Chas. Ott: One-Stop Shopping for Bicycles and Dynamite
by Paula Bosse
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:
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):
Dallas 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.
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.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
“Nothing to see here, move along now…!” Great story, Paula!
[…] And, lastly, a runner-up, for weirdness: an artist’s conception of a massive fire that swept through downtown in 1896, from “Chas. Ott: One-Stop Shopping for Bicycles, and Dynamite.” […]
[…] seen here — all founded in the 19th century — would be Huey & Philp Hardware, Charles Ott (gunsmith) (the sign can be seen just above the Huey & Philp sign at the right), and down the […]
Strange, I ran upon this when they dug a sewer line out in back of where the old shop was located and some old burnt brick came up, made in the 1870s and i saved one…..cleaned up and ready to go…