Red Chief Tablets

Red Chief Tablet Plant
Red Chief Tablet Plant in St. Joseph, MO

Starting in 1906, a common sight in one-room schools was the Red Chief Tablet which was lined

Big Chief Print Block
Big Chief Print Block, Big Chief Tablet Mini-Museum

rough paper in a tablet with a red cover featuring the portrait of a Native American chief. The chief was a line drawing of a Chief from the Great Plains complete with a full feathered, headdress. These were originally manufactured by the WesternTab Company in the pictured building in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was eventually bought out by Mead who kept the operation there until 2007. (Dates given on the tour of the building.) Mead found that the costs for updating the building to change manufacturing styles was cost prohibitive and they liquidated all production there. This might have partially been under pressure to be politically correct because while many Mead paper products and designs were made here, after they left the Big Chief style table was no more. This left behind an entire campus of empty buildings (besides the main building located here, there were at least two warehouse facilities on adjoining blocks). After that they considered tearing down the main building where they’d been manufactured. Instead they converted them into apartments. It still has a very industrial feel, but has a roof garden and in innovate air system that involved areas of full turf on gratings between floors creating air flow pockets.

There hasn’t been much of an effort to track the appearance, history or changes in design of Big Chief Tablets over the years. Johnny Nimmons from American Trademark Publishing says, “the Western and Westab covers Manufactured by the Western Tablet Company are the oldest dating back to 1908. The other covers were manufactured by various companies around the country with different Big Chiefs being more popular in different regions. Western became Westab and then eventually Mead and was the largest manufacturer however, Southwest and Springfield had captured a good portion of the market as well.”

Interestingly the former Mead manufacturing building sits on the middle block of a four block stretch. At one end is the Pony Express Museum. In the middle on the other side of the street is the Red Chief factory building and in the middle of the cross street in the next block on the same side as the Pony Express Museum was the little white house that Jesse James was shot in. It’s directly behind where I’m standing in the picture of the factory above. (Note: On the other side of the James house is the Pattee House Museum, a large former hotel that completely dwarfs the little house which is always shown as if in a residential street in the movies. Apparently it moved from its original location to a ring road and then later moved again to its current location about 2 blocks south of the original.)

Big Chief Tablet
Big Chief Tablet Style Cookbook Cover, Mini-Museum

Mead had stopped their production in roughly 2004, but that left one-room school museums trying to give an authentic experience up a creek. I’m happy to tell you that a company in Texas bought out the rights for the designs and restarted their production. Today they feature nine of the original designs (it changed slightly over the years) in addition to three variations of Son of Big Chief (which my brother had when he went to school in the 1980s). Find the information here:
http://www.americantrademarkpublishing.com/Big_Chief.php

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on  FacebookTwitterGoogle+,  LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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trundlebedtales

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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