Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Company dates back to 1903. Fred Hoke, better known as Jake, and James I. Holcomb first met at a church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, where they decided to go into business together. Before they met, Holcomb was in the furniture polish business and with a $1,200 loan from a relative of Hoke's, Holcomb quit the furniture polish business and the two started making paint brushes. Later they made artificial palm trees in baskets, and then had a business in Sullivan, Indiana where they sold automatic box-ball bowling alley machines, which were invented by Dan Tolbert of Indianapolis, Indiana. Point of Interest: George W. King's home on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Marion had a Boxball Alley in the attic. George W. was George Brown's grandfather and a founder of Marion Steam Shovel. Shortly, thereafter, the two moved to Indianapolis where they built their plant in which the Holcomb & Hoke Company still occupies. In 1914, they entered into another adventure. The two went into selling popcorn machines which was also another idea originated by inventor Dan Tolbert. They thought this investment was a good one because they figured that the machine owners could pay for their machines with the profits they made from selling popcorn. The partners' advertising scheme was that for a Holcomb & Hoke machine owner, 65 cents of every dollar was profit.
Holcomb & Hoke claim they sold millions of dollars worth of these machines which they named BUTTER-KIST. Attempting to come up with a clever description for their poppers, they emulated Sunkist oranges with the BUTTER-KIST Poppers. These machines "new" sold from a range anywhere between $400.00 or $500.00 and $1,250.00 plus. In 1934 they discontinued the manufacturing of these machines since their customers stopped paying monthly due to the Great Depression. They have not filled repair parts orders since 1940.
Interestingly enough, the first BUTTER-KIST was made by another company in Indianapolis rather than Holcomb & Hoke. Unfortunately, the name of that company is not known. The first machine, along with many of the earlier models, were made with German silver because stainless steel was not available at that time, and it was cheaper than nickel plating. Also, most of the earlier machines are powered by white gas (Naphtha) as opposed to the later ones, such as displayed in our museum, which are powered by electricity. All of the Holcomb & Hoke floor model machines are very complicated, fully automatic setups similar to the old Rube Goldberg cartoons. They included dumping a set amount of kernels into the popper, agitating it, popping it, removing unpopped kernels buttering it, and dumping it out after it is done popping. The smaller counter models are also fully automatic except for adding the oil. Salting the corn is the only thing that neither type of model does; the owner must salt it to his own preference.
All BUTTER-KIST Popcorn Machines are highly polished sparkling nickel plate (later models) or German silver (earlier models). The cabinets are made of wood finished in either rich mahogany or natural oak color or a few shades darker.
Each machine is equipped with high-grade casters to allow for easy movement. The upper part of the cabinet is glass on four sides, thus in full view is the attractively complicated operations of the machine. The cabinet also contains a storage bin for shelled corn, and other supplies, handy drawer for bags, money, etc.
Some of the BUTTER-KIST Machines have peanut roasters and attachments for selling salted or blanched peanuts or other nut meats. Other machines are equipped with warming cabinets for keeping peanuts in the shell warm. Because of this, it enables you to buy peanuts already roasted, then all you have to do is warm them.
The Holcomb & Hoke BUTTER-KIST Machines were sold mostly to drug stores, 5 cent and 10 cent stores, candy stores, theatres, department stores, and bars. One reason for Holcomb and Hoke's great success in selling the BUTTER-KIST is the fact they were the second company in the U.S. to hold training schools for their commissioned salesmen. Frank, Fred Hoke's son, claims one salesman with a goatee and the look of a bank president, sold enough machines one year to make $45,000. Also, a baseball player sold a machine every day for 30 days, receiving 20% commission, and then quit. Frank Hoke also talks about a man in Deadham, Massachusetts, who had twelve of the Holcomb & Hoke Machines and of a newspaper photo that showed cars lined up for two blocks trying to get popcorn from a Holcomb & Hoke Machine.
The last time Holcomb & Hoke made these machines was in the early depression years and interestingly enough the Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Company still receives letters from people wanting BUTTER-KIST Machine parts because they are still in use today, or are being restored as antiques. Holcomb & Hoke has been in the manufacturing business for 99 years now and in that time they have made many different products. At the present time, they manufacture large office partitions used in hotels, motels, offices, schools, churches, etc.