Visible Sediment Test Card Company

A Bit of History

By Richard Steinick, owner


            In the early 1930s’ (we say 1932, just to put a date) our company was formed by Mr. Junius Guy (Guy or JG) Lucas. At the time, Mr. Lucas owned and was the publisher of The Madrid Register News and a job printing shop named Western Printing, both being formed in 1903 in Madrid, Iowa. Even in 1903, a newspaper needed a “job shop” to keep the operation profitable, according to an interview with Mr. Lucas (in 1958). Sometime in the mid 1940s’ the name changed to Western Printing & Lithographing Co.  with the addition of offset or litho printing. In the early 1930’s, Visible Sediment Test Card Co. was added to the list of businesses operated out of the newspaper’s plant (the others were J. G. Lucas and Company and Northern States Envelope Company of Iowa).  Visible was a healthy part of the operation when my father, Hilmer (Pete) Steinick joined the crew in 1934, after his graduation from Madrid (Iowa)High School.  I started working part time on October 3rd 1956, going full time in late May 1960, and Marcene (my wife since August 1963) joined in 1973.

            In the early days, Mr. Lucas used to travel by train to a large town in a particular Iowa region, and then he would walk to most of the surrounding towns, selling printing and office supplies. Most small towns, in those days, had two businesses that were potential customers.  One was a bank and the other was a dairy, so Mr. Lucas started to specialize in printing for banks and creameries.  One day, Mr. Lucas called on a small dairy in a little southwest Iowa town. The creamery was nothing more than an old wooden railroad boxcar, without wheels, set up on posts. Inside was a large wooden tank with two women attending it. One woman had a paddle, and she kept gently stirring the milk, to stop the cream from rising to the top.  If she stirred too hard, she would make butter.  The other woman had several tasks, one of which was to use a long handled strainer to dip out dead mice, flies and other debris, which had fallen into the milk at the milking parlor and which came in via the 5 or 10 gallon cans from the farms.  The farmers came to the rear door with their full milk cans, which were weighed and then emptied into the tank, and the local housewife came to the front door with her empty container, to purchase “fresh” milk from this same non-refrigerated tank.  This unsanitary condition left an impression on Mr. Lucas. Remember, however, that many Doctors still did not sterilize instruments or even wash their hands in those days.

            Around 20 years later, Max Lucas (Guy‘s oldest son), having heard his father’s horror stories, and being a good businessman who could recognize opportunity, started working with Dr. A. W. Rudnick¹  of Iowa State (then College) University’s Food Division, to develop a good test for foreign material in milk, and he wanted that test to include a printed product.  The Professor came up with a method of extracting the sediment in the bottom of a milk can, and Max came up with a printed card to put the test on, which included a cellophane window to cover the test pad. The window protected the test from further contamination and also made it easily viewed, or visible.  You can see where the company name Visible Sediment Test Card developed.  This was during the Great Depression, and Dr. Rudnick sold his rights to the patent for $50, about two months wages, at that time, for the average working person.

            The various Dairy Product Grading and Purity Laws that got passed in the 1930s’ 1940s’ & 1950s’ didn’t hurt business any. Most Midwestern states passed laws in this period, with Iowa being a leader.

            Marcene and I purchased Western Printing, and it’s division (Visible Sediment), on January 1, 1977.  In June of 1981, we divided the “parts” and sold Western Printing to Richard Dick of Omaha‘s Donis Corporation, who kept the physical plant in Madrid.  We moved Visible Sediment to other quarters, where it remains as of this writing in 2009. Western Printing shut down in November 2002.

            The bulk of this account comes from my personal memory, or my memory of events as told to me by Mr. J. G. Lucas and Mr. Hilmer (Pete) Steinick, as well as Mr. A. Kenneth Johnson (son-in-law to Mr. Lucas).  I am told that the original papers for much of the patented product got destroyed in a total fire in 1940.

            The first patent we that know of, was granted to Visible, in 1936, but that was for the second “style” of card. The first patent was established in the very early 1930s’ or even the late 1920s’. Both patent numbers are lost to history.

¹ A. W. Rudnick, Professor of Food Technology, Iowa State University.  In 1913 he was appointed dairy manufacturing specialist in the Iowa Cooperative Extension Service and remained in this position until his retirement. His service to Iowa State University and to the dairy industry spans more than half a century. Art Rudnick developed in Iowa one of the first dairy manufacturing Extension projects in the United States. The educational programs which he and his associates conducted were skillfully designed to assist the industry. Many of his programs were devoted to improvement in the quality of raw materials and finished products.