Hannibal factory led market in floor-cleaning equipment

Posted: Sep. 6, 2020 2:17 pm

In 1903, Walter Scott Finnell launched a manufacturing entity in Baltimore, Md., based upon a commercial and household cleaning concept, and funded by $200,000 in capital stock. Among others, investors included his father, Judge Reuben Ashford Finnell, and Walter's older brother, John Stinson Finnell.

During the remainder of the first decade of the 20th Century, the company's commercial product - Finola - became a common household cleaning product, (perhaps similar to today's Comet Cleanser.) Sold in both 5 and 10cent packages, it was readily available at grocery stores throughout the country.

By 1911, the Finola Manufacturing Company had moved its headquarters from Baltimore to Hannibal, Mo., where a factory was established in a new brick building located at 1225 Collier. The factory was just west of the Bluff City Shoe Company.

Walter S. Finnell, president of the company, and Benjamin M. Schlicting, plant manager, boarded at the Conklin Hotel on Broadway during their early years of business in Hannibal. Employees included Frank Davis, 214 Hope; Newton Farrell, 1001 1/2 Broadway; Harry Parker, 408 Rock; and Miss Emma Stein, stenographer, 304 1/2 South Main.

Walter Finnell's ultimate dream was to create a commercialgrade, electric floor scrubbing machine. As early as 1911, Finnell sought and was granted patents for machinery that could not only clean floors, but also suction up the resulting dirty water. He would devote all of his productive years in perfecting floor cleaners, and his products became the industry standard.

In keeping with the direction the company was moving, in 1919, Finnell changed the name of his company from Finola to the American Scrubbing Machine company.

The American Scrubbing Equipment sales team gathered for a banquet in early February 1923, in the Gold Room of the Mark Twain Hotel. More than 40 were in attendance. Speakers included A.H. Reidmeyer, general superintendent; C.E. Rendlen and W.S. Finnell, representing the board of directors, and J.W. Farris. W. Salee was in charge of the banquet.

Mid decade

The year 1925 was key for the company. Employment had grown to 75, including machinists, factory and office workers. The machine factory was still located at 1225 Collier; and a branch factory had been established at 412-418 N. Main.

Employment grew to an estimated 100 by 1927. But on March 25, 1927, a notice was printed in The Times newspaper of Munster, Ind., which would have a significant impact on Hannibal.

“Announcement was made today by the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce that the Finnell System Inc., of Hannibal, Mo., a $400,000 concern manufacturing electrical floor scrubbing and polishing machinery, would move to Elkhart in ninety days.”


In addition to W.S. Finnell, his wife Leona, and their two children, others from Hannibal moved to Elkhart on behalf of the company.

Among those: Ethel Harrow Smith, 32, was killed in an automobile accident west of Elkhart in 1934. At the time of her death, she was office manager and purchasing agent at the Finnell company in Elkhart. She had worked for the company for 15 years, moving from Hannibal in 1926. Mrs. Smith's father, Fred C. Harrow, was a Hannibal cigar manufacturer. She was survived by her husband, Edmond Smith, whom she married in Hannibal.

James W. Farris was director of sales and second vice president of the Finnell System Inc., in Elkhart, when he died in 1938 at the age of 49. He had worked for the Finnell company for 35 years, beginning his career in Hannibal. Survivors included one brother, W.P. Farris of St. Louis.

When in Hannibal he lived at 1000 Center St.

Marquis H. Willey married Mary Jane Herron on Feb. 1, 1919, at Hannibal. They moved to Elkhart in May 1927 with the Finnelll company, where Mr. Willey retired in 1953. In 1979 the Willleys celebrated their 60th anniversary in Elkhart.

Earl E. Clayton and his wife, Anna M. Heideman Clayton, moved from Hannibal to Elkhart in about 1928. Mr. Clayton died in 1939, leaving behind his widow and four children, George F. Clayton, Mrs. Dorothy O'Hern and Francis Clayton, all of Elkhart, and Bernard Clayton of Hannibal.

Harry S. Willey was born in February 1890 in Hannibal, and worked with the Finnell company both in Hannibal and in Elkhart. He died in May 1962 at Bristol, Ind. Survivors included his brother, Marquis H. Willey, also a long-time Finnell employee, and a sister, Mrs Nellie Massey of Hollywood, Calif.

Lee T. Harville, a machinist, retired from “The Finnell System Inc.” in 1959, after 36 years of combined employment in Hannibal and later in Elkhart, Ind. He was born Dec. 14, 1886, in Hannibal, Mo. He married Ann Troesken Sept. 14, 1914, in Hannibal. He died in September 1962. Survivors included his wife and daughter, and a sister in Hannibal, Mrs. Ruth Loveless.

Finnell death

Walter S. Finnell retired as president of the Finnell company in July 1953, and his wife, Leona Mercedes Conner Fennell, was named his replacement as president of the company. At the same time, their son in law, James Bates, was named sales manager. Mrs. Finnell was the daughter of Mrs. J.L. Ryan, who lived on North Seventh Street in Hannibal.

Mr. Finnell died a little more than three years later, at Reno, Nev.

The company maintained a small yet steady presence in Hannibal through the 1950s. In 2020, the building is still standing, at 1225 Warren Barrett Drive.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region's foundation. Books available on Amazon. com by this author: “The Notorious Madam Shaw,” “Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri,” and “The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870.” She can be reached at Montgomery.editor@yahoo.com. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com.



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