Mysteries surround the origin of Mayer-Osborn Company and its first elevator

By Gary Rich

Let me explain about Wauneta, Neb. I got into a lot of trouble there last week. It was my wife that gave me the trouble. I went into the office trying to gain some information. The lady working inside went into the back room. She had all kinds of blueprints. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance looking at them. It took me over them minutes to look at everything. Needless to say, somebody was over the boiling point when I got back out to the car.

Let me give some other information that we thought about J.H. Tillotson, Contractor. Kristen and I thought Mayer-Osborn took over when Joe passed away. Now, I have proof that this wasn’t the case at all.

I found blue prints that pointed to Denver, but more towards Mayer-Osborn. One set of prints was not for an elevator. It was like footing foundations for a building. One set had the date in the body of blueprint, then there was a box in the lower right hand corner that had the company and another date. The first one had Orrie J. Holmen, Designer, Denver, Colo., but no company name was written there. The body of the blueprint had 1948, but the lower right corner showed 1949.

I found another set that had in the lower right-hand corner the following information; Holmen & Mayer, Designers & Engineers, Denver, Colo. So once Joe Tillotson passed away, I believe Orrie J. Holmen took over the company. We know that Gene Mayer worked for Tillotson–both Tillotson Construction, of Omaha, and J.H. Tillotson, of Denver–as well as Bill Osborn. But I could not find any dates for these blueprints.

Yet another set of blueprints had Holmen & Mayer, 1717 East Colfax, Denver, Colo. This is the exact address that is on the Mayer-Osborn brochure. I found even another set of blueprints, which are not blue. They are on clear paper or yellow paper. It shows the old elevator, which is the one without the headhouse. In the lower right-hand corner, it has the following information; Mayer-Osborn, 5100 York Street, Denver, Colo. But there is no date in the lower right corner box.

Kristen found a small article in the Farmers’ Elevator Guide which was a monthly magazine. It told about Mayer-Osborn moving to the address at 5100 York St. It stated that it gave them more room at this location.

This is my guess and my guess only that this is the way company names happened:

  1. J.H. Tillotson, Contractor
  2. Orrie J. Holmen or Holmen Construction
  3. Holmen & Mayer Construction
  4. Mayer-Osborn Co.

Kristen originally told me that Mayer-Osborn started in 1946. I still think the company name was Tillotson. She mentions that Mayer-Osborn built the McCook, Nebr., elevator, which was their first; however, the plaque inside the elevator shows 1949.

I am planning another trip to Wauneta in a few weeks. I will try to get permission to get into the elevator, so I can see whose name is on the manhole covers. This will tell us for sure, if it Tillotson or Mayer-Osborn who built the original elevator. I am thinking the original elevator was built either 1947 or 1948.

I want to get to the elevators in McCook, too. The one that Mayer-Osborn built there was another elevator standing a ways from the newer elevator. It is one that has no head house, too. I am hoping that they will let me inside this elevator, so I can find out who built this elevator. Some elevator managers are willing to let me inside the elevators, while others say that I can not go inside due to insurance. I am trying to get inside as many elevators as I can before it comes down that no one will be allowed inside.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kristen Cart explains:

Some of the mystery can be explained by the sequence of events leading to the establishment of the Mayer-Osborn Company.  J. H. Tillotson, Contractor was owned by Joe Tillotson. My father told me that Mr. Morris, Joe Tillotson’s construction superintendent, died in a roadside accident while changing a tire early in 1947. Within a month, Joe Tillotson died in a car accident, which we know was in March 1947. The only one left in the company who had contractor experience and construction expertise was William Osborn. It seems apparent to Dad that Gene Mayer had an independent architecture and engineering firm, which worked on projects with J. H. Tillotson, Contractor. For a period of time Gene Mayer was partnered with Orrie Holmen. My Dad says his father started an independent company called Osborn Construction, but it became very immediately apparent that he needed a partner.

This differs from Gary’s interpretation, but since Gary was at the site, talking to the people there, his thinking about it carries some weight. So we need to find more documentation.

In a newspaper story about the building of the McCook elevator in 1949, Bill Osborn was interviewed. He said Mayer-Osborn was incorporated  in September 1948. We do not have any documentation of William Osborn’s interim business other than two elevators that he said he built in 1947, according to the same newspaper account, in Fairbury and Daykin, Nebraska. They probably fulfilled contracts already won by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor.

In the same newspaper article, the author said the Wauneta elevator was built in 1945, which makes us wonder about the purpose of the later dated blueprints that were found there. The yellow blueprint that Gary found at Wauneta could only have been produced after May, 1953, which is when the Farmers’ Elevator Guide announced Mayer-Osborn’s move, from 1717 East Colfax Avenue in Denver, to 5100 York Street in Denver.

The sequence of events Gary describes above accurately tracks Gene Mayer’s business of engineering and architecture that built these elevators.  The business relationship that existed with my grandfather is something we will continue to explore.

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