Remembering the past of Beloit
Beloit’s pride in our past provides a strong foundation as we build our future.
Beloit celebrates a rich history. Beloit College made Beloit home before Wisconsin became a state and is situated on Native American effigy mounds that date back to 700 AD. Our New England heritage from the mid-1800’s has been preserved through our historic neighborhoods and living museums. Our historic downtown boasts beautifully renovated structures which house specialty retail, food and living accommodations.
BELOIT HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The Beloit Historical Society, founded in 1910, is the oldest historical society in Rock County. Located on the west side of Beloit, the society manages two sites – The Lincoln Center and the Hanchett-Bartlett Homestead. Programs, tours and community events are held throughout the year at both facilities.
For 105 years, the society has collected Beloit history including photography, maps, blueprints, military objects and much more. There are more than 30,000 pieces in the collection, including 18,000 photographs, as well as city directories and yearbooks from Beloit High School, now known as Beloit Memorial High School. The city directories go back to 1857 and the yearbooks date back to 1916.
NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN MOUNDS
Beloit College is the oldest continuously operating college in Wisconsin, but the historical buildings are not the only thing that makes this campus unique. At Beloit College students can walk among the 20 conical, linear, and animal effigy mounds built between about AD 400 and 1200 by Native Americans. One mound, in the form of a turtle, has inspired the symbol (and unofficial mascot) of the College.
Many of the Beloit College mounds have been partly excavated and restored. Material found in them and in other Late Woodland sites in the region, such as fragments of pottery and stone tools, are in the collection of the College’s Logan Museum of Anthropology.
Early maps indicate more than 20,000 Indian mounds once existed in Wisconsin, but today many are gone. There are a few other preserved mounds found in Beloit, including a 160′ panther or water spirit effigy mound in Totem Park.
ROY CHAPMAN ANDREWS
One of Beloit’s most famous citizens was Roy Chapman Andrews, an explorer, adventurer and writer. Andrews is best known for leading a series of expeditions through China in the early 20th century into the Gobi Desert and Mongolia that led to such discoveries as the first-known nests of fossilized dinosaur eggs. There were plenty of obstacles along the way, however, as he battled sandstorms, snakes, and bandit attacks. It is widely speculated that Andrews was the inspiration behind the Hollywood character “Indiana Jones.”
“The Andrews story is one of those real-life dramas that seems like it would be fiction, except that it turns out to be true,” says Ann Bausum, an author based in Rock County. Bausum knows Andrews well, having published Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs: A Photobiography of Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews in 2000 with the National Geographic Society.
“His story speaks to the nature of exploration,” she says. “Inevitably, it’s a dangerous profession. Accepting the risks is part of the passion that comes with the quest for knowledge as scientists and explorers. Andrews happened to fall under that spell like other explorers have. While he found himself in many sticky situations, he was very good at getting out of them, quite resourceful and clever.”
Andrews was born in 1884 in Beloit and grew up on the west side of town. He spent most of his youth outdoors in nearby woods, fields, and steams. He taught himself taxidermy and used the money he made to help pay for his tuition at Beloit College. “He had an insatiable passion for the natural world,” says Bausum. “From an early age, he hoped to one day work for the American Museum of Natural History.”
And he did. As a teenager he started a correspondence with scientists at the New York City museum. After graduating from Beloit College, he traveled to New York and asked to be hired. “He made the bold statement that he’d do anything to work there, even mop the floor. That’s the job he was given,” says Bausum.
INVENTORS OF THE CORN CURL
Beloit has a long history of creating tasty snacks and is now home to several innovative food companies such as Frito-Lay, Kerry, Hormel and Kettle Foods.
It all began with the corn curl, and how it was invented in Beloit is part accident and part innovation. Clair Mathews, an agronomist for the Dougan Farm Dairies, was on a quest to create better feed for livestock, so he designed a simple machine from a farm wagon axle and wagon wheel hub and other odds and ends to create flaked feed. This experimental machine worked sufficiently enough to demonstrate that such a concept would produce the flaked feed that he sought. His machine was improved upon and later Flakall Corporation was formed to produce this new style feed and a patent was received on June 7, 1938. Its first commercial product was flaked rabbit feed made from alfalfa, oats, barley, wheat, corn, oil, meals minerals, salt and molasses. Little did they know that a fluke in the production process would have a tremendous impact upon the snack food industry around the world!
One day Edward Wilson, a flake operator at the Flakall Company, watched as workers poured cracked corn kernels into one of the flaking machines to help reduce clogging of the machine and to clean the augers. The flaker had been running continuously for many hours and it was unusually hot. To the surprise of Wilson, the extruded corn sheet began to puff and pop, and when the sheet exited the machine and hit colder air and the cold cement floor, it broke into irregular stick-like ribbons.
Wilson took the unusual puffed corn ribbons home, deep fried them, salted them and shared them with family and neighbors. They were an immediate hit! Wilson dubbed his creation “Korn Kurls”, a name which was later trademarked. Later cheese was applied externally during the process to improve flavor, creating the first cheese curls!
This cheesy snack became so popular, the company ran another flaker just for the production of Korn Kurls. By 1946 one of the founders of the Flakall Corporation had formed the Adams Corporation and commercialized Korn Kurls. The Frito-Lay plant in Beloit now ships truckloads of these and other tasty snacks all over the country.
Adapted from “The Origin of Extruded Snacks”, by Allan W. Adams, 1976, The Snack Food Blue Book. Allan Adams was president of Adams International, Beloit, Wisconsin in 1976 and was Flakall’s first salesman in its early days when still producing animal feed. Click here to download the entire article.
Learn More About Beloit’s Rich History
We’ve always been a community of thinkers, doers and inventors, and there are many more Beloit stories like these. Our rich history provides an anchor and a strong foundation as we work together to forge our future. We invite you come create your own Beloit experience and become part of Beloit’s Story!