A gimmick to help sell shoes in Troy turned into a small business of elephant making for Troy businessman Maurice Edgar Baird in 1895. (Photo courtesy of the Troy Historical Society)
When Elephants Were Made in Troy
By Judy Deeter
TROY — Troy has long been recognized as a city where some of America’s finest goods have been produced — airplanes, airplane parts, food equipment, welding equipment and casual outdoor furniture, among others.
Troy company names are recognized around the globe, but perhaps the most unusual item to be made in Troy is the mechanical elephant made by The Trojan Elephant Company.
The owner of the company - and maker of the mechanical elephants - was Maurice Edgar Baird, who came to Troy from Kentucky in 1865 when he was about 11-years-old. It is thought that his parents may have been R. Davis and Martha E. Baird.
According to historical records, he was a very successful member of the Troy business community. He began his career in the hardware business, but later switched to the dry goods business and the boot and shoe business — always in partnerships with other gentlemen. In 1895, he gave up a partnership to open his own shoe business on South Market Street. He made a mechanical elephant as an advertisement of his shoe company.
An 1898 story in a supplement to the Miami Union Newspaper says: “M.E. Baird is recognized as one of the best informed shoe men in the trade. He is a shrewd buyer, a close seller, and a bold and liberal advertiser. He makes a specialty of solid modern grade goods of satisfactory wear. His stock is large, comprehensive, and comes from all classes of society.”
Baird was certainly recognized as “a bold and liberal advertiser” when he appeared in the 1895 Troy 4th of July parade with an eight-foot mechanical elephant.
He had made the elephant and placed a sign on its side that read: “See Baird the Shoe Seller.” Old photographs also show a small person riding at the top of the elephant, but it is hard to determine if the “person” was real or some sort of mannequin. Baird is thought to have appeared in several of the Troy parades.
His elephant was apparently an instant hit — people loved it! The story in the Miami Union further states: “The idea ‘caught on’ immediately and the outgrowth was the equipment of an elephant factory. During the past year (about 1897-1898) Mr. Baird has shipped these mechanical elephants from the Dacotas (sic) to New Jersey.”
The article also indicates that Baird printed sales brochures to describe the mechanical elephants.
Unlike other Troy manufacturers, very little documentation has been located about the Trojan Elephant Company. The Miami Union newspaper account, printed references about Baird and his mechanical elephants and related photographs are in the Troy Historical Society collection at the Troy-Miami Public Library Local History Library at 100 West Main Street in Troy.
There are also some records at Troy’s Riverside Cemetery. Maurice Baird died in 1917 and is buried in Troy’s Riverside cemetery along with his parents, wives Kate and Lulu and son Burgess Clay. (Burgess Clay Baird died in 1900 of pneumonia while at Stanford University.)
No record has been found of a factory for the mechanical elephants. Some historians believe that they were either manufactured in the back of his shoe store or in a barn behind his home on Plum Street.
Nevertheless, it should be remembered that of all the products ever made in Troy, the most unique is that of Maurice Baird and his wonderful mechanical elephants.