The gentleman farmers who came to Schaumburg Township in the 1900s were either businessmen or lawyers. The businessmen sold marshmallows, conducted orchestras, produced Broadway shows and sold milk. Or, in the case of O.D. Jennings, manufactured slot machines.
According to his obituary in the DuPage County Register of 11/26/1953, Mr. Jennings was born September 16, 1874 in Paducah, KY. In his early years he worked for the Mills Novelty Company. In 1904, he was running The Spectatorium, a large penny arcade, for the same company at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. By 1906 he had collected enough capital to start his own business, Industry Novelty Company, Inc. The company worked hand in hand with Mills by refurbishing the slot machines they had manufactured.
After moving to Chicago in 1907, the company was renamed O.D. Jennings & Company. They began producing their own slot machines by 1918 and were successful enough for Mr. Jennings and his wife Jeanette to purchase a farm in Schaumburg Township off of Schaumburg Road, south of its current intersection with Braintree. According to his obituary, the Jennings bought the property in 1918—about seven years earlier than is reported in most other accounts. It is quite possible the farm was sold to them by the Kruse family who are shown on a plat map of 1898 in the same location.
A Walking Tour of Historic and Architectural Landmarks, written by the Village of Schaumburg’s Planning Department around 1993, states that the house, carriage house and barn were all built prior to 1925. Since the Jennings were city people with money, it can be assumed that they were the builders of these structures at 220 Civic Drive.
Mr. and Mrs. Jennings spent a fair amount of time at their working farm where they raised horses and beef cattle. They appeared to go through caretakers somewhat rapidly in the early years. In fact, mentions of these various farm workers further substantiate the Jennings’ purchase of the property in 1918. Early versions of the Paddock Publications newspapers mention: Franz Cash as a farm hand (May 7, 1920), Ed Seggesman as farm manager (November 12, 1920) and Anton Nielsen severing ties as farm manager (July 15, 1921). Mr. and Mrs. William McCulless, a “colored couple” were also listed as leaving his employ on January 4, 1924.
After those first rough years no further mentions of farm vacancies were made in the papers. In fact, the next tidbit is quite to the contrary. On June 8, 1951, the DuPage County Register has a death notice for Elmer Cooper who was “well known in this area, having been employed as chauffeur by Ode D. Jennings for the past 25 years.”
The years proved to be very profitable for Mr. Jennings and his company which was located at 4309 Lake Street. Around 1936, the company manufactured a payout pinball machine called the Sportsman that was actually more similar to a slot machine They eventually got into other coin-operated machines such as weighing scales, parking meters and gumball machines. According to an account of Mr. Jennings on ibuyoldslots.com, his factory was “technologically highly advanced” by the war years. As a result, it was adapted for the making of aircraft assemblies and, later, for the manufacturing of “highly secret radar equipment.
At some point, prior to 1938, the Jennings bought another small parcel of property on the very northeast corner of Schaumburg and Springinsguth Roads from the Fasse family. According to D. Nelson, her family, the Bottermans, purchased the remainder of the farm from the Fasse’s in that year. A house was built on the parcel for Mr. Jennings’ cousin, Everett, who served as his attorney. Miss Irma Fischer who was a secretary in Everett Fischer’s law firm also lived in the house. There was another, smaller home on the property where Mr. Therman, Ode Jennings’ chauffeur lived. According to D. Nelson, this property was eventally sold in the early 1950s to Eve Fasse–no relation to the earlier Fasses–after Everett Jennings and Miss Fischer passed away.
After 35 years of ownership, Mr. Jennings died on his farm at the age of 79 on November 21, 1953. It was reported in his obituary that he was “dealing in milk vending machines and had been working on a new type of carton at the time of his death.” He left his entire estate to his wife Jeanette. According to the Wikipedia article on his company, it was bought by Jennings and Company which was incorporated in Illinois in March, 1954. This company later merged into the Hershey Manufacturing Company of Illinois and by the early 1960s was the leading manufacturer of slot machines in the U.S.
The farm stayed in Mrs. Jennings’ hands although she moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. In a 1955 Chicago Tribune article, it is stated that the Jennings estate was valued at $2,211,222. Upon her death around 1962, the monies from the estate, per his will, were donated to his church and, also, to Passavant Memorial Hospital—now Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The Ode D. Jennings Pavilion at 707 Fairbanks Court is now part of this large medical complex.
And, his farm? Well, it was sold to Campanelli Brothers who went on to build Weathersfield, the first subdivision in Schaumburg. Read more about this timely sale in next week’s blog posting…
This posting was also written with the assistance of the website, http://www.antique-slot-machines.net/jennings. The photos of Jennings and his company are courtesy of Marshall Fey from his book, Slot Machines: A Pictorial History of the First 100 Years–which the library owns. Mr. Fey also provided information on the other machines Mr. Jennings’ company produced.