Here’s this week’s Part II of Cliff’s Notes about the early Packers. The focus here is on questions relating to the role of the packing plants. Read Part I here.
Gerald from Karlsruhe, Germany
Great idea to bring us your knowledge. What did the packing company have to do with the forming of the Packers? Did the workers play for the team?
The Indian Packing Company sponsored the Packers in 1919 or “fathered” them, as George Whitney Calhoun, the team’s co-founder, once wrote in a detailed history of the franchise. Calhoun also revealed the packing company supplied sweaters (or what today would be considered jerseys), maybe a half-dozen footballs and some shoulder pads for selected stars. Calhoun neglected to say how much Indian Packing contributed in all, but Jack Rudolph wrote in the 1950s the sum was “rumored” to be $500. Not only was Rudolph perhaps Green Bay’s foremost 20th-century historian, he also was one of Calhoun’s colleagues at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. In the years since, a number of writers have taken license and written that “rumor” as fact, but I question if it has ever been substantiated. That would be almost $7,000 in today’s money. Anyway, Indian Packing also was involved in 1920. “Council Meats” was Indian’s brand name, and the Packers wore a “Council Meats” emblem on their jersey that year. But, clearly, Indian Packing was never involved to the extent that many other large companies were with their sports teams. For example, Fairbanks-Morse Co. in Beloit not only sponsored football, basketball and baseball teams, but also employed the athletes who played on them. Curly Lambeau worked at Indian Packing. He was listed as a meatpacking foreman in the 1920 census. Wally Ladrow, another original Packer, also worked there and so did some others, I believe. But it wasn’t a lot. Also one last footnote: The nickname of the 1919 Indian Packing team was Packers. In the Press-Gazette’s first story about the team, it referred to it as both Packers and Indians. Two days later, the paper referred to the team only as the Packers.
Matt from Missoula, MT
From my old days of visiting the original Packers Hall of Fame, when it was across the street in its own building, I believe I read it was the Indian Meat Packing Company that first gave money to the Packers for uniforms. However, Acme seems to get all the credit. Can you clear this up, please?
Chicago-based Acme Packing announced the purchase of Indian Packing in December 1920. Several authors have written that Acme, not Indian, sponsored the team in 1920, but that wasn’t the case. Acme didn’t take over until the sale was finalized in January 1921. Acme also cleaned house and retained only one officer, John M. Clair. He, in turn, brought his brother, J. Emmett Clair, to Green Bay, and together they agreed to sponsor the team in Acme’s name. When the Packers were admitted to the American Professional Football Association on Aug. 27, 1921, J. Emmett Clair represented the team at the league meeting. Minutes from the meeting state the “Acme Packers” were admitted to the membership. We also know the sub-title of the Packers’ first Dope Sheet, published in early October, read, “Official Program and Publication, Acme-Packers Football Team,” and that J. Emmett was listed as team manager. A 1921 Packers team picture also clearly shows a handful of players wearing jerseys with “Acme Packers” written across the front. But that’s where things get murky. The Clairs moved back to Chicago at some point and by Dec. 5, 1921, Acme Packing was more than $3 million in debt. In fact, the Press-Gazette reported representatives of New York and Chicago banks had taken control of the Acme offices in Green Bay in October 1921. I‘m no expert on the bankruptcy laws of the time, but it sure sounds like the bankers were the equivalent of what today would be a creditors’ committee ushering a company through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. But back to the Packers and the 1921 season. In their final game against Racine, they used three players from the University of Notre Dame under assumed names and were subsequently kicked out of the league at a meeting less than two months later. Green Bay would be readmitted before the 1922 season, but one of the hurdles was that the Clair brothers, not Acme, held title to the franchise and considered moving the team to Chicago. Eventually, Curly Lambeau prevailed and the franchise stayed in Green Bay. So, yes, Indian Packing was the original sponsor, but Acme was the sponsor when the Packers joined what is now the NFL. One interesting side note: J. Emmett Clair lived until 2000 when he died at age 102. From what I understand, his memory remained sharp almost until the end. I didn’t know he was alive until it was too late, but I was allowed to watch a home video of him talking about his brief association with the Packers.
Don from Olathe, KS
When did the Acme Packers become the Green Bay Packers?
As you might have gathered from the previous answer, they were the Acme Packers for no more than four months, maybe even less than two. Once the Packers were readmitted to the NFL in June 1922, they also disassociated themselves from the packing plant. At that point, Curly Lambeau, George Whitney Calhoun, Joe Ordens and Nate Abrams formed the Green Bay Football Club, a private corporation. The team’s letterhead read: “Green Bay Football Club (formerly Packers).” The group ran the team for one season and actually stopped using the Packers’ nickname to avoid conjuring up memories of the packing plant’s ties to the team.
Ron from Appleton, WI
In the iconic team photo of the 1921 Packers, why did only five players and not the entire team have Acme Packers on their jerseys? I would expect all of the players to have the same jerseys. I was wondering if it was only the players who worked there who got the jerseys?
The 1921 season was one of constant turnover for the Packers. Of the 21 players who participated in the first game against the Chicago Boosters, only three played in the last game against the Racine Legion. The Packers played six league games and five non-league games that year. The APFA, as the NFL was called in its first two seasons, was so loosely organized, teams arranged their own schedules and often from week-to-week. And the evidence suggests teams either had to win or at least draw crowds to entice opponents to continue playing them. Anyway, the Packers started out in 1921 using a lot of the same local players – natives of Green Bay, products of the city’s East and West high schools – who had played on their 1919 and 1920 teams. But over the course of the season they replaced them with outsiders who had college and professional experience in order to better compete against the league’s stiffer competition. My guess is the “iconic team photo” you cited was taken after the Nov. 6 league game against Evansville because all the players on the picture except for one, Buff Wagner, played in that game – and Wagner was still a member of the team. If the IDs on the picture are correct, the players wearing visible Acme jerseys were Bill DuMoe, Wagner, Joe Carey, Curly Lambeau and Tubby Howard. Wagner, Carey and Lambeau were on the team on Sept. 25 when the Packers had to submit a 22-man roster to the league. Howard signed a week later and DuMoe signed just before the first league game against Minneapolis, played Oct. 23. So one guess would be the jerseys with Acme lettering were handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis and anybody who wasn’t part of the team by the first league game didn’t get one. Look closely at the picture and you’ll see it’s possible there were more players wearing Acme jerseys than can be seen. But who knows? Maybe the local players who had been dumped kept their jerseys rather than hand them over to their replacements. One would suspect the changing of the guard that season created some bitter feelings among the locals who started the team in 1919. Again, it was a turbulent season in many ways. By mid to late November 1921, when the Packers scheduled their first games against the Chicago Cardinals and Chicago Staleys (soon to be Bears), they had so few players who lived in Green Bay they couldn’t practice there. Before the Cardinals game, they held their first practice of the week on Thursday in Chicago. That was where the players met because most of them were living there or scattered around the Midwest. The Packers had so little time to prepare they even practiced on Sunday morning the day of the game.