Kane County History: Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The 'Life Cup' — All Things Made in Geneva

Kane County History: Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The ‘Life Cup’ — All Things Made in Geneva

Internal timing device. (CREDIT: All photos courtesy of the Geneva History Museum.)

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series written by representatives of Kane County historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

In the early 1910s, there was cooperation by national, state and municipal health and pure-food organizations to educate the public and secure laws that would safeguard the public from the dangers of infection.

Hiawatha phonograph on display at the Geneva History Museum Main Gallery.

By 1912, 25 states had legally abolished the use of public towels and public drinking cups.

A large contributor supporting these sanitary principles was the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, since one of the favorite breeding place of this disease was the “slimy rim of the public cup.”

It was at this time that the Sanitary Drinking Cup Company moved from Chicago to Geneva and began manufacturing the “Life Cup,” a paper drinking cup, in the company’s new brick industrial building at 318 Anderson Boulevard.

Completed in July, 1912, this model plant was reported to be “the first exclusive, sanitary products factory in the state of Illinois and the largest and only one of its kind in the world.”

The factory contained many patented devices and had little competition in the field. It was also a source of employment for many in Geneva, especially women.

By 1917, the Maher Manufacturing Company occupied the building, where they produced electric light fixtures. Within a few years, the building’s use had changed to serving as a warehouse for the highly successful Hiawatha Phonograph Company that was located nearby at the corner of Richards and Hamilton Streets.

At one point, the Hiawatha plant employed 150 men and produced an average of 80 phonographs a day.

Geneva Candle Company candles from the Geneva History Museum’s 3-D Collection.

The Eclipse Radio Company opened for business in the “Maher building” in 1922, when receiving sets and other radio appliances were manufactured until a succession of candle companies occupied the factory building.

By the mid-1930s, the American Timer Corporation occupied the building and manufactured interval timing devices, time switches and reminder clocks. The building continued to serve a variety of businesses ranging from a rug cleaner, to paint sales, to a pipe organ company and many more.

The Geneva History Museum will once again be offering guided trolley tours during Swedish Days, and this year’s route includes the Sanitary Drinking Cup factory and surrounding area. Tours will depart from Second and James Streets every hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, through Thursday, June 21.

Admission is $10 per person and includes a FREE museum pass and Goodie Bag of Geneva business offers.

For more information, visit www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or call 630-232-4951.

  • FEATURE PHOTO: Sanitary Drinking Cup “Life Cup” postcard

About The Geneva History Museum

The Geneva History Museum is a non-profit organization started in 1943 by volunteers in the community that saw a need to preserve the town’s history. Today the museum offers multiple award-winning exhibits, educational programs, cutting-edge research, and dedicated volunteers, continue to make the Geneva History Museum a source of great community pride.

Read The Kane County History Series!