Olds, the Dodge brothers, John Deere, and hundreds of other American inventors and entrepreneurs. And, notably, virtually all the displays are protected by Harold Warp’s Flexo-Glass.
On Friday morning, May 10, Robert, Debbie, Linda and I looked for a place in Minden to have breakfast. Feeling frustrated, we finally joined a group of bikers at the local Subway Sandwich Shop. The bikers and their dog were also visiting Pioneer Village; and like us, they really wanted a big, farm-style breakfast. God bless ‘em anyway, but that’s not what Subway does. At least the bread was warm.
But at lunch time, we found the downtown square flooded with cars, pick-ups, and SUVs; and the several very good restaurants (none of which served breakfast) were packed with patrons. We hadn’t seen a big crowd at Pioneer Village, so we were puzzled. But after lunch, we solved our mystery when we stopped to check out the beautifully restored Minden Opera House on the north side of the square. The playbill was still posted on the door: Featured speakers that day were Jack Welch, Condoleeza Rice, Mike Krzyzewski, David Allen, and John Maxwell. Well, no; those high-powered individuals weren’t actually in Minden. But, Minden had turned out in full force that morning to see and hear them via a closed-circuit telecast sponsored by the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A. Harold Warp really was prescient. The American spirit of innovation and enterprise is alive and well in Minden, Nebraska. And, if it survives in Minden, it must be secure all across America. mh