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The Ouija Board
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Detailed History of William Fuld and the Ouija Board
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In the United States the first talking board combined the curiosity of the planchette and the ease of use of its European cousin, the dial plate. However, the birth of the talking board was a much more secular capitalist venture. We know that homemade talking boards were documented in the mid 1880's described in detail in a New York Daily Tribune article dated March 28th 1886 and reprinted countless times. However, it would take seven men to create a commercial success and put talking boards in nearly every home in North America. Together Charles W. Kennard, Harry Welles Rusk, Col. Washington Bowie, Elijah J. Bond, William H. A. Maupin, John T. Green, and of course, William Fuld succeeded in doing just that. Five of these men Kennard, Rusk, Bowie, Maupin, and Green pooled their land, resources, and money to create the Kennard Novelty Company of Baltimore, Maryland.
While many were Masons they had two things in common. All of them were looking to try something new, and each were either lawyers or politicians. It's likely they met through their everyday business dealings, yet many of their connections run deeper. William H. A. Maupin married Elijah Bond's niece, Elijah Bond and Rusk attended law school together, Bond and Col. Washington Bowie had other patents assigned to them, Col. Washington Bowie and William Fuld formed a life long friendship and worked together in the Custom's office, while Harry Welles Rusk and Charles Kennard remained friends for years. Perhaps sitting around a table smoking cigars and with a drink in hand they made a pact to form the Kennard Novelty Company. They appeared on October 20th 1890 in a Baltimore court to sign the incorporation papers which were certified on October 30th 1890.
Col. Washington Bowie held a firm grip on any matters involving the company. A capitalist a heart, this business venture was about the bottom line. Rusk was named president, as he had the most experience in patent law. Kennard had the land and a building left over from his fertilizer business that he had recently dissolved. The address of 220 South Charles Street in Baltimore was perfect, and Kennard, for his land, probably got his last name into the new company's. Bond held the first talking board patent which would dominate the young company. To date there is no record of Bond officially being part of the company, but his talking board patent, when filed, was immediately assigned to Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin both members of the company. Maupin's relation to Bond through marriage explains his association with the company.
Early on, the Kennard Novelty Company struck a deal with what would become the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois doing business at 212 Illinois Street in Chicago, Illinois. To date they remains their only known Branch Factory. The Kennard Novelty Company was new to the manufacturing business, and they might have needed help filling such large orders. Certainly having a branch factory centrally located must have eased shipping costs and lent some experience to their operations.
Listed as a painter and varnisher in the Baltimore City directories in 1889 and 1890, William Fuld played a major role in the daily operations, including production for the Kennard Novelty Company. This would not last for long. Fuld was full of inventions of his own. Less than a year passed before Fuld began his sudden climb.
Historically, William Fuld has been cited as the inventor and father of the Ouija board. In fact, the first patent on the Ouija or talking board (No. 446,054) was granted to Elijah Bond on February 10th 1891 and assigned to Charles Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, both of Baltimore and two of the founders of the Kennard Novelty Company. The trademark on the word Ouija (No. 18,919) was granted to the Kennard Novelty Company on February 3rd, 1891. However, it wouldn't be long before William Fuld, under Col. Washington Bowie's guidance, would take over production of the Ouija board and forever be tied to it as its Father and promoter.
By 1891, the Ouija board was selling well and they opened up a second factory in Baltimore, Maryland at 909 East Pratt Street. Just eight days after the Bond patent was granted, Kennard filed for an improved version of the talking board and called it that by name. On November 10, 1891, Kennard's patent (No. 462,819) was registered. It states, "Be it known that I, Charles W. Kennard, residing at Baltimore, State of Maryland, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Talking-Boards of which the following is a specification." This talking board was more like the previously mentioned dial plates, where the moveable piece was fixed on one end and could swing in an arc to point at the letters, numbers, or words.
This was Charles Kennard's final act as a member of the Kennard Novelty Company. Shortly after his patent was granted, Charles Kennard, John T. Green, and William H. A. Maupin were no longer associated with the company. The Kennard Novelty Company's incorporation papers read “the said corporation will be managed by five directors...who will manage the concerns of the said Corporation for the first year.” One year to the day of that agreement Col. Washington Bowie and Harry Welles Rusk would dismiss the other founders of the company. In 1892 Rusk was listed as the President, Bowie the manager, and William Fuld the supervisor. They moved the company out of 220 South Charles Street and into the 909 East Pratt Street factory, renamed the company the Ouija Novelty Company on March 8th, 1892, and put their close friend William Fuld at the helm. William Fuld was a former Kennard Novelty Company employee.
On February 1st 1893 the 909 East Pratt Street factory "burned out" and the Ouija Novelty Company moved to 20 North High Street.
Almost immediately, Charles Kennard tried to sell another version of the talking board. We believe Kennard approached the former branch factory of the Kennard Novelty Company and struck a deal. He then co-founded the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois out of its ashes. They named their new talking board Volo. According to Bill Long's definition the word is a fitting name for a talking board. Its roots are Latin meaning "to fly about (especially applied to the imagined movement of disembodied souls)." Coincidently, Volo is also the name of a small town just fifty miles north of Chicago. Perhaps this also has something to do with why Kennard chose it as its name? Regardless, Bowie and Fuld of the Ouija Novelty Company weren't impressed. They answered the Volo with both swift legal and marketing maneuvers. First, the newly reorganized Ouija Novelty Company would file a “Bill of infringement” against its former branch factory as they held the Bond patent. While the case awaited trial The Ouija Novelty Company and the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company settled out of court. Northwestern agreed to halt production of the Volo and any and all other talking boards. For the time being Kennard's dream of re-entering the talking board business ended abruptly.
About the same time the W. S. Reed Toy Company located in Leominster, Massachusetts, began producing their very own talking board named and trademarked Espirito (No. 20,566). Described in the trademark as “a toy resembling planchette” this game proved no match. Whether the Espirito just couldn't compete as the W. S. Reed Company contented in 1892, or The Ouija Novelty Company filed a similar Bill of infringement against them, the Reed company ceased production of it's talking boards and directed all sales of the like to the Ouija Novelty Company. Part of the deal transferred use of the Espirito trademark over to them, and the Ouija Novelty Company placed an exact copy of Kennard's Volo design on the back of their Ouija. Customers delighted in getting two talking boards for the price of one, while Kennard would be reminded how far his former business associates would go to protect the Ouija board from competition.
Bruised and battered from the confrontation, five years would pass before Kennard would reemerge. In 1897 his next talking board would be named Igili. An advertisement for "Igili - the marvelous talking board" places the American Toy Company at 222 South Charles Street, Baltimore Maryland. Though it's one number off from the original address of the Kennard Novelty Company, it's likely it is the same location. For the Igili board Charles Kennard joined with J. M. Raffel and Albert C. Strobel to form the American Toy Company. Like others once involved with the Ouija board Kennard kept trying to get back in the game. The American Toy Company was only listed for two years in Baltimore City directories, and the Igili board never caught on. Perhaps it simply couldn't escape the shadow of the uber popular Ouija. It's equally possible the Ouija Novelty again threatened legal action as their patent was still in force.
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