For about 45 years, “Colonel Rockingham” served as a symbol of Rockingham Poultry Cooperative, one of the major poultry companies in the Shenandoah Valley. A 1990s article in the Daily News-Record described the trademark as “the perky rooster with swagger stick tucked under his right arm.”
Poultry production started in Plains District in the early 1900s. In 1909, Dr. Ed Fahrney and Richard L. Miller opened the earliest processing plant in Timberville on the site of the old Farm Bureau Building alongside the railroad tracks.
By the 1930s as the industry continued to grow, poultry growers and local businessmen became concerned about the price of chickens (about 11 cents per pound) and the difficulty in finding local markets.
They formed a cooperative to look into new ways to increase and improve production. In 1938, intrigued by the success of the production line concept at the Ford Motor Company, a group organized by Howard S. Zigler of Timberville travelled to Detroit. They returned with a plan to build a new facility based on the same concept adapted for processing poultry.
The Rockingham Poultry Marketing Cooperative, Inc. in Broadway officially opened Oct. 9, 1940 with Tom Heitz as general manager/treasurer and Vic Pringle as the assistant general manager. The cooperative opened with 233 members each paying $25 to join and a reserve of $33,000 for operating expenses.
Heitz and Pringle soon initiated an effort to create a brand symbol. Howard Pringle, brother of Vic, was charged with the task of creating the logo. “Colonel Rockingham” was introduced as the official trademark in December 1948. A chicken with a red comb and tail, a blue jacket and yellow feet, appeared on poultry products and numerous promotional items including ashtrays, cigarette lighters, caps and matches. The materials were widely distributed throughout the U.S and later internationally.
Benny Getz, a longtime employee and former sales manager, was contacted by the sheriff of Coshocton County, Ohio about a book of matches bearing the “Colonel” logo which had been found at the scene of a “vicious” crime. Benny informed him that Rockingham Poultry had distributers “all over Ohio and the east coast” so it was impossible to identify the exact source. He never heard from the sheriff again.
Benny was also involved in the only major change made in the logo. In the early 1960s, the Co-op changed its packaging for chicken from white to clear. Many of the managers felt that the blue jacket caused the chicken to look spoiled and so, to the dismay of many of the “old-time employees” such as Benny, they decided to change its color.
Benny visited distributors up and down the east coast—from New York to Boston to Washington to Richmond—carrying tray samples with different colored labels. The consensus was that brown was best. From the early ‘60s through the ‘80s, the Colonel appeared in a brown jacket with an oval Rockingham emblem in red and white and a yellow band.
In 1988, Rockingham Poultry merged with Wampler Food, Inc. and Horace Longacre, Inc. to form WLR Foods. Soon thereafter, a decision was made to drop the “Colonel” from all domestic products. Its popularity abroad, particularly in countries like Japan and China, convinced management to continue its use on foreign packaging. According to www.trademarks.justia.com, the “Colonel” logo officially expired and was not renewed in April 2006.
The permanent Rockingham Poultry Collection at the Plains District Memorial Library includes pictures, history, and memorabilia of the early years of the Co-op.
Helen W. Smith volunteers at the Plains District Memorial Museum, where she is board vice president and also coordinates the exhibits and lecture series. She is a native of Mayland.