Weather House

Airboy Comics Volume 5, #4. Published by Hillman in 1948.

The Airboy story has a rollicking Terry and the Pirates vibe.

I couldn’t tell you how I came by this book. Probably bought with paper-route money before I was in high school.

Anyway. I’m not going to talk about Airboy today.

As cool as the adventure-tales within the pages of Airboy Comics are, they are nowhere as exciting as the ad inside the front cover for a weather forecaster.

Why is that? You might ask.

Because the story of this simple device and the people who created it is an incredible story in itself.

The tale begins in 1944 during the second world war at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn. Before the war, Mrs. Kahn had been a commercial artist. Mr. Kahn owned an advertising agency. They also collected Swiss weather houses.

The working principle of a weather house is ancient and very simple. A length of a humidity sensitive fiber grows, shrinks and twists depending on how much moisture the air is holding. Similar to what happens to your hair when you travel to a humid climate. The fiber in this case is catgut.

At the end of the catgut are suspended two figures. When the catgut changes it also twists, moving one or the other figure out of the house. As changes in humidity usually indicates a change in the weather. It’s an astonishingly accurate machine.

Anyway. At dinner one evening Mrs. Kahn asked her husband, “Why wouldn’t it be a good idea to make and sell weather houses?”

Mr. Kahn considered his wife’s suggestion. It didn’t seem like a good idea at first, but Mr. Kahn registered what his wife had already realized; The US government had restricted and outright banned weather reporting in newspapers and on the radio for the duration of the war.

The idea made sense! People WOULD buy weather houses! At least until the war was over.

Neither Mr. or Mrs. Kahn knew anything about selling gadgets, they knew less about manufacturing them, and they weren’t wealthy by any means. In addition manufacturing plants were working to fill government war contracts. And where were they going to get the raw materials?

The Kahns had one thing going for them, though, an amazing amount of luck.

They found an ad in the newspaper by an Iowa toy manufacturer whose plant wasn’t completely dedicated to the war effort. Mr. Kahn answered the ad and together with his wife they created the plans for a model of their weather house. A nearby carpenter built the first model.

The toy manufacturer could produce most of the weather house; The roof, sides and flooring, but the Kahns would have to paint and assemble them. Also he required materials. Wood, preferably walnut.

Where could the Kahns find a supply of walnut? Taking a shot in the dark, they sent a query to the War Assets Administration. As luck would have it a manufacturer had produced thousands of rifle stocks that were rejected by the Army. Coincidentally, the rifle stocks were made of walnut.

Production was ready to begin so the Kahns wrote and illustrated an ad which they placed in a local paper.

The response to their ad was amazing. The day after the ad appeared the Kahns had 400 orders. A few days later, 800. A week later more than 1500. Ten days after the first ad they placed another ad and received 2000 orders.

Mr. Kahn sent letters to hundreds of radio stations throughout the U. S. offering a salesman’s percentage of the number of weather houses they could sell over the air. In three weeks 18 stations were selling weather houses over the air. Orders were coming in at the rate of thousands per week.

The Kahns now had a problem that they didn’t anticipate; Success. Mr. and Mrs. Kahn were assembling and mailing the weather houses themselves from home, and they were falling behind. Luckily Mrs Kahn knew a group of women were trying to raise money for a neighborhood church. She asked the chairman of the committee if they could, “get a group of women to assemble and paint weather houses on a piecework basis?”

Thereafter twenty women were at work in an office that the Kahns had rented. Mrs. Kahn had suggested that their office be next door to the post office to make shipping easier.

After the war their company, ‘Weatherman’ continued to successfully produce and sell Weather houses.

In 1948 the Kahns took an expensive gamble; They bought a license for $5,000 from Walt Disney to produce a Mickey Mouse version. The dies cost $8,500. Mrs. Kahn came up with the design. They cost $1.49 to buy.

In 1949 the Micky and Donald Weather Houses sold so fast and successfully that the Disney Company collected more than $10,000 in royalties.

The weather house pictured above is displayed in my living room. I found the box in a pile of trash in the barn at our farm when I was a kid. The weather-house was an exciting discovery at an antique store when I was in college. If you look closely it’s missing the rooster at the peak. I eventually came across another with the rooster intact.

Instructions are printed on the back of the weather house.