A Closer Look at the Vonnegut Hardware Company Display

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) houses numerous exhibits about Kurt’s work, life, and family history. Although we’d love for Vonnegut fans from around the world to come to Indianapolis to see these displays for him/herself, we also understand that such a pilgrimage may not be in the cards for some of you. So, just for you guys, I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts highlighting some of the artifacts that are on display in the library. First up – the items related to the Vonnegut Hardware Company.

In 1848, Kurt’s great-grandfather Clemens Vonnegut, Sr. emigrated to the U.S. from Westphalia, Germany, eventually settling in Indianapolis.

Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.

In 1852, Clemens and his business partner, Charles Vollmer, formed Vollmer & Vonnegut, a general retail store. Clemens later bought out his partner and renamed the store the Vonnegut Hardware Company. In 1898, the business relocated to 120 and 124 E. Washington St. in the heart of downtown Indy. Bernard died in 1906 at the age of 82, and the company passed into the hands of his sons. The company thrived into the 1960s with 14 locations around the city. In 1965 the company was sold, although the Vonnegut name remained on some of the branches for another decade or so. When the last Vonnegut Hardware store closed its doors in the mid 70s, the company had been an Indianapolis institution for more than 100 years.

At the library, we have several items from the Vonnegut Hardware days, including a catalogue, a yardstick, and a belt buckle.

Vonnegut Hardware Company Display Items

The catalogue dates from 1921 and starts with a “To Our Patrons” introduction and an illustration of the Vonnegut Hardware building on Washington St.

Catalogue Cover

“To Our Patrons” Introduction

120-124 E. Washington St. Illustration

The “To Our Patrons” intro is particularly amusing because it reads, “We present herewith as complete a line of factory supplies as can be shown without producing an unwieldly book.” Given that the catalogue is already 4-inches thick, it makes one wonder what would have been considered “unwieldly.” (And, yes, that’s how they spell that word.)

My personal favorite Vonnegut Hardware item is the belt buckle.

Vonnegut Hardware Company Belt Buckle

Actually, we’ve placed an order for replicas of this buckle, which we’ll be selling in the KVML gift shop and through our online store within the next week or two. There will be a limited number of buckles, so, if you want one, get it before we sell out!

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