Hank expert Brian Turpen joins the Hank Blog this week in a 3 part mini series. Below is part 2.
In 1941, company president R.S. Dickinson opened the company's first out-of-state facility in Decatur, Alabama with a flour mill and animal feed plant. The site was chosen because of its proximity to transportation on the Tennessee River and its central location. About six Nebraskan families relocated, bringing some Midwestern ideas into the Deep South. Alabama Flour Mills opened for production in late 1941. The mill consumed large amounts of grain, most of which was shipped from the Midwest. Flour milling had been the plant’s strength from the beginning, when it produced 80,000 pounds a day. The executive in charge of the Alabama mill was C.H. Thomas. The mill produced the company’s old favorite, White Elephant, and added a new brand, Mother’s Best, upon their opening in 1941. Mother’s Best was also packaged at Nebraska Consolidated’s other mills, but the bulk of the production was from Decatur. Today most supermarket flour is in paper bags that are thrown away. In the 1940s, flour was packaged in colorful cloth bags that people used to make curtains, dish towels, pillow-cases, and even clothes. Mother’s Best bags were no exception.
Just months after the Alabama mill opened, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the mill worked around the clock and became an important industry in the war effort. In the early days, the company tested flour produced at the mill. Lab workers baked bread, biscuits and corn bread on site to make sure the flour was up to standards. After the testing, the “girls in the office” would eat the baked goods.
Although the head office in Nebraska had final say-so over advertising and sponsorship, it was Alabama Flour Mills’ executive C.H. Thomas who pushed for Mother’s Best Flour to reach out to rural areas by sponsoring several radio shows throughout the South. In the mid 1940s to the early 1950s, the Mother’s Best Flour brand sponsored several different radio programs. Some of their sponsored shows were: Joe Rumore and Rebe & Rabe on WVOK in Birmingham, Alabama; Bob Helton and later Curley Williams on WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama; Slim Rhodes on WMC in Memphis, Tennessee; bluesmen Houston Stackhouse, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Joe Willie Wilkins and Robert Lockwood Jr. on KFFA at Helena, Arkansas; and the Wyatt Brothers on KBOA in Piggott, Arkansas. However, by far the most popular Mother’s Best spokesperson was Hank Williams on WSM out of Nashville, Tennessee. Hank sold Mother’s Best on WSM from late 1950 or early 1951 until the late weeks of 1951 when he reluctantly went into Vanderbilt Medical Center for an operation on his spine that he hoped would relieve some of his back pain. Soon after his death on January 1, 1953, the era of “live” radio came to an end.
The series will continue later this week