Date: c. 1947
Description: This motorized Santa once sat in the Davidson Department Store, owned by the Davidson Brothers Company in Sioux City. The original president of the company, Ben Davidson, came to Sioux City in 1881 as a peddler. He opened up a small retail store in 1883 at 4th and Jennings Street, where he was joined by his brother Dave. The business grew quickly under the two brothers’ management, and the company moved to 4th and Pierce Street where they were joined by their brother Abraham in 1891. The business continued to prosper through the early 20th century. They expanded both their store and their merchandise from simple tin wares to clothing, shoes, housewares, and more. When Davidson Brothers converted into a major department store they leased departments to different local companies, which made their store seem more like a modern mall that department store. By the 1920s Davidson Brothers owned the largest department store in Iowa, with a café, beauty salon, tea room, and bargain basement. Their merchandise was less upscale but less expensive than their competition T. S. Martin, which helped to boost their success. The brothers had buying offices all over the world and even began some of their own companies, including a candy manufacturing company and Davidson Realty, which financed the construction of many buildings and community projects all over Sioux City.
In 1943 Herman and Lawrence Davidson, the sons of Dave Davidson, bought the shares to Pelletier Company department store with hopes to expand their product line. But the brothers knew the future of retail was in national chains, and in 1947 the store was sold to Younker Brothers, Inc. The store renamed Younker-Davidsons and operated independent from the Younkers chain. The store eventually closed in 1986 when Younkers opened a chain store across the street.
This Santa would have been used as decoration in the store during the Christmas rush, and Younkers probably continued to use it for some time. The motor inside pumps air into the Santa figure until it is upright, as shown here. The Santa could then be deflated for storage during the spring. It ended up at the Scandia Bar on 4th Street, and when the bar closed in the 1980s the family of the bartender donated it to the museum.
Donor: Marge Willcoxson