Scholla: Horn Combs 12/2/1940

Graeff, Arthur D. Scholla: Horn Combs. Reading Times 12/2/1940

Near Reinholds stands the only horn comb factory of the United States. For four generations it has been operated by members of the Crouse Family, all descendants of the first Michael Crouse who came to this country, from Worms, early in the 18th century. William Crouse, born 1794, was the founder of the unique plant which still operates today. He learned his trade as a maker of horn combs in Reading. He was married to Sarah Marshall of Fritztown and moved to Reinholds where he set up his business. In 1824 he began to manufacture horn combs, continuing until 1872 when the business passed to his son, William Jr. In 1895 George W. Crouse, a grandson of the founder, became the owner and continues to operate the factory today together with his son George Atlee Crouse.

Many changes have taken place during the 116 years the plant has been in continuous operation. In the early days the horns of cattle were purchased from local farmers and butchers, but today they are imported from Texas and Panama. Formerly all of the polishing and cutting had to be done by hand-labor, but today machines driven by electric power take care of many of the tedious tasks connected with the industry.

Although mechanical devices are used to shape, cut and polish the finished product there still is need for the knowledge and exercise of peculiar skills in preparing the raw horns for the molding machines and these bits of wisdom are inherited through the successive generations of the Crouse family.

First an incision must be made into the cattle-horns, an incision which will form a spiral around the horn designed to produce the longest possible band of bony substance. Then the horns must be boiled, first in water then in oil, until they are soft enough to be rolled out into flat strips. This boiling process must go on for at least one-half day. Next, the raw horn strips must be cured. This means that they must be pressed tightly in a vise-like container and subjected to varying degrees of temperature for a period of two months. This is done to insure the proper resiliency and texture.

When the horn strips are ready for final processing they are inserted into a tooth cutting machine which perforates the strips and cuts two combs out of each horn strip, each flange of the strip becoming the back of a comb, the center being divided into two rows of teeth.

Then follow the many steps in polishing the combs. For this purpose Crouses use a buffing machine whose polishing surface is a wheel of closely matted corn husks. These Wheels they construct themselves using the husks of native corn, grown in nearby fields.

Crouse’s horn combs were featured as the main exhibit of the 1940 Berks County Fersammling and each guest was given a souvenir of a comb which was manufactured in the Reinholds plant.

Der Ewich Yaeger

Archivist Notes: The Crouse horn comb factory burned down on February 19. 1954. It took 20 years for George Atlee Crouse to rebuild the factory, which resumed production in 1973. George continued the family tradition until his passing in 2001.

“A Family of Comb Makers” October 3rd, 1898 page 6 Reading Eagle (available online)

“Horn Comb Factory Destroyed by Fire Near Reinholds” Reading Eagle. February 20, 1954 (available online)

Comb produced by George Atlee Crouse
Comb produced by George Atlee Crouse
Horn Comb Blanks produced by George Atlee Crouse

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