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July 5, 2022

The Curious World of the DeMoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Prank Machines at the Turn of 20th Century

From 1896 to 1930, the DeMoulin Brothers Company manufactured prank devices that were used in various initiation ceremonies at fraternal lodges. Their wonderfully strange catalogs collected by New Yorker cartoonist Julia Suits in her book, The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions. The book shows “hundreds of the most inventive DeMoulin prank machines, complete with their original, quirky descriptions and eccentric line art” along with a history of hazing in America.

The DeMoulin Brothers were the leaders in the field of prank devices. Yet fraternal prank machines were only part or their business. They also made furniture, church furniture and pews as well as lodge furniture. They did upholstering, iron machine work and iron forgings, iron, brass and aluminum castings, art and scenic painting. They made swords, jewelry, uniforms, caps and gowns, head gear of all kinds, costumes, regalia, badges and button novelties and much more.

To promote their business they followed the Montgomery Ward model of marketing later adopted by Sears & Roebuck – print and distribute sophisticated, professionally designed, artistic and detailed catalogs. Instead of the radio, TV and Internet advertising of today, DeMoulin sent out catalogs everywhere. For the most popular fraternal societies there were specific catalogs for each order. Then there was the “Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties, Paraphernalia and Costume” catalog for everybody. The first catalog was printed in 1895 for the Modern Woodmen of America. The last prank catalog was printed in 1930.


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