Archives for category: Competition

“It’s after six, what am I, a farmer?,” remarks Jack Donaghy to Liz Lemon when asked why he is wearing a tux in an episode of 30 Rock.[1] As a member of the wealthy, corporate elite, Donaghy knows the social importance of wearing the right clothes at the right time. As such, he would have fit right in in 1800s Cooperstown, New York. This powder blue hat box in the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown reflects the style and social class of the residents of this small town as well as the ingenuity of local entrepreneurs to succeed in a small market.

Hat Box Side

Side, H. Hollister Hat Box, c. 1837, pasteboard, paper, H: 9.5″ x L: 12″ x W: 10.75″ x D: 8.25″ Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Dr. Carolyn Olendorf, N0518.1942 (02), photograph by Mary Kate Kenney.

Hat Box Lid

Lid, H. Hollister Hat Box, c. 1837, pasteboard, paper, H: 9.5″ x L: 12″ x W: 10.75″ x D: 8.25″ Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Dr. Carolyn Olendorf, N0518.1942 (02), photograph by Mary Kate Kenney.

When H. Hollister set up his hat shop on Main Street in Cooperstown around 1839, he knew it was no ordinary small town. Incorporated in 1812, William Cooper and the other founders of the village sought to attract residents “already of a higher order than that of most villages its size,” with “more liberal tastes and a better style of living” than other settlements of its size.[2] The success of James Fenimore Cooper’s books set in the area solidified Cooperstown’s status as a resort community in the lush, forested mountains of upstate New York. Despite the small size of the village, Cooperstown was able to support multiple shops that sold fine clothing to a more upscale clientele.

Hollister’s shop could be found “At the Sign of the Golden Hat” according to the advertisement on a hat box that had once been owned by local resident, Alfred Olendorf.[3] Olendorf could have chosen to patronize at least one other store in Cooperstown (J.R. Worthington), but whether due to quality of products, loyalty to the business, competitive prices, or effective advertising, he chose to purchase a top hat from H. Hollister.[4]

The fact that this hat box survives at all indicates that Olendorf made use of it beyond its first trip home from the shop. Most likely, Olendorf would have stored the purchased beaver top hat in this box while not in use. H. Hollister knew this about his customers and used it as an opportunity to further promote his business. Not only would Olendorf be able to tell his friends where he purchased his beaver top hat, he would also be encouraged to return to H. Hollister’s shop to purchase one of the other types of hats listed on the label. Whether the customer required a fine hat of beaver or silk for evening activities, or a straw hat for boating on the lake, H. Hollister’s hats could complete any ensemble.

Despite the small population of the village of Cooperstown, NY, H. Hollister’s hattery stayed in business for at least 30 years. An 1870 census recorded Hollister “as the owner of $4,000 worth of real estate and $3,000 worth of personal estate,” translating to about $51,900 and $69,000 respectively in today’s dollars.[5] With an above average demand for fine hats in a small community and a shrewd sense of business and marketing, H. Hollister threw his hat into the entrepreneurial ring.

By Jen Vos


[1] 30 Rock. “Tracey Does Conan.” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Adam Bernstein, Written by Tina Fey. NBC, December, 2006.

[2] S.T. Livermore, A Condensed History of Cooperstown, with a Biographical Sketch of J. Fenimore Cooper. (Albany: J. Munsell, 1862) 68, 80.

[3] Hat Box, Fenimore Art Museum collection, Cooperstown, New York, N0518.1942 (02), “Documentation.”

[4] Mary Kate Kenney, “Hat’s Off! A Cooperstown Hatter and Local Entrepreneurship,” Cooperstown Graduate Program. Cooperstown, New York, 2018.

[5] 1870 U.S. Census, Otsego County, New York, population schedule, Cooperstown, p. 3, dwelling 22, family 25, Harvey Hollister; digital image,, accessed February 6, 2018,


When walking through today’s grocery store, a variety of butter and butter substitutes line the well-lit refrigerator shelves. Butters from different regions of the country and world exist behind the cold glass, but so do a variety of non-dairy spreads made from products like coconut and vegetable oils. The demand from the current consumer calls for these alternative products and clutters an already competitive market for those in dairy and butter production.

Now try to imagine the 1870s in upstate New York, where no one knows about the ability to create butter alternatives out of coconut or vegetable oils – where might New York dairy farmers find competition in the marketplace? The 1800s were all about east versus west, and the dairy rich state of New York found itself right in the middle of an increasingly competitive dairy market. As discussed at the 1879 convention of the New York State Dairymen’s Association in Oneonta, New York, local farmers were concerned with falling prices and the possible discrimination against them by the railroads in favor of Western dairy producers. [1]

Actual Churn

The Isbell, Taylor & Co. Revolving Box Churn Patent Model, ca. 1877, metal and wood, height 13 in; width 11 in; depth 10.5 in, Farmers’ Museum Collection, Cooperstown, New York, F0306.1953.

Unwilling to stand idly by while the reputation of the New York dairy industry hung in the balance, Elhanan C. Taylor and Ceylon Isbell of Courtland County introduced a new and improved type of revolving box butter churn to the market called the gang churn. Taylor and Isbell certainly did not reinvent the wheel in their new product, but instead improved the traditional box churn so that multiple compartments could operate at the same time and with less power. [2] This creative adaptation of an already existent object was born entirely out of necessity – New York state dairy farmers were well known for the excellent quality of their butter and had a reputation to defend against the threat of western butter production. [3]

Gang Churn Ad

Fig. 1 [4]

Capturing the true spirit of entrepreneurship, Taylor and Isbell saw an opportunity to give themselves and their colleagues the competitive upper edge in a changing market and they took it. While their new design did not “make butter without cream” [5], the Revolving Box Churn kept New York dairy farmers alive in the fight against western butter.

[1] Lewis Harris, Annual Report of the New York State Dairymen’s Association, Issue 3. (Ilion, Citizen Steam Book and Job Printing House, 1880) pg. 13

[2] “Specifications and Drawings of Patents Issued from the U.S. Patent Office, January 1, 1878,” Google Books.

[3] Annual Report of the New York State Dairymen’s Association, Issue 3. (Ilion, Citizen Steam Book and Job Printing House, 1880) pg. 12

[4] Page 66 of the Third Annual Report of the New York State Dairymen’s Association, 1880. Available from: Google Books (accessed February 27, 2018)

[5] Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society, Vol. IV, 1884 (Albany, E. Mack, 1845) pg. 232

Karl Wietzel “Fortunes Made and Lost: The Isbell, Taylor & Co. Gang Churn and New York Dairy in the 1870s” (Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta, 2018), 5.

by Mary Kate Kenney