SV history full of clever inventors
Wednesday, September 04, 2013 3:40 AM
Recently a gentleman came into the Methodist Church Museum and asked to see our "periscope flashlight." What an enlightening experience this turned out to be, and one more proof Spring Valley has produced some remarkable inventors. Can you believe there is an organization dedicated to flashlight collectors and that there is a quarterly newsletter sent to all members? The editor is Robbin Roberts of St. Michael, Minn. The following are some fascinating facts gleaned from the 2013 #93 issue.
The flyer sent out by Laging-Schultz Company in the 1940s, touting the periscope flashlight invented by Werner Laging.
Werner E. Laging was born and raised in Spring Valley. The 1930 census shows he was living in Spring Valley, although he may have lived in Racine at one point. The 1940 census indicates by that time he was married to Marjorie Rhoten. In the 1940s, Laging was living in Dayton, Ohio, working as a field maintenance man at Wright Field. While working there, he invented and patented a gadget he called a periscope flashlight. This invention was specifically designed for utility workers and tradesmen to look inside a dwelling's wall structure. One could look up and down in plaster and lath wall cavities to look for any obstruction that might prevent running electrical wires, pipes or flues between upper and lower floors.
After World War II, Laging, his wife, and son Jon, moved to Mountain Lake, Minn., where he became superintendent of their public utilities. While there, he felt a great need to utilize the periscope flashlight as an instrument to inspect water hydrants. According to the newsletter, hydrants are subject to a lot of abuse, especially in the northern United States, where freezing temps can cause cast iron to expand and crack if not properly maintained. With the patent already in place, Laging turned his attention to a final design and built his first prototype, which used mirrors, a rotating body, and two d-cell batteries for light. He then sought an investor to help with funding its manufacture, and found a partner in George Schroeder. Together they were able to acquire capitol to manufacture the initial 2,000 periscope flashlights. Parts were outsourced, and Laging did the assembly himself, selling mostly by word of mouth and direct mailing. However, a side note is required at this point.
Here in Spring Valley lived a clever machinist and metalworker, himself a wondrous inventor, Charlie Henderson. Henderson had invented a bag tyer for use at the elevators, and gone on to invent the automatic stapler. Yes, the Minnesota Historical Society credits him with inventing the stapler. The city was so impressed with his "production line" they built a large staple factory on the west side of town along the Chicago Great Northern railroad about 1926. Henderson produced the bag tyer, the stapler, the staples - in fact, all the dies necessary for the production of these items. But of interest to this story: according to the Henderson history written by Charlie's son, Don, Charlie made the model and dies to produce the Werner periscope flashlight, and the workmen at the light plant put them together.
The society displays the periscope flashlight, given by George Kaess, and the box itself is labeled "Werner Manufacturing Company, Spring Valley, Minnesota." Indeed, Laging's "outsourcing the parts" must have been to his old friend here in town, Charlie Henderson. Kaess, a local electrician, used the periscope flashlight in his work, and gave it to the society for its collection.
The Schroeder-Laging Company went into business and kept a small inventory to keep up with orders. However, in 1951, Werner Laging died of a sudden heart attack when his son Jon was only 14 years old. His wife, Marjorie, continued the company, assisted by friend John Schultz. They used a list of water departments all over the country, sending out the flyer that is shown here. Schroeder gave his share of the business to Marjorie; the company became Laging-Schultz, and business trickled in. The company sold maybe four to six lights a month, with a ten-day money back guarantee, at about $17.95 each, a fair amount of money in the early '50s, but not a huge moneymaker.
The company continued in business through 1959, when Marjorie married Albert Hatlestad, a fine gentleman who was one of the butter makers at the Spring Valley Creamery; we knew them as faithful members at Our Saviors Lutheran Church. In 1960, the patent expired on the periscope flashlight; John Schultz and family moved to Delano, Minn., in 1965. He kept the business going, more like a hobby, and Marjorie turned the company over to him. Schultz renamed the operation the Periscope Flashlight Company of Delano; he died in 2010.
Readers are invited to stop by the museums to check out local inventions by Werner Laging, Charlie Henderson, and the Conley brothers, whose cameras were eventually sold through the Sears Roebuck catalogs, the world-famous Air Camper (airplane) designed by Bernard Pietenpol, and many other items.
The church museum itself was built by Hans Andersen, of Andersen Windows fame!
Incidentally, although he is currently taking a few weeks off, Werner Laging's son, Jon, in the past wrote the popular Sports Talk column and now writes a column on growing up in Minnesota Lake for the Tribune, so you might want to contact him, too.
The museums at 220-221 West Courtland are open through Labor Day and then on weekends, l0 to 4 each day.
There is a small admission fee, but take my word, it is well worth a trip to see the inventions with Spring Valley origins.