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Historical Association of South Jefferson

The Rice Companies


The Rice Companies

Capt. Collings Develops Truss

Capt. William A. Collings was born in 1814 in Saltwood Parish, England. His father died when William was just 3 years old. At the age of 14 William began the life of a sailor in England. He advanced from seaman to mate and then to Captain. He came to America about 1850 and began sailing the Great Lakes. He retired from sailing in 1874 after having been afflicted with a severe rupture (hernia) for 13 years, and he set about experimenting with a cure. In the fall of 1876 he compounded a medicine (Collings Medical Compound) and developed an Improved Elastic Supporter Truss. He applied the compound and truss and in January 1877 he found that he was cured. Keep in mind that there was no surgery available at this time for hernias. Capt. Collings soon began the Collings Truss Co. in a small shop in a shed at his home in Smithville. An article in the 10/11/1887 issue of the Jefferson County Journal describes his truss as follows: his truss consists of one strong rubber elastic web-band that passes around the body and attaches by convenient fastenings to the ventilated supporter front piece, which forms a perfect support to the abdomen at all times. Under this the pads are fastened, which vary in size and shape according to the rupture or ruptures size, weight and occupation of the wearer. A soft webbing understrap passes from each pad and attaches to the band in the back. These give additional pressure to the pads and maintain the truss in the same position at all times and in all positions of the body. If there is only one rupture a small, thin and soft pad is placed over abdominal ring on opposite side; this prevents the second rupture, which is sure to appear if no support is worn. He also makes a medical compound to be used in connection with the truss. There are two kinds. One is to soften and prepare the skin so the other may penetrate. It is a purely vegetable compound, ad when applied externally over the seat of rupture, by an action peculiar to itself, contracts and produces a cohensive inflammation in the rings, and at the same time exerts a tonic influence upon the muscular and tendinous tissues forming the rings and adjacent parts, while the truss retains the rupture perfectly and comfortably in place during the process of cure. It stops all pain and distressed spells, the bad feeling in the stomach ad the severe pain in the back will cease.

In 1882 William Seward Rice went to work for Capt. Collings. He was instructed in all aspects of the business. Capt. Collings died 1/9/1886 in Smithville and at the age of 18 years William S. Rice purchased the company from Mrs. Collings. He had saved $60. from his earnings and borrowed a small sum from his father to complete the purchase.

W.S. Rice Co. is Established

William Rice conducted the Collings company for a short time, but later in 1886 he established the W.S. Rice Company in Smithville. He ran the business in the same building that the Collings Co. was in. He soon found that many of his customers were anxious to buy the trusses of Capt. Collings, so he re-established the Captain W.A. Collings Company in Watertown as a subsidiary of the W.S. Rice Co. From 1886 until 1898 Mr. Rice conducted his manufacture of trusses and other appliances in Smithville. At first he employed less than 6 men and he himself worked long hours. In the late 1880’s and 1890’s the mail order business was becoming popular. At this time Mr. Rice had a virtual monopoly on the truss and abdominal support business and he was a great believer in advertising. He advertised in weekly and daily papers in all parts of the country. Gradually the firm grew and in 1898 he decided to move to Adams, a more populous village with a railroad. Mr. Rice purchased a house on North Main Street in Adams which became his residence. He established his factory two houses up the hill on North Main Street from his home. He changed the house into a small two story factory.

JCJ 7/26/1898 - Removed to Adams - Dr. Rice’s Truss Factory of Smithville.

It is with pleasure that we announce that Dr. W.S. Rice’s extensive truss factory of Smithville, will move to Adams about Sept. 1st. The York property on North Main Street is being thoroughly repaired and refitted for the truss business. Negotiations have been pending for some time looking toward the removal of Dr. Rice’s interests to some more centrally located point. Several towns were considered, but the banking, post office and express facilities of Adams won the day. Commencing in a small way when quite young the doctor has by his energy, perseverance and hard work built up an extensive business. He gives it his personal attention and has made the treatment of rupture a careful study for years. Every truss is made to order insuring a perfect fit. Each piece of material is carefully inspected before hand, so that nothing enters into the construction of a truss that is not the best.

On 1/8/1894 Dr. Rice applied for a patent on a truss improved from that of Capt. Collings. The truss was patented (# 523-844) on 7/31/1894. On 4/17/1903 Dr. Rice applied for a patent on his improvements on the hernial truss. The truss was patented (#741,929) on 10/20/1903. Other patents included: Lymphol (medicine for rupture) 11/1/1897, Medicated Pads on 3/1/1906. Lymphol, when applied to the rupture area made it feel warm. It helped to circulate blood to the area of the rupture. It sold for $2.00 a bottle. With time the ingredients became expensive and eventually had to be taken off the market.

On 5/19/1900 an attempt was made to burn down the factory on North Main Street. The 5/22/1900 issue of the Journal gives the following account of the incident: A cowardly attempt was made Sunday night to burn Dr. W.S. Rice’s Truss Factory on North Main Street and to murder the night watchman, Frank Thomas. About 12 o’clock as Mr. Thomas, who had just completed his round of inspection was sitting by a table in the rear of one of the front offices of the old building, reading a newspaper, he heard the report of a rifle or revolver and felt the twinge of a bullet through the lower part of the palm of his left hand. The shot was fired from the front lawn, the ball passing through a window, lodging in the window casing near where he was sitting. Running to the front door Mr. Thomas peered into the darkness but could see no one. Firing his revolver into the air he started for the residence of Edward Babcock, an employee of the factory who lives near by. Returning he discovered that the factory was on fire in the rear. Seizing a fire extinguisher, with which the factory is well supplied, he turned it on the fire and with the assistance of Dr. W.K. Walrath, who had arrived on the scene, the flames were extinguished. The fire was set by placing a lot of paper or other flammable material in a box and after setting fire to it placing it by the side of the building. The clapboards were blackened to the eaves, and in a few moments more the building would have been well on fire and possibly burned with all its valuable contents. The next morning the blood from Mr. Thomas’s hand could be seen freely sprinkled about the premises, and gave evidence of his faithfulness and courage in doing what he could to preserve the building and its contents.

The company was incorporated under the name of Dr. W.S. Rice in 12/1900. The incorporators were Dr. W.S. Rice, Henry G. Hubbard, Demas W. Young, Alberto B. Rice, Parley H. Johnson, all of Adams, and Harry Mather of Chicago. The corporation had $20,000 capital stock, 4,000 shares at $5. a share. Dr. Rice held 2,000 shares of the stock and each of the other directors four each.

In 1903 Mr. Rice purchased the old grade school on Wardwell Street and renovated it and built an addition on the south side of the former school building. In the 3/10/1903 issue of the Journal the following notice appeared:

Enlargement of Dr. Rice’s Factory

Owing to the large increase of his already extensive business, Dr. W.S. Rice finds it necessary to enlarge his truss factory to nearly three times its present working capacity. A.F. Lansing, the architect, says the new building will be on the lines of the most modern factories, with windows forming the largest part of the area of the exterior surface. The building is arranged in six-foot bays, of typical factory construction. The size of the new addition is 70x82 feet. The building will have a basement and two stories above. The basement will be used for the doctor’s many presses and for the large storage of paper. The first floor is arranged for the factory employees. A portion of the south side of the building is reserved for a fine suite for the doctor’s private offices. The balance of this side of the new building will be reserved for the large corps of stenographers.

The second floor plant consists if a large room, 82x26 feet, entirely devoted to the corresponding department. There are two fitting rooms at the head of the stairs, and the north side of the building will be devoted to the laboratory and the large medicinal department. Each floor is equipped with two lavatories.

There is to be an elevator at one end of the building. The plant is to be equipped with the most modern plumbing, heating and ventilating obtainable. The exterior will present a classical appearance, with pilastered corners and a parapet wall around the roof of the building, which will be of frame and stone construction. The plant is to be completed the coming summer. There will be a large and handsome front entrance and a reception hall for the doctors clients.

In June 1905 the Capt. W.A. Collings Co. of Watertown was incorporated with a capital stock of $125,000., to manufacture and deal in trusses and patent medicines. The directors were: W.S. Rice, Ransom H. Snyder and Dewey H. Hurd, all of Adams. In 1909 the Collings Co. had to move to larger quarters in Watertown (Stone Street) due to the increase in business. The company moved again in 1951 to (State Street). The Collings Company was moved to Adams in 1959.

In 1912 the Rice Company was chartered by the secretary of state, to make and sell drugs, surgical appliances, etc. The capital stock was placed at $110,000. Consisting of shares of $100. Each, and the directors were: William S. Rice, Gertrude A. Rice and Arthur L. Rice.

W.S. Rice Plant Destroyed by Fire

On 6/24/1920 the Rice factory on Wardwell Street burned to the ground. The 6/30/1920 issue of the journal relates the details: Thursday night about 10:30 o’clock the W.S. Rice Rupture Cure plant was discovered to be on fire by Earl Bettinger, who was returning to his home on Park Street. He ran to J.J. Chapman’s home nearby, and with Mr. Chapman, Will Underwood and his nephew, Albert Hunt, who lives next door, they gave the alarm and breaking into the factory and attempted to use the fire extinguishers and hose, but which failed to work. By this time the place was full of smoke and several explosions added to the intense heat. The men found themselves shut in the cellar as the door had closed behind them; at last, however, Chapman made his way out and calling to the others was able to get them to safety. None were burned seriously with the exception of Albert Hunt, whose face, arms, shoulders and chest were painfully burned, but fortunately is recovering satisfactorily.

Very soon the fire companies were busy and the whole village gathered, aroused by the ringing of bells and the creamery whistle. Many willing hands were ready to assist in saving the building which burned so rapidly that in less than an hour the entire plant with its valuable equipment was a mass of ruins. Nothing was saved from the building but a few records and lists belonging to the A.L. Rice paint business which had offices in a part of the building. On the following day, however, the heavy safes which had withstood the intense heat were opened and much of real value in currency and documents were found, which assisted greatly in getting the business started again.

The building being of wood with its light inflammable materials and with a large quantity of paper in stock made excelent fuel for the hottest fire that one could imagine. By the most strenuous efforts of the firemen adjacent residences of Mrs. Buell, Bernie Bartlett, Oleda Cole and Anson Zufelt were saved from destruction, while roofs of barns and houses on the nearby streets were often flooded with water to prevent a blaze. Fortunately no wind was blowing or the entire section would have been burned.

The fireproof building recently built by Dr. Rice to house his records and valuable documents pertaining to the business, located just east of the burned building, was saved which proved a most fortunate investment and enables Dr. Rice to proceed at once with his business.

Before morning dawned Dr. Rice and his brother, A.L. Rice, were making plans by which they could continue the large working force of over 200 people. The high School building nearby was leased for the summer and by 10 o’clock Friday morning every seat had been removed in the study and recitation rooms, and carpenters and electricians were busy making offices ready for typewriters which had been ordered, and by night men and women were busy looking over the heavy mails and endeavoring to proceed as usual.

A.L. Rice and family changed the interior of their handsome residence into offices and workshops, and a large force was soon busy sorting papers, and clerks and stenographers were soon at work. The loss is fully $200,000., on which there is an insurance of $125,000.

Offers of assistance immediately came to the Rices from all quarters in order that business might be resumed with as little delay as possible. All printing presses and typewriters in town were offered to the Rice brothers, which have proved helpful in keeping the large force at work.

Construction began on a new building on July 17. The new building was to be 156x60 feet, two stories with basement, and surrounded the brick vault which survived the fire. The contractor was Charles Haley of Watertown. The high school building, which was being used for offices had to be vacated by Sept. 1st. By August 4th the forms had been removed from the concrete foundations and bricklayers and carpenters are on the job. A stucco warehouse building 84x40, three stories was commenced August 1 and completed August 26. They moved out of the school on August 26 and into the new warehouse as temporary quarters.

Rice’s New Factory Opened

On November 26, 1920 the new Rice Factory was opened for the public to see. The 12/1/1920 issue of the journal gives the follow account:

The building as completed presented a brilliant appearance Wednesday evening, being lighted from basement to roof. A lighting system of the most modern type installed by Geeson Bros. of this village, made the entire plant as light as day. On the upper floor, the guests were shown the various products of the company. This floor will be used as the manufacturing department. In the basement is located the printing department, one of the most complete private plants in the country.

The first floor contains approximately 10,000 square feet of floor space. Work on the new building commenced July 17, roofed October 20, opened November 24—five months from day of fire. The new building classed as "slow burning construction," and is 60x154 feet, two stories and basement, with ceilings 12 feet, and in addition, an absolutely fireproof vault 32x44 feet and three stories high. Etire floor space is 40,000 square feet.

Used in the building—275,000 bricks; 1,000 barrels of cement; 21,000 feet of hardwood flooring; 2,600 panes of glass; 10,000 feet of piping in heating plant; two and one-half tons of nails. 63,000 feet of rough lumber used in making concrete forms and flooring; over one-fourth mile of beams 20 feet by 12x12 inches; 345 joists 14 feet by 4x12 inches. All woodwork painted with fireproof paint. Built by day labor under our own supervision. Entire building cost approximately $100,000. Two 50 h.p. Kewanee boilers used in heating plant with blower system for even distribution of heat to afford proper ventilation. All electric light wires concealed by conduit system, 2,500 feet of conduit being used. Transformer room in fireproof vault outside building. Brasco Indirect Lighting System, using twenty 400 watts lamps and ten 200 watt lamps in main building with individual drop lights in vault and basement. Graves electric elevator, 2,500 lbs. carrying capacity, to all floors and equipped with automatic check and fire doors. Telephone switchboard affords communication throughout the building. Fireproof vault in main office for books and records. Fireproof vault in basement for cuts, plates, etc. Walls are 20 inches thick, of concrete in basement and two upper stories 12 inch brick extra pilaster for supporting timbers. Concrete floor in basement six inches thick. Ventilation is gained by four 30 inch ventilators on roof connected with 30 inch square flue. Automatic sprinkler system for fire protection fed by six-inch direct water main—post valve gate at curb side.

Manufacturing department equipment with labor saving devices and up-to-date equipment of various natures; 28 singer Sewing Machines equipped with individual motors. The laboratory where all proprietary remedies are manufactured is under charge of a qualified chemist.

The western branch is located at St. Louis, Mo. The Canadian office is at Niagara Falls, Ont. The Rice advertisements appear in 1,500 papers annually. The Rice literature is printed in 15 different languages. In manufacturing, 900 yards of webbing is used daily; 2,000 sides of leather; 312,000 buckles and 6,000 500-yard spools of thread are used annually. From 300 to 500 trusses are shipped daily.

Death of William Seward Rice

The 4/7/1937 issue of the Journal reported the death of William S. Rice:

In the death of William Seward Rice last Saturday Adams met with a loss of an outstanding personality, a man who has been loyal to the best interests of the village, generous in his support of civic activities and sympathetic and kindly in his relations with all with whom he came in contact.

Just what the history of Adams would have been if Mr. Rice had not moved his business to Adams forty years ago, we do not know, but we do know that it has meant a livelihood to a large portion of our population, either directly or indirectly; it meant the raising of the postoffice to first class at the time of its greatest activity, when the A.L. Rice paint factory was also doing a large mail order business, and the increasing of our postoffice force.

During the depression, when it was necessary to curtail expenditures, Mr. Rice showed his loyalty to his employees of many years by dividing the work as far as possible so that none would be without some means of support.

At the time of the World War Mr. Rice served on the Draft Board and was very active in the sale of Liberty bonds. In fact, he was always ready to help in time of any community need.

The beautiful home of Mr. And Mrs. Rice in Adams has always been a most hospitable place, open at all times to their many friends, where a cordial welcome always awaited them.

He was a man of big vision and had the courage to risk his all in carrying out those dreams. That he made such a success of his business is a tribute to his keenness as a business man and to the courage which fortified his imagination.

William S. Rice’s son, Charles Kent Rice, ran the company after his father’s death in 1937 until his own death in 1953 at the age of 58 years. During World War 2 the companies expansion to foreign countries was cut down, but in 1953 the company employed 80 people. C. Kent Rice was succeeded as president of the company by his son, William Kent Rice.


In December 1962 the W.S. Rice Co. acquired the Compo Seal Company from its parent company, Stanford Rubber Supply Co. The firm made truss pads from vegetable compound and latex for nearly all truss manufacturers in the United States and Canada. The manufacture of these pads was moved to Adams. The 12/26/1962 issue of the Journal reported the following regarding the manufacture of these truss pads: Each truss manufacturing firm generally requires different sizes and shapes for pads used in their particular product. In all, the Rice company will have about 500 different wooden pad molds filed according to company name. When an order is received the particular mold is brought out and used as a master copy being pressed in large trays of cornstarch. The resulting print is then used to receive the vegetable oil compound which when mixed with an acid cooks it to the proper degree of hardness. The amount of acid used determines the degree of resiliency ordered by a company for their pads. Order range from 100 pads to 2,000. One was received recently for 6,900. Not all orders for pads however, come from the usual sources. An order was received recently from a music supply house for 5,000 soft pads for use as violin chin rests.

Not only will the new pad business add to the overall Rice company income, but being primarily a truss manufacturer, in addition to numerous other surgical garments, the concern will be one of its own best customers. Heretofore the Adams manufacturer, now employing 43 persons, purchased its pads from the company it recently acquired. William K. Rice is company president, Mrs. C. Kent Rice is vice-president and secretary and Mrs. M.L. Bellmore is treasurer.

Also in December 1962 the Soft-Ease Company rented the top floor of the Rice building. The company was established in Watertown in January 1960 with Roger L. Hyde, president; William K. Rice, vice president; Robert Diefendorf, Treasurer and George C. Hyde, treasurer. The company employed 4 people and manufactured a vinyl film hospital bed draw sheet with an insert of soft, cushiony polyether padding. They also made crib and bassinet mattresses for hospitals.

By 1966, due to labor saving devices and other reasons, the Rice Co. only employed about 35 people. They began to manufacture, in addition to the trusses and pads, golf cart covers, sea anchors, lure bags, and swimming pool covers. Also in 1966 the Crescent Corset Company of Cortland opened a branch manufacturing operation in Adams and rented the top floor of the Rice building. The company manufactured girdles, which were sold almost entirely through the J.C. Penney Co. When production began in May 1966 the company employed 22. The starting wage for the sewing machine operators was $50. per week. The crescent Corset Company closed in 1973.

In 1974 the Lally Manufacturing Co. began leasing the top two floors of the Rice building and the Rice Company operations were moved to the basement. In September 1974 the building was sold to the Lally Company and the Rice Company leased the basement.

In 1983 the Rice Company moved from the large brick building on the east side of Wardwell Street to the former Adams Bowling club building on the west side of Wardwell Street. The company continued to make latex pads, trusses, bed wedges. At this time they had 13 employees. The W.S. Rice Company closed on June 28, 1991.

A.L. Rice Co.

The W.S. Rice Co. was not the only business the Rice family was involved in here in Adams. In 1898 Arthur Leffingwell Rice, brother of William S. Rice, discovered the use of a new type of cement binder for water colors. He received a patent in 1900 for Powdrpaint water colors which he called ‘paint without oil’. He established the A.L. Rice Company. Powdrpaint was a dry powder, which mixed with cold water, made a paint. It was advertised as weatherproof, fireproof, sunproof and sanitary. Powdrpaint water colors could be used in combination with other ingredients for various painting purposes: he added turpentine to the paint formula to cover grease spots on floors and walls, raw or boiled linseed oil was added for painting in rainy climates, kerosene was added for painting iron work, a little varnish was added to make a thin glaze finish, castor oil & turpentine were added to make a window shade or roll-scenery paint, and to keep walls germ free and washable (such as in schools and hospitals) formaldehyde added to wash water hardened to powdrpaint colors and killed germs. The powdrpaint sold for 90 cents for 5 lb. carton; $4.37 for 25 lb. box; $8.50 for 50 lb. box; $16.50 for 100 lb. keg and $54.25 for 350 lb. barrel.

The company was incorporated as A.L. Rice, Inc. in January 1906 for the sale of oil and water paints, walls coatings, general merchandise and mail orders. The capital stock was $25,000. and the directors were: Arthur L. Rice, William S. Rice, and R.H. Snyder.

Twice the Powdrpaint warehouse burned down, first on 11/4/1901 and again on 4/8/1907. The 4/9/1907 issue of the journal gives the following account of the fire:

Powder Paint Warehouse Burned.

At 6:30 o’clock yesterday morning flames were discovered in the warehouse used by A.L. Rice in the powder paint business, situated on the former J.M. Cleveland place on Prospect Street. There was a high wind, but fortunately it was blowing from the southwest and drove the flames away from the near by residences. As the building was filled with such combustible material as paint and oil, the fire spread very rapidly, and with the water supply at a low pressure, it was impossible to save the building, which burned to the ground. The warehouse contained about 800 gallons of paint besides a large quantity of powder paint, and the estimated loss is $3,000. With an insurance of $1,700. The origin of the fire is a complete mystery, as no one, so far as known, had been in the building since Saturday night, and the flames broke out before the employees arrived Monday morning.

The following week the company was using a barn on Wardwell Street for its warehouse and in June 1907 the warehouse was moved to the old Waite malthouse on Spring Street. By 1914 the warehouse and shipping department was located on Railroad Street (W. Church St.) and the office was in the W.S. Rice building on Wardwell Street and there were branches in Chicago and New York City. He employed from 12 to 20 people. In April 1920 Mr. Rice built an addition 30x72 feet that was connected with the building on Railroad Street, located below the depot.

Mr. Rice also developed and maketed ‘Disinfecto’ - a germ killing disinfectant, cleansing and healing agent. Brochures from the company advertised several uses for Disinfecto, such as:

For cuts, sores, bruises, sprains, mosquito bites and bee stings - use 1 teaspoonful diluted with 1 pint of water and bathe the affected part frequently. In the Bath - to cleanse the pores of the skin, also relieves perspiration - use 1 tablespoon in an ordinary bath. For scrubbing Floors, woodwork, slate and tile - use 1 tablespoon in a pail of water. For washing stationary laundry tubs - use 2 tablespoons to a pail of water. For garbage cans, prevents odors and rids them of flies - use 1 tablespoon to 3 pints of water. As an insecticide to get rid of roaches, bed bugs, ants - wash the infected places occasionally with 1 tablespoon to a pint of water. In the Stable to prevent foul odors and germs spray the floors and walls with a solution of 4 tablespoons to a pail of water. For washing and cleaning horses and cattle - use 2 tablespoons to a pail of water. In the hen house - spray roosts and walls weekly and the floor occasionally after cleaning, to kill foul odors and to ride the place of fleas and lice - use 2 tablespoons to a gallon of water. As a Sheep Dip - use 1 gallon to not more than 70 gallons of water. The cost of ‘Disinfecto’ - 1 quart - 40 cents; 1/2 gallon - 80 cents; 1 gallon can - $1.30; 5 gallon can - $6. and 50 gallon barrel - $55.

Arthur Rice died suddenly on 10/11/1920 in Washington, DC while on a business trip. He was 59 years old. The company was run by Karl W. Rice from 1920 to 12/1/1934 when he sold it to Herbert E. Woodward. The company failed to secure a major promoter and succumbed to the competition.

Salina Chemical Co.

DEW, one of the first Water Softeners on the market, was invented in 1924 by ADams native, Karl B. Norton. He was a chemist at the Solvay Process Co. His idea for the water softener was a combination of a by-product crystal at the Solvay plant. He became partner with Charles E. Brownell and began making ‘DEW’ in Syracuse. Two years later they brought the packaging department to Adams. The crystal water-softener was shipped i large wooden barrels by train and delivered to a building on West Church Street near the Snyder Machinery business. The company also produced and marketed ‘Sparkle’ - used for cleaning bar and fountain glasses, silverware and dishes; ‘Bonderma’ - a foot powder; and ‘HTH-15’ - a water purifier. After a time the products were packaged in the Brownell garage on East Church Street. When Mr. Brownell died in 1934 the company passed to Mr. & Mrs. Karl Rice (Mrs. Rice was a daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Brownell). Mr. Rice devised a contraption to fill the DEW containers. DEW was taken upstairs in the barn, and via a chute, came downstairs at the pull of a lever, to fill each box with the right amount. The company failed to secure a major promoter and about 1947 it succumbed to competition from Proctor & Gamble, Colgate and others.