Remembering the Magic Food Company

Friday, March 21, 2008 - by Harmon Jolley
Receipt for purchase of a Magic Food product.  Click to enlarge.
Receipt for purchase of a Magic Food product. Click to enlarge.

One of the more famous signs in the world consists of “H O L L Y W O O D” spelled out in large white letters. The sign was erected in 1923 to promote a real estate development in the hills near Los Angeles. Though intended to be a temporary advertisement, the sign soon gained permanent status due to its association with the rise of the movie industry.

If you’ve ever thought that Chattanooga should put a sign like that on one of its surrounding hills, you may find it interesting that this has already been done. I discovered this immediately upon opening the pictorial, “Historic Photos of Chattanooga,” by William F. Hull.

Inside the cover is an 1896 photograph of the Chattanooga riverfront looking southwest from Hill City. Cameron Hill, which towered over the city in its pre-urban renewal form, provided the base for a sign made of white letters: USE MAGIC FOOD, with a figure of a horse between “magic” and “food.” I reviewed a print of the photograph at the library, and believe that the sign was real, as opposed to something added in white ink by the photographer, Will Stokes.

According to “Pen and Sunlight Sketches of Chattanooga,” the Magic Food Company was founded in 1891 by I.C. Mansfield. Mr. Mansfield was born in 1841 near Fort Valley, Georgia and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. Around the time that the photograph of Cameron Hill and the company’s sign was taken, Magic Food was based at 100-110 Carter Street. The city directory listed I.C. Mansfield as president, and W.T. Tyler of St. Louis as secretary/treasurer.

“Pen and Sunlight Sketches” noted that the company moved in 1907 to a new three-story building on Eleventh Street. Its customer base included 30,000 dealers across the United States. A large sales force supported the customers, and the business printed its own marketing material. One item recently on eBay was a rack used in displaying the products of the Magic Food Company.

Mansfield’s guaranteed line included tonics for poultry, cattle, and horses. Just as today’s automobiles require care and feeding, horses also needed maintenance if one wanted to have reliable transportation. Magic Foods supplied distemper cure, hoof ointment, liniment, and “Magicoleum.”

Other vendors of real horse-power in Chattanooga at the start of the 1900’s were the Chickamauga stable at Eighth and Chestnut, which sold rubber-tired carriages and also ran an ambulance/undertaking business, Globe Saddlery at 909 Market Street, and Dr. Joseph M. Good, a veterinary surgeon.

From his livestock-related business, I.C. Mansfield amassed enough wealth to move to a home on Lookout Mountain. He also served several years as park commissioner, and was an “ardent church worker” at First Presbyterian Church according to his February 25, 1913 obituary in the Chattanooga Times.

I was unable to find more information on the Magic Food sign. Both the business that it advertised, and the hill upon which it rested, were greatly affected by the advent of the automobile in the twentieth century.

If you have information on the Magic Food Company or its sign, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

View of Cameron Hill and the Chattanooga riverfront in 1896.  The Magic Food sign is best seen in the "Historic Photos of Chattanooga" book by William F. Hull.   Click to enlarge.
View of Cameron Hill and the Chattanooga riverfront in 1896. The Magic Food sign is best seen in the "Historic Photos of Chattanooga" book by William F. Hull. Click to enlarge.

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