Squirrel Tails: Taking it Up a Notch

4.16.2023 [archived ~ originally published 3.31.2016]

Advertising gimmicks have been around for as long as there have been things to sell, and Deer River businessmen and women were as creative as anyone.  In the spring of 1925, the Deer River merchants gave away chances to win a new car during the Trade Expansion Event. For every 50 cents that was spent at participating stores, a ticket was given to the spender. Each ticket had a number, and one ticket was the winner of a Ford car.

Hans Anderson, the owner of the jewelry store in town was impressed by the excitement that was generated by the Trade Expansion and decided to use the same technique, with a twist at his store several months later.  Hans had a pet squirrel that occupied a corner of the store and spent a good deal of time running on a wheel inside his cage.  Hans decided it was time his squirrel earned his keep.

As had been done earlier, Hans gave away a ticket for every 50 cents spent, but instead of a drawing, the ticket holder had the chance to guess how far the squirrel would travel on the wheel during a designated period of time.  Prizes of course were awarded to the top guesses.

How Far Will the Pet Squirrel Travel? ~ Itasca News­ 9-10-1925

“H.P. Anderson has invented something else.  His pet squirrel has initiated more inventive genius than any other thing that ever came to the town.  Marveling at the energy and speed of his pet, Mr. Anderson has attached a speedometer that will accurately measure the revolutions of the drum in which the squirrel travels.  Each revolution makes a distance of two feet four inches.

Beginning bright and early next Saturday morning, Mr. Squirrel will set out for a world’s record.  For ten days the speedometer will be kept sealed.  On Monday night, Sept. 21, the total will be taken.

During the ten days, with every 50-cent purchase, Mr. Anderson will offer an opportunity to guess on the total distance the squirrel will travel.  Liberal prizes will be offered for the best guesses.  In all there will be eight prizes.  Read his ad on another page of this issue.”

Hans and his wife Elsie were both born in Demark and immigrated in the early1890s.  It appears they met and married in Chicago before venturing into the Dakotas.  Two of their children were born in South Dakota and by the time they moved to Deer River they were the parents of seven children. 

Their sons thirteen-year-old Harold and eleven-year-old Ingvar probably had hundreds of guesses, but of course were not in the contest.  It is easy to picture the boys and maybe their friends, closely watching the squirrel, the wheel and the clock to make their own predictions.  No doubt the boys also had more athletic names for the furry critter other than Mr. Squirrel which appears to be his father’s choice.

Squirrel Sets Record in Total Ten-Day Run ~ Itasca News­ 9-24-1925

“H.P. Anderson’s pet squirrel completed his ten-day indoor track contest last Monday night, finishing with a burst of speed that indicated he is no quitter.

Some time ago, announced in these columns, Mr. Anderson rigged up a speedometer and attached it to the wheel in the squirrel’s cage, which accurately measured the distance traveled.  Each revolution of the wheel marked a distance of two feet four inches.  Ninety-four revolutions of the wheel made one turn of the first disc, which in turn moved the third disc one notch.

At the end of ten days it was found that the squirrel had traveled within the wheel a total distance of 163 miles, 107 rods, six inches.  In addition to this, he probably traveled many more outside of the wheel.

The greatest distance for any one day was 10 miles, 498 feet on Sept. 14, the third day of the contest.  The highest total for one day was last Sunday, when Mr. Squirrel whirled the cage for a total of 23 miles, 150 rods, 8 feet.  Evidently Sunday isn’t a day of rest in squirrelology.

The judges awarded first prize to H.G. Wick and second prize to P.K. Vickjord.

Mr. Anderson’s measurements of the squirrel’s travel will be of great interest to students of wild life, and will probably be heralded throughout the nation.” 

As far as I could determine, Mr. Squirrel’s long-distance endeavor did not make the news in any other papers, but he did impress a few individuals and perhaps by word of mouth attracted the attention of the Graflex Photography Company. Whether a salesman was just passing through or stopped in Deer River specifically to see Mr. Squirrel is unknown, so we’ll stick with the story printed in the paper.

That Squirrel Again, Two of Them Now ~ Itasca News­ 11-12-1925

The thing in Deer River that has achieved the greatest notoriety in proportion to its size of anything here, is H. P. Anderson’s pet squirrel.

A representative of the Graflex photo service from Minneapolis, recently came here for a feature story induced by stories published in the News.  Mr. Squirrel had his picture taken, duly dubbed the “Greatest Long-Distance Squirrel in the World” and with the record of his long distance run as published in this paper is being heralded throughout the nation.

Mr. Anderson has concluded that two squirrels are better than one and has secured a mate.  A properly equipped department has been built in the north windows of his jewelry department, with a homemade tree, shelves, private bedrooms and a lot of other things.  Call it a miniature menagerie, squirrel farm, or whatever you wish.  The squirrels don’t care.

And now Mr. Anderson will study squirrel nature.  He proposes to learn which squirrel sleeps longest in the morning, which takes afternoon naps, and which stays out late nights.  He may yet prove that man has descended from the squirrel.   They have a lot of things in common, especially their toleration of ‘nuts’.”

There was one more article pertaining to Mr. Anderson squirrels which appeared on Christmas Eve.  It seems that a teacher, Mr. J.M. Martin had been sent a small alligator from Florida by U.S. mail and it was presumed the alligator would replace Mr. Squirrel in the limelight.

No more was said about the alligator though, so I am assuming it might not have survived a Minnesota winter.

And regarding the winner of the new car…you’ll have to wait for the article on the Deer River Trade Expansion scheduled for this June to find out who the lucky winner was.

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