The Cawston Ostrich Farm was established in 1886 by Edwin Cawston, a native of England. The farm was originally located in Norwalk, California. Cawston moved his ostriches to South Pasadena in 1896 along the banks of the Arroyo Seco and marketed the enterprise as a tourist attraction. The farm was the first ostrich farm in the United States, thus South Africa’s first competitors in the ostrich feather industry. Cawston also took on the Germany feather dyeing monopoly and opened his own operations in California. The feathers and dyes produced at Cawston Ostrich Farm won medals in fairs throughout the world between 1904 and 1920. The farm was famous for being both a tourist attraction, bringing in thousands of visitors, and a premium feather manufacturer. Cawston sold the company years later to a local syndicate for $1,250,000 and moved back to England. The syndicate was mainly comprised of businessmen who had been long associated with the farm. The most notable of these, in terms of the collection, was Herbert J. Vatcher Jr. When Cawston left the ostrich farm, he took all of its available funds, leaving the company without capital. In 1914, they were deeply in debt and looked to sell the farm. Vatcher Jr. resigned in 1914, but the new management did not have any financial success either. There was a revived interest in feathers in the late 1910s and early 1920s, but ostrich was never as fashionable as it had been during the farm’s early years. Herbert and Lillian Vatcher took over the company in the early 1920s, but even this did not turn the company around. After a couple of decades of decline, failed farms and failed stores the Great Depression dealt the final blow. Assets were sold off in 1934 and the farm was closed in 1935.
Scope and Content
The collection is semi-catalogued and consists of 1,156 items in six boxes with the manuscripts and documents arranged alphabetically by subject, the correspondence arranged alphabetically by author and the ephemera arranged alphabetically by type. There are 322 manuscripts and documents, most of which pertain to the legal and financial dealings of Cawston Ostrich Farm. There are a few items pertaining to the Atlanta Ostrich Farm and the California Zoological Society. There are also some documents of the Vatcher family and Herbert J. Vatcher, Jr.’s other business interests. The correspondence consists of 499 items, the majority of which deal with the financial and legal affairs of the Cawston Ostrich Farm and its affiliates. This includes ostrich feather stores in New York and the operation of the Atlanta Ostrich Farm located at the Atlanta Fair Grounds in Georgia. The correspondence also includes the private letters of the Vatcher family and their friends, including the business endeavors of Herbert J. Vatcher, Jr. These projects include the California Zoological Society, various land deals, and investment in oil exploration in Southern California. The letter from W.K. Kellogg is an inquiry to the Cawston Ostrich Farm regarding ostrich leather products. Letters pertaining to the Atlanta Fair Association discuss the relationship between the association and the Atlanta Ostrich Farm and the possibility that the association would buy the farm. The ephemera consists of 335 pieces regarding the ostrich feather industry, the Vatcher Family and businesses Herbert J. Vatcher, Jr. was involved in. Ephemera includes a 1920 edition of In Atlanta this Week, three editions of “The City Builder” and other materials related to the Atlanta Fair Association and the Atlanta Ostrich Farm. There are various brochures, catalogues and pamphlets from ostrich feather dealers and sellers and newspaper clippings regarding the industry. The collection also includes materials relating to the California Zoological Society such as a brochure, insurance map, a photo of Louise Ward Watkins with a lion, and blueprints of the grounds. Subjects include: Al G. Barnes Wild Animal Circus alligator farming in Florida animal trainers Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Atlanta Fair Association Willis H. Booth Los Angeles County Politics and government Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors oil fields in California Pacific Electric Railway Company San Francisco Zoo Smithsonian Institution exhibitions Union Oil Company of California and zoos.