For most people living in Duluth in the 1950s and ‘60s, Main Street’s brick warehouse building was somewhat of a mystery. Its signage—Southern Manufacturing Company—said little about what went on inside. The simple answer was that it was a “cricket box factory,” which would have to suffice for most. But, as a teenager, I had a special insight into the background of the business and its owner, Joe Fanning.
Mr. Fanning was a Georgia Tech engineer who loved to tinker and build various machinery, which he used to manufacture several types of cricket boxes. He would spend days working to be sure that his methodology made production as automated and process-oriented as possible. For him, the challenge seemed to be the development of a “jig” or some type of mechanism which made building his product efficient and simple. He was only willing to share his success with a limited number of people.
Mr. Fanning’s line of cricket boxes were sold and shipped only in large quantities, probably due to the high shipping cost for the lightweight products. He did have an agreement with the family business, C.A. Summerour & Sons, which manufactured a line of leather products that were sold to small stores throughout the Southeast. Since he did not like to ship in small quantities, he used that connection as a way to take care of small orders.
Mr. Fanning’s “close to the vest” style of operating his business was unusual and somewhat eccentric, but he saw it as protecting his personal development of manufacturing methods. He would spend a lot of time talking about his latest invention and how it was going to help him make a better cricket box. He developed a close personal relationship with my father and his brother and spent hours visiting with them, often sharing his latest trade secret or invention, which he knew was safe with them.
Although he had an apartment in Atlanta, Mr. Fanning often slept and spent days at a time at his business. This became somewhat of a question when it came to light that he voted in City elections – which apparently did not cause a problem. Local residents no doubt have their own stories about the mystery surrounding the Southern Manufacturing Company, but given his secretive nature, I feel fortunate to have these memories of Joe and his business.
The design inspiration for the new Gwinnett County Library Downtown Duluth branch is evident through the use of brick and the curving of the windows.
Southern Manufacturing Company print advertisement for the Kleer-Vue cricket boxes manufactured in Duluth, Georgia.