John Canning: Kilbuck and Wolverine Toys


by John Canning

Residents of the Manchester and Allegheny West neighborhoods share a 15233 zip code – the name for this postal district is Kilbuck.

Kilbuck was a Native American leader in the late 18th and early 19th centuries who was supposedly buried in wilderness area nearby the present day intersection of Western Avenue and Fulton Street.

In the years before the Civil War, that site became the estate of Congressman Robert McKnight and his wife Elizabeth Denny McKnight, granddaughter of James O’Hara.

The McKnights named their grand country estate “Kilbuck” and, legend has it, honored the namesake of their home by planting an arbor over Kilbuck’s gravesite. The name lives on, at least in the U.S. postal system.

By the early years of the 20th century, 1923 to be exact, the McKnight mansion and surrounding grounds became the production center of one of America’s best known toy factories of the Wolverine Supply and Manufacturing.

This year, we Northsiders saw the publication of three well researched books helping us to better understand the history of our part of town.

The first to appear was Jessie Ramey’s detailed analysis of childcare in two very different Allegheny City orphanages: The United Presbyterian Orphanage in the Central  Northside and the Home for Colored Children in Brighton Heights.

This past summer, the wonderful survey history, “Allegheny City,” authored by Carol Peterson and Ambassador Dan Rooney was published.

Recently, a new, and probably the most authoritative, history of the Wolverine toy company came off the press as well.

Written by longtime Allegheny City enthusiast, Terry Mowrey, the book is titled “Wolverine Mechanical Toys,” and tells the Wolverine story from its founding, in 1903 to its eventual demise in 1971.

On a recent visit to an antique mall in Somerset, I came across several Wolverine toys. Looking at these metal playthings from the Depression era, I wondered, “How many Wolverine Toy Company products are scattered throughout Northside attics and basements? Better yet, how many are in similar locations throughout the country?”

From that, another question emerged, “How many Northside (and North Hills) resident had family members who worked in the Wolverine factory producing hundreds of thousands of toys and games.

On Saturday, Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. in the program room of the Woods Run branch of the Carnegie Library, Mowrey will talk about his fascination with this part of Northside history.

During its peak years of production in the 1920s, the Wolverine Company produces hundreds of toys and games for a nationwide market. A few Wolverine toys, from the Allegheny City Society’s archives will be on display at Woods Run Library.

Copies of Mowrey’s book will be available as well. Folks who have any recollections of the Wolverine Company and its products are welcome to share them at this program. All are welcome.

Details of the event are on the Allegheny City Society website.


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