Northwestern Yankee

Northwestern Novelty Co., Morris, IL, c. 1909, 6 3/4". The Yankee is historically important because it was the start of the Northwestern Corporation we all know and love. It's made of cast iron and vends individual matches but is not coin-operated, so you can leave your pennies at home.

The way I've heard it, in the early 1900's bar owners used to keep boxes of safety matches freely accessible to customers. On the way out the door, customers would often grab a box or 2 (or 8), which would eat into the bar owner's bottom line. Emerson Boles---the founder of Northwestern---heard complaints from bar owners about this and invented the Yankee as a solution.

Loose safety matches are loaded into the Yankee's main compartment, with the head on the left as you look at the front of the machine. The rear section of the main compartment, which is separated from the front section by a thin vertical piece of metal open at the bottom, has 2 thin staggered pieces of wood that rise and fall as the cigar cutter in front is pushed down and then released. The result of this design is that matches enter the rear section from the bottom and are "walked" up this thin staircase with each push of the cigar cutter. Each time the front lever is pushed, the top match is pushed up and turned vertically, and the match's handle is pushed out of the slot on top. In that position the business end of the match---which is at the bottom of the now-vertical stick---is wedged between the edge of the uppermost wood stair and a piece of abrasive. When the customer pulled the match out it lit against the abrasive piece. The Yankee ensured that matches were always on hand at the bar, yet it prevented customers from grabbing a box for the road.

The design is quite ingenious, and I think that's my main attraction to this machine. My other major attraction is that I like Northwestern vendors and like owning a piece of Northwestern's origin. I've heard that a zillion Yankees were made, but they aren't extremely easy to find.

The machine is well built with good, clean castings that fit together well. The bottom is embossed, and I noticed that the embossment differed on the 2 Yankees I've owned. You can see the bottom of one of them here without and with the cigar stub receptacle. Note that the company that we know as "Northwestern" appears to have started as "North Western." Or else the caster goofed. The embossment on the Yankee pictured at the top of this page is simpler, with just the patent date and no reference to Northwestern. I don't know which version is earlier, but my bet would be on the simpler version.

Both of my Yankees were 100% original. The finish on the first one was bare metal without any evidence of prior plating. I'm sure it was there originally, but it was gone by the time I got it. The second one, which is the one pictured above, had a great tiger-stripe plating that was beautiful. I no longer owner either example.

For your viewing pleasure I've included more pictures of the plated example below. Note that it originally had paper under the top plate, which is still there although it's illegible. The overall look of the Yankee reminds me very much of the Sellem, another early Northwestern match vendor, but one that required payment.



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