N. O. Nelson Co. - St. Louis, MO

Mr. N. O. Nelson, the company's founder, was a man of great vision and conscience. As an arbitrator in an 1886 railroad strike he was repelled by the idea of the callous attitude of management toward workers. The exploitation he witnessed and the violence sparked by the strike stirred him to seek a remedy to the capital/labor conflict which he would implement in his own company located at the time in St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1888 Mr. Nelson decided to relocate the manufacturing facility from St. Louis to a rural area. In 1890 a suitable location was found across the Mississippi River in Illinois. The site chosen developed into a 'company city' that he named Leclaire; in honor of Edmund Leclaire of Paris, France who was a pioneer in the concept of profit sharing.

Mr. Nelson placed great importance on the environment in which men would perform their daily labors. It 1894, journalist Nellie Bly would write after a visit to Leclaire, "As I walked through the factories, I looked at the men. It is generally easy to judge a man's condition by his face ... the workmen in the Leclaire factories were working away as if work was a pleasure." The company produced "plumbing goods" in addition to fire hydrants.

In the 1930's, Leclaire's existence as a village ended with annexation into the City of Edwardsville. This information and the above attached images were drawn from a brochure Historic Tour of Leclaire Village published for/by the City of Edwardsville, IL. Buildings of this N. O. Nelson factory still stand today.

N.O. Nelson ceased manufacturing in 1948, though by that time much of its manufacturing activities had already ceased. We do not know when they ceased manufacturing fire hydrants. After 1948 it continued to operate as a wholesale distributor of plumbing and plumbing related products. In August of 1955 it was sold for $4.8 million, and the buyer extracted most of its cash. By July of 1956, N.O. Nelson Co. was bankrupt. In June of 1957, a new investor bought the remaining assets from the bankruptcy trustee, but the company was badly undercapitalized.

By August of 1958, Primus Inc. bought N.O. Nelson Co.'s five remaining branches. More than forty years later, and now under the Winholesale parent name (www.winholesale.com), there are more than four hundred operating companies, and every one is a wholesale distributor and descendant of the N.O. Nelson Co. They are proud of this heritage, and like to think that they share many of the best characteristics of the old company. More than 250 of these companies are named Winnelson and thereby keep a direct link to the old name.

The Winholesale companies are segmented by vertical market. The forementioned Winnelson companies are wholesale distributors of plumbing products. And today, if you buy a fire hydrant or other municipal waterproduct from one of the twenty-one Winwater Works companies that are in the United States, you are buying from the descendants of the N.O. Nelson Co. This "post-1948" information courtesy of Mr. Bruce Anderson, Corporate Communications Director of Primus, Inc.

  NONCO hydrant
The N. O. Nelson hydrants are referred to as "Nelson" fire hydrants in their 1893 catalog. They are subsequently referred to as "NONCO" fire hydrants in later company literature. (This particular page was likely produced sometime after the 1930's because of its mention of Edwardsville rather than Leclaire). A cutaway view can be seen here. And it is apparent from this hydrant parts list that Nonco hydrants were made in only one valve opening size, which we believe to be 4". It is also evident from this same page that these hydrants were made with one or two hoze nozzles; with a steamer nozzle being optional.
Nozzles: 2x 2.5"
Size: ~4" V.O.
Location: ?
Photo: © 2000, R. Porterfield

  Nonco - #6199N
This model is very similar in size and design to the 4" V.O. No. 3 Eclipse hydrant made by Kupferle Foundry, also of St. Louis. This is likely the case, since N.O. Nelson carried various Eclipse hydrant models in its catalogs. The spiral design on the bonnet and barrel of this model give it a very different look, perhaps intended as a means of setting this Nonco hydrant apart from the usual Kupferle offerings. This hydrant, listed as #6199N, can be seen on this Nonco catalog page.
Nozzles: 2x 2.5"
Size: ~4" V.O.
Note: back view
Location: Illinois
Photo: © 2002, J. Anderson

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