“Kearney has it and has it bad,” said the Kearney Daily Hub on May 14, 1902. “The dandelion is taking the town, literally overrunning it from end to end, covering lawns and terraces, and furnishing ‘greens’ enough to supply the inhabitants of a large city if the crop was harvested and marketed.” Similar laments filled the columns of the paper on a regular basis for the next several years. “The dandelion pest is with us again,” said the Hub on April 14, 1917. “And with them come the usual cures, one being prescribed by almost every citizen who has combated the nuisance. Every conceivable method of extermination is advocated, from merely cutting to killing them with application of a gasoline concoction. And as regularly as suggested the plans are tried, but usually with the same result, more dandelions.”
Fortunately by 1917 the citizens of Kearney had a new weapon in their ongoing fight against dandelions. Several years before Ernest Gillette, Buffalo County Courthouse custodian, had invented a “dandelion extermination rake,” which he patented and then manufactured on a small scale. In 1916 Charles A. Hazlett, a Kearney jeweler and optician, purchased Gillette’s patent rights, manufacturing machinery, and raw materials. Hazlett planned to produce the rakes himself in the basement of the building housing his jewelry store.
The dandelion rake, as it quickly became known, soon proved popular. Hazlett, seeing a golden opportunity to profit from the hatred of homeowners for dandelions, promoted the rake enthusiastically and soon expanded his operations. He traveled to St. Louis in May 1916 and secured an order from the city for use in municipal parks there. He also persuaded a large hardware company to handle the rake and arranged for its sale by traveling salesmen. “Dandelion fighters in other cities have heard of the rake,” said the Hub on April 14, 1917, “and they cannot be turned out fast enough to meet the demand.”
The Hardware Review in 1917 described the rake and how it worked: “It kills the dandelion roots by pulling the heads and buds off, and at the same time cultivates the lawn, giving it a chance to grow. It rakes clean, taking everything off the lawn but the grass. . . . They are made of No. 16 gauge, blue annealed steel, 5 l/2 foot handles and weigh approximately 36 pounds to the dozen.” Hazlett insisted that all manufacturing of the dandelion rake be done in Kearney, with raw materials shipped in and turned into the finished product. In 1919 his company was relocated to the former Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Hospital site, where a modern factory developed, capable of producing one hundred thousand rakes per year. Hazlett also acquired patents and manufacturing rights for several other local inventions, including a tool holder and babbiting machine invented by F. P. and C. N. Kuhn of Kearney.
Hazlett died unexpectedly in late November 1920. A brief item in the Hub on May 19, 1921, reported that the dandelion rake factory had closed for the season “after having concluded an excellent run and fulfilled the immediate market demand.” No further mention was made of the factory. However, dandelion rakes similar to those once manufactured in Kearney remain on the market and can still be purchased at hardware stores and online.
From the Kearney Daily Hub, April 21, 1917
Young women attacking dandelions on Dandelion Day, 1911, at the University of Nebraska. NSHS RG2758.PH58-16