"Old Trusty" Incubator Factory

category : Landmarks

Mr. and Mrs. M.M. Johnson came to Clay Center from Sheridan, Missouri in 1894 to install and operate the engines in the Orr Brothers Mill. Mr. Johnson tinkered with and built a few incubators in Missouri, sold them, and they were well received. He thought of doing the same in Clay Center. One day he unloaded his ambition to his boss, and he thought well of it, "Go ahead, Johnson, make incubators in the boiler house if you want to. So long as we have steam to keep the wheels going we will be satisfied."

Mr. Johnson made a wooden stamp with letters glued to it which read, "M.M. Johnson, Engineer at the Mill, Makes Incubators." Every wagon that came to the mill went away with his advertisement on the side of the bed! At one point he secured a lay off from the mill, traveled to Lincoln, into Iowa, and Kansas to show and operate his incubators. At Lincoln he hatched 49 out of 50 eggs. The "Nebraska Farmer" gave his exhibition a nice write up. The following spring he made and sold 122 incubators. The next year he sold 320 and turned his job at the mill over to his son and tended strictly to his incubator business.

Mr. Johnson secured a patent on a new incubator. It was named for his dog, "Trusty." His son, Harry, was now with him in this venture which was by 1924 able to turn out over one million incubators. In 1926, their print shop published 135,000 annual catalogues which were mailed to their customers. The two story office one block northwest of the court house square employed 75 women during the peak periods of the year. When Mr. Johnson passed away after a long illness in 1912, H.H. Johnson continued the business until they were forced out of production in 1929 by the Commercial Hatchery Business. At that time the factory could turn out up to 100,000 incubators of four different models, they could store up to 50 car loads of lumber, copper, nails, etc. Most importantly during the M.M. Johnson Company's beginning, Clay Center grew from a town of 590 people in 1900 to a fine little city of 1065 persons in 1910.

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