Chapter 5: Diversification
Pleased with the success of the box match vender, Bolen, who had no formal training in engineering or design, turned his energies to other vending machines. In 1912 Northwestern brought out its first postage stamp vending machine. It was not the first stamp vender. Shermack in Detroit built one several years earlier. The Northwestern stamp machine had a glass front and back which allowed the customers to see the rolls of postage stamps inside. It offered two choices, four penny stamps or two 2-cent stamps for a nickel. "They were getting into high priced things now," Waldo Bolen observed. The first stamp machine sold for $8.
In the 1911-1913 period Northwestern got into vending in a big way. It brought out a package chewing gum vender, a gumball vender and a machine to sell rolls of mints. It augmented its vending line with a sturdy cigar box lid holder. At least one was still in use in 1959 at the cigar counter in Chicago's staid old Union League Club!
In 1912 the company moved from a store building in the business district of Morris to a spanking new manufacturing plant out on Armstrong Street. The building had been built by the Morris Industrial Association in an effort to attract industry to the farming community. "But the industry they brought into the plant folded before it started," Waldo Bolen said, "so they had to pick up an orphan." From 1912 to 1936, Northwestern occupied only half the plan – the other half was used for paper storage by a local paper mill. In 1936 Northwestern bought the other half of the plant and 10 years later built an addition, bringing its total square footage to 65,000.
World War I was a difficult time for the young Northwestern organization. Although materials were not on priority restrictions, as they were in WWII, shipping finished machines and transporting raw materials was extremely difficult. One of Waldo Bolen Sr.'s earliest recollections of his days at Northwestern revolves around the year 1919 when he was 13 years old. "I had a Model T which I bought from Pete Truntland when he went off to war. And I used to haul our nut machine castings from Morris up to Chicago to be porcelined and then bring the porcelined castings back down to the plant."