Chas. Ott: One-Stop Shopping for Bicycles and Dynamite

ad-charles-ott-dynamite_smu-19161916 ad

by Paula Bosse

Aside from maybe an ad for a popular off-campus soda shop or one of those bland, dutiful business card ads for an insurance company, I’m not sure that there’s necessarily a specific type of advertisement I expect to see in the pages of a college yearbook. But if I were quizzed on types of ads I wouldn’t expect to see in the pages of a college yearbook, it would probably include an ad for dynamite and ammo. But in 1916, SMU’s inaugural yearbook committee was proudly testing the limits of advertising propriety!

Charles Ott was kind of a big deal in the world of, first, gunsmithing, and second, locksmithing. Born in Germany, he came to Dallas in 1873 and opened a gun shop on Elm Street in 1876. According to The Encyclopedia of Texas, at the time of his death (c. 1921?), he was “the oldest gunsmith in the State of Texas.” That’s an impressive accomplishment. As seen from the ad above, a successful businessman not only knows his craft, but he knows how to diversify. (A nice bio of Mr. Ott can be found here.) Below, a photo of the interior of his shop, sometime in the early 20th century:

chas-ott_interior_cook-coll_degolyer_smu

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If you’re in business selling ammunition and gunpowder and fireworks and dynamite, you probably need to secure them in a place safe from the reach of the fires that seemed to hit Dallas constantly in the 19th century. ‘Cause if you don’t, you run the risk of something like this happening (north side of Elm, between Griffin and Akard):

ott-fire_dmn_052696Dallas Morning News, May 26, 1896

My favorite part of the story, though, was this on-the-spot artist’s depiction of the “conflagration.” You can practically feel the smoke burning your eyes.

ott-fire_pic_dmn_052696

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Sources & Notes

Top ad from, yes, the 1915-16 SMU Rotunda.

Bio of Charles Ott linked above from Davis & Grobe’s Encyclopedia of Texas (Dallas: Texas Development Bureau, 1922). If you sped-read past it above, you can find it here.

Excerpt and drawing of the explosive Elm St. fire from The Dallas Morning News, May 26, 1896.

Photo of the interior of the Ott store from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Libraries, SMU Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info on this photo is here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.