Digest>Archives> March 2005

Light-house Coffee

By Timothy Harrison


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Amos S. Musselman

For a number of years the Museum of Lighthouse History in Wells, Maine had a rusted, old can of Light-House coffee on display with no information known about the history of the coffee.

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Then, several weeks ago this old envelope, postmarked in December of 1925, was acquired by the museum, which shows a color image of the coffee can. To our amazement it is the same design as the Light House Rolled Oats that we featured in the March 2004 issue of Lighthouse Digest.

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Naturally, we’d like to locate some more artifacts of Light House Foods for display in the museum. They are an important part of the history of how lighthouses were used to advertise, promote and sell products over the years.

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With the help of the Grand Rapids Michigan Historical Society we were able to find some information on the company. We learned that National Grocer Co. was the manufacturer and distributor of Light House Foods and that Amos S. Musselman was one of the primary founders of the company and became the company’s president around 1905. They were headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan and had large warehouses in Detroit and Chicago. Mr. Musselman had quite a career, serving as a director of Fourth National Bank, director of Boyne City Lumber Co,, charter member of the Grand Rapids Board of Trade and many others too numerous to mention here. He was also an unsuccessful candidate in the 1910 Republican Primary for Governor of Michigan.

Eventually, his company decided to expand beyond the wholesale business and opened up retail stores. The stores were named R stores known as the R Chain Stores Inc. The stores were all painted orange on the outside and white on the inside with a wide orange band on the sides next to the ceiling. But apparently their fate was sealed as recorded in the pages of the Michigan Tradesman Magazine in their Aug. 27, 1930 edition where the editor stated, “Eighteen months ago I wrote a letter to an officer of the company that if management persisted in riding two horses at the same time by conducting both wholesale and retail establishments, the organization would be in bankruptcy court in two years. The collapse has come six months sooner than we expected.”

At that time the company had 300 stores throughout Michigan and apparently all were closed by 1932.

Did the National Grocer Co. manufacture other products under the Light-House name? If so; what were they? Why did they decide to manufacture products with a lighthouse theme? Whose idea was it? Who did the artwork?

If they had 300 stores, what happened to all the old advertisements promoting Light-House Foods, the displays, and other artifacts? We’d sure like to have some as well as the answers to the rest-of-the-story for the Museum of Lighthouse History.

If any of our readers can help, write to Editor, Lighthouse Digest Magazine, P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630 or email editor@LighthouseDigest.com.

Wow, wouldn’t it be neat if someone could actually find a can of the coffee, the rolled oats or other Light-House products still around? Check out those antique stores, and the basements and attics of some of the old grocery stores. You never know what you might find.

This story appeared in the March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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