Winona Wagon Co. Staked Reputation on Quality
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Truly, the whole structure was a novel idea and Winona took great advantage of promotional opportunities. Beyond a simple verbal description touting the design’s strength, the company’s marketing folks made a practice of cutting out the entire center section of a Winona rear axle. Then, they loaded the wagon and took photos to show the design strengths at work. At the same time, they would take a competitor’s wagon, remove the same area of the rear axle, load it and clearly demonstrate the weakened and sagging gear. These types of dramatic visual displays continually reinforced Winona as a major competitive force.
An ironclad reputation
Yet another distinctive design feature of Winona wagons was the “iron clad” hub. Once again, the carefully chosen name presented a vivid mental picture of strength, value and confidence. The design was a metal covering or shield tightly formed around the hub, protecting it from the destructive elements of work and weather.
According to the company’s early literature, this feature meant that “no matter how much the hubs were exposed to sun, snow, rain or dirt, they wouldn’t check or crack.” Winona claimed that once a wagon hub begins to check, “the spokes work loose, the tires come off, and a breakdown occurs.” While other builders could match many of the company’s quality construction traits, the patented features of an ironclad hub and outer bearing axle were clear advantages that set Winona apart. The distinctions were so easy to see that, even today, they’re very helpful in the identification process.
Soon after the turn of the 20th century, Winona adopted what would be one of its last identifiable icons. Further securing itself to the historical namesake of its city and the romance of the Old West, the company attached its brand to the symbol of a Dakota American Indian maiden by the name of Wenonah. It was a distinctive and easy-to-remember visual. The American Indian image was often included on the wagon, wagon seat, company letterhead, catalogs, ads and other promotional signage.
Even with a strong commitment to promotion, Winona ultimately fell victim to the same weakness that gripped virtually every wagon maker of the period. Almost all of the old builders found it hard to accept the passing of the grand wagon era. Changing times, needs and expectations helped increase the influence of motorized transportation while the archaic look of a horse-and-wagon-dominated society fell increasingly out of favor.
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