Official Nebraska Government Website Nebraska State Historical Society

 Nebraska History
  Fall 2008 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Fall 2008 issue.
Call us toll-free at 1-800-833-6747 to become a member or to order just this issue.


The Rise and Fall of Rudge & Guenzel: From Independent Retailer to Department Store Chain -- Vicki Howard


They meant business and went at it
and they've made the business go,
They've been climbing up the ladder
as all the people know;
They've surmounted round by round
and they've conquered every foe.
They've always made the "dough."
Hurrah, hurrah, for Rudge & Guenzel.

- Rudge & Guenzel Employees' Song, 1906

At their twentieth-anniversary banquet held at the Lincoln Hotel in 1906, Rudge & Guenzel workers cheered and serenaded the two founders of their store and presented them with a framed parchment copy of resolutions newly adopted. Signed by about a hundred employees, the resolutions, as reprinted in the local newspaper, celebrated the growth of the Lincoln, Nebraska, firm from a "small retail establishment" to "one of the largest retail and mailorder houses in the state."

The resolutions explicitly affirmed the good standing of "the modern relation between employer and employe" [sic] and commended the fact that "not a single complaint has been filed by the humblest employe that has not had a fair and just hearing." As a result, store workers resolved to pledge "their unswerving loyalty and full determination to make second to none in the state the business and standing of the Rudge & Guenzel company." The newspaper account of the banquet captured similar sentiments expressed in a song written for the occasion, "which was rendered somewhat after the manner of the college songs" with "several yells that were uttered with the leathern lungs of the college enthusiast." Wrapping up their "hurrahs," employees chanted rhythmically "One, two, three, ein-swi-dry/Rudge & Guenzel, ouch, my/ Who's all right?/ Who's all right?/Rudge & Guenzel, out of sight."

The humorous Lincoln Evening News account of this banquet most certainly painted an idealized and only partial portrait of the warm relationship between retailers "Charlie" Rudge, Carl Guenzel, and the workforce that helped them climb "up the ladder" and make "the dough." Despite its limitations as an historical document, however, it offers a rare (perhaps the only extant) depiction of the corporate culture at this department store, providing a glimpse of a smaller and more personal era of business relations long lost-and long lamented by some.

The entire essay and additional photos appear in the Fall 2008 issue.


More Than a Potluck: Shared Meals and Community-Building in Rural Nebraska at the Turn of the Twentieth Century -- Nathan B. Sanderson


Free ice cream and lemonade. These summertime staples were the highlight of the Wagner Sunday School picnic held in rural Custer County on a warm Wednesday afternoon in June 1910.

Mrs. George Moore made the ice cream, for which the Sunday School reimbursed her. The picnic's main course, however, was not purchased, as "the ladies brought the baskets and a splendid dinner was served." Throughout the summer, numerous picnics, celebrations, and church events took place in Custer County, many featuring a potluck-style main course. Shared meals, in which families and friends gathered together to eat, drink, and socialize, were an integral part of creating a sense of "community" in rural Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century.

The traditional history of rural Nebraska in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a story of determined homesteaders scratching out a life, livelihood, and home from the thick prairie sod. Rugged individuals, usually male, broke the land and built farms, ranches, and communities through the force of their will and constant, neverending, work. Even in the twenty-first century, rural Nebraskans still pride themselves on a tremendous work ethic, a legacy of their immigrant forefathers who spent hard lives at hard labor. But sweat alone did not build the towns that dot the landscape. Food, games, and celebrations helped make the sod, wood, and bricks of these places into communities of friends and neighbors.

The entire essay and additional photos appear in the Fall 2008 issue.


The Platte River Road in 1866: Charles Savage's Visual Narrative -- John E. Carter


Each year some 25,000 people travel the highways along the North Platte River in western Nebraska to visit Chimney Rock, a National Historic Site. It doesn't tax one's imagination to think that most of these modern pilgrims get out their cameras to photograph the unusual spire. Imagine again that each visitor takes four or five snapshots. This means that, year in and year out, Chimney Rock is memorialized on film (oddly, in this digital age, film is now a metaphor) about 100,000 times.

Chimney Rock garnered historical significance as arguably the best known of all the landmarks along the overland trails that passed through the Platte Valley in the mid-nineteenth century. From the 1840s through the mid-1860s as many as 500,000 travelers followed what the late trail historian Merrill J. Mattes termed "The Great Platte River Road" on their way to Oregon, California, Colorado, Montana, and Utah. Almost everyone who recorded an account of their journey mentioned Chimney Rock as they passed by. The peak years of westward migration coincided with the birth and adolescence of photography, and one would think this legendary landmark would also have attracted the attention of this first generation of photographic artists, but it didn't. There were likely only three photographers who had the opportunity to capture an image of Chimney Rock before the end of the overland migration era and of those, two are credited only by inference. The third, Charles Savage, and the Nebraska State Historical Society's recent acquisition of his 1866 photograph of Chimney Rock, the earliest known to have survived, are the inspiration for this essay.

The entire essay and additional photos appear in the Fall 2008 issue.


NSHS Home  |  Search  |  Index  |  Top
Last updated 9 January 2009

For questions or comments on the website itself, email
Nebraska State Historical Society - P.O. Box 82554, 1500 R Street, Lincoln, NE 68501
Nebraska State Government Homepage
 |  Website Policies  |  © 2009 All Rights Reserved