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- 1 2016-11-06T13:02:21-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b The name "Lunch Wagon No.9" indicates this lunch wagon might have been part of a chain, or prefabricated and purchased. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-06T13:02:21-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
- 1 2016-11-06T13:03:23-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b This wagon sits not quite in the street, but also not off of the streets. It is easy to see why there were so many complaints against them causing traffic jams, Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-06T13:03:23-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
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T. H. Buckley- Come Get Your American Dream
Finding success in a new business.
Worcester, Massachusetts is commonly thought of as where the lunch wagon began, and often the credit is not given to Walter Scott.
Despite the lunch wagon finding its true beginnings in Providence, Rhode Island, Worchester is where the lunch wagon caught fire, and ignited a successful industry. One of the most important people who furthered the success of a quick bite to eat, was Thomas H. Buckley.
A common attribute to early American lunch wagons was the name choice which related to the evening. The night theme was for lunch wagons, due to their popularity late at night. This was no exception to Thomas H. Buckley who built his first lunch wagon in 1888, and appropriately named it “The Owl.” While owning, and running "The Owl," Buckley began producing his own lunch wagon designs in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Thomas H. Buckley’s first wagon was taken to Denver, Colorado where its new owner W. A. Bowen began the lunch business further into the West.
Buckley’s blooming lunch wagon company went through many name changes and adjustments before finding the right formula. His company first began as the New England Night Lunch Wagon Company, and by 1898 emerged as the T.H Buckley Lunch Wagon Manufacturing and Catering Company.
Not only did the T.H Buckley Lunch Wagon Manufacturing and Catering Company manufacture lunch wagons for purchase, but they also built supplies for the wagons that they sold. Richard J.S Gutman provides a few examples of these items in his book, American Diner; Then and now. Gutman states, “In addition to building lunch carts, the company also dealt in launch cart supplies, including dishes and urns, Sabatier knives “specially imported for Lunch Wagon Business,” French plate mirrors and decorated glass, linoleum, wagon jacks and standard fire pails.” Not only did he make the lunch wagon business available for purchase for others but Buckley also was the first to add cooking stoves to lunch wagons, which broadened menus considerably.
Buckley’s wagon business is a perfect example of the early American entrepreneur. Buckley started off as a lunch wagon counter boy who also dabbled in being a hack driver, and assistant janitor, built his own first lunch wagon, and created a successful business. Buckley’s success story not only gave other working class Americans hope, but it undoubtedly changed the course of the American food experience for the better.
Buckley’s first majorly successful line of lunch wagons were called, “White House Cafe's”. Michael Karl Witzel states in his book, The American Diner, that this line of wagons was “a procession of lunch wagons that mimicked the Palmer models in basic design and decoration save a few aesthetic variations.” Now despite the wagons resembling the earlier Palmer models, Buckley had two original patents for them. These original patents featured wagons with windows that encircled the entire structure.
The name of these wagons strayed from the traditional night theme from before. These wagons embraced a patriotic theme, not only with the name but also the scenes painted on the outside of them. The glass of the windows was red and blue, and along with the white of the wagon represented the national colors. Many designs on the outsides of the wagons included scenes of hunting, moments of historical importance, and various landscapes.
Thomas H. Buckley died on December 1st, 1903 of peritonitis at the age of 35. Even after his death, his company was carried on to continue producing lunch wagons.
By December or 1906, a new champion of the lunch car business emerged. Philip H. Duprey, a real-estate agent who formed the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company.
Despite new manufacturing companies popping up to provide lunch wagons to an eager market of hopeful working class entrepreneurs, none of their progress would have been possible without Thomas H. Buckley and his lunch car company. He mass produced wagons for those that desired to try their hand in the lunch wagon business, he altered the design and size of the wagon to allow for more customers, and added cooking stoves to the wagons. Buckley set up lunch wagons in roughly 275 towns between 1893 and 1898, furthering the popularity and spread of the lunch wagon business in America. His contributions furthered the progress of the lunch wagon and made it possible for others to further the business.
 Gutman, The Worcester Lunch Car Company, 9. Gutman, American Diner; Then and Now, 23. Ibid., 24 Michael Karl Witzel, The American Diner (Osceola: MBI Publishing Company, 1999), 32. Gutman, The American Diner; Then and now, 25. Ibid., 26. Gutman, The Worchester Lunch Car Company, 19. Gutman, American Diner; Then and Now, 29.
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The Transition from Horse-Drawn to Stationary
Why Lunch Wagons found themselves abandoning the horse.
How did the horse drawn wagon find its way to a stationary location?
Originally the very first lunch wagon by Walter Scott was horse-drawn. Scott’s wagon had to be horse drawn to transport his goods and business throughout the city to find customers. The appeal of a move-able business far outweighed having a stationary business. Having a stationary business meant that customers had to come to you, but by owning a portable business you could relocate yourself in search of customers. The number of customers you could service multiplied by having a portable business.
To maximize sales Walter Scott purchased not only his modified freight wagon but also a horse named “Patient Dick”. One of Walter Scott’s favorites spots for business was along Westminster Street, but he also commonly planted his business in front of the offices of the Providence Daily Journal.
The issue with having a popular and successful lunch wagon, was that other promising and driven individuals could just as easily acquire a lunch wagon and create competition. As Gutman says, “In this fledgling business, the possibilities were so vast that many an entrepreneur could rightly earn the title of pioneer.” The opportunity for success was there and many working class people took this chance for success.
Along with lunch wagons, came the patrons. The patrons of lunch wagons varied from late night industrial workers, reporters working late into the evening, rowdy young people, and even just a regular customer getting his daily cup of coffee. There existed a vast variety of customers and owners alike. By 1912, the popularity of lunch wagons grew so quickly there were almost fifty lunch wagons being carted around the streets in Providence, Rhode Island.
With their growing popularity, the lunch wagons began to wear. The constant visits from regulars and rowdy customers alike lunch wagons began to fall apart and their paint chip. The operating permits of lunch wagons require that they can only operate at night. Operation during the morning hours was a violation and often caused traffic congestion. With more and more entrepreneurs trying to make a buck in the lunch wagon business, more and more complaints against them rose. A complaint sent the the editor of the New York Times from May 17th, 1904, states the frustrations realized due to the lunch wagon craze. The complaint states, "To the editor of The New York Times: Why is it that the Church Temperance Society is permitted to have several lunch wagons, obstructions, &c., placed on the public streets of New York, while any other citizen cannot obtain that peculiar and singular "illegal right." CITIZEN." This complaint was no doubt accompanied by many others in various other newspapers.
In order to quell the rising complaints cities mandated that lunch wagons be closed for business and off of the streets by 10:00 in the morning. Of course, this did not stop the lunch wagons. To get around this new requirement, lunch wagons began to give up on the idea of having a horse-drawn wagon. Instead many began to find a site off of the road, to plant their business and avoid the regulations on night lunch wagons. Gutman states, “Supporting the romantic image of the horse-drawn lunch cart was really a lot of trouble and soon most everybody was happy to abandon it.” By abandoning the horse-drawn aspect of a lunch wagon, wagons could stay open longer, no longer had to take care of a horse, and complaints against them were reduced. It was a win-win solution for the lunch wagon business.
An article from the New York Times from February 20th, 1927 titled "Lunch Wagon, After an Eclipse, Is Back Again Well Disguised," briefly discusses the early history of lunch wagons and their recent revival. The article states, "He [the lunch wagon] is landlocked now, but the old lunch wagon we had thought gone for ever is back again. There are stools, too, looking vaguely familiar, and in some the brass rail which brings back even more piquant memories." Even in the twenties the lunch wagon created a food culture which many found familiar and welcoming.