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W. R. (Robert) Sullivan

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1st Commercially Available Hummingbird Feeder in the USA

Legion Hospital Hummingbird Feeder, 1932
      

W. R. (Robert) Sullivan, Legion, Texas

It would not have been possible to discover the story of this hummingbird feeder had it not been for the "W. R. Sullivan Papers", containing Correspondence, Newspaper Clippings, and Photos gifted to U. T. Briscoe Center of American History, possibly by family members.  And, what an interesting story this is. Sullivan was a many year Tuberculosis (TB) patient at V.A. Legion Hospital, Legion (Kerrville), Texas.

Among his correspondence, he states several times that he created//invented his hummingbird feeder in 1932 in the V.A. Legion Hospital "Occupational Therapy Shop".  He goes on to say that he advertised the Legion Hospital Hummingbird Feeder in Kerrville, Texas through a community Flyer which read, "Remember, a bird-feeder and look-see for one dollar and a pint size 'Heinz vinegar bottle' - - if you have one that you can spare."  Through this Flyer he invited the community to visit the Shop to purchase a feeder and view the hummingbirds.  He also made use of Legion Hospital I.V. bottles for his feeders, but generally relied on the Heinz vinegar bottles gathered from the community.

Sullivan was an early investigator of "hummingbird banding" before there were 'bands' small enough for hummingbirds.  Also, as an amateur scientific migratory bird collector, he secured state and federal permits to collect and supply small numbers of Legion Hospital Black-chinned hummingbirds to aviaries.  He sent hummingbirds to both New York Zoological Park (Bronz Zoo), and Forest Park Zoo (Fort Worth, Texas Zoo) in the 1940s.  His delivery of hummingbirds to New York Zoological Park in July 1941 was accomplished through a "very special favor" granted to the New York Zoological Park by Eastern Air Lines through its newly established business, "Air Express" from San Antonio,Texas airport to La Guardia Airport in NYC. ... continue reading

ca. 1950s...

Prentiss Swayze Hummingbird Feeder

We are now in the 1950's ... World War II sugar rationing had been discontinued in June 1947 and "sugar is back" on grocery shelves.   W. R. Sullivan had also made an impression on someone, an old timer in Kerrville, Texas, Prentiss Swayze.  Swayze manually produced a descendant of the Legion Hospital Hummingbird Feeder by attaching 'old glass I.V. bottles' to Scotch Tape tins'.  He worked many years at Kerrville's old U. S. Post Office until retirement.  The old Post Office was next door to Peterson Hospital, Swayze's source of I. V. bottles.  He produced this descendant of the V.A. Legion Hospital Hummingbird Feeder in his spare time.  It was in this review by Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine where Prentiss Swayze was first mentioned in April 2002. This story was confirmed later by Joe Herring, Kerrville historian, in this January 2014 story.  Although, the Prentiss Swayze Feeder was not the "original" Texas Style hummingbird feeder, as this distinction falls to the V.A. Legion Hospital Hummingbird Feeder.

Trivia... Prentiss Swayze was uncle to actor Patrick Swayze who was fond of Kerrville, Texas where he boarded several of his Arabian horses.  Also, you will remember, it was a 'Swayze' who "rented his ducks" to garden owners, "for 25c per day per duck", described in the Kerrville Mountain Sun newspaper ad mentioned earlier.

Descendants of the original Texas style hummingbird feeder also included 'national' hummingbird feeder manufacturers in the 1950's, such as Perky-Pet (Woodstream Corporation, Lancaster, PA -- US, Canada, UK, China). Perky-Pet was inspired by Texas (style) hummingbird feeders which featured either 'hospital I.V. bottles' or 'Heinz vinegar bottles'.

This, confirmed in following link to Perky-Pet website describing the "very first" Perky-Pet bird feeder ... 1958 Design Inspired By "Medical IV Bottles"

ca. 1970s...

Sam Chiodo's "Tejas Hummingbird Feeder" came along in the early 1970s,  a descendant of the W. R. Sullivan feeder created in the early 1930s.  This Tejas Feeder history follows below...

Tejas Hummingbird Feeder

Sam Chiodo lived in the Frio Canyon at Leakey, Texas, west of Kerrville, Texas.  His contribution to the continued development of the Texas Style hummingbird feeder was to introduce mechanical devices in the production of the hummingbird feeder.

Sam took his idea to his neighbor, Freddie Franks... a local genius with a lathe, and together began to assemble an assortment of "Rube Goldberg" machines to create the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder.  Creating the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder involves a twelve (12) step process... each step utilizing one of the many "Rube Goldberg" machines designed to fashion the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder.

In 1995 the Lewises (Harriet and Marion) stumbled upon the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder. It's been said that "you have to have a hobby to retire to"... so the Tejas Feeder was a great candidate, and who wouldn't be excited about continuing a tradition like this!

Since 1995, the Tejas hummingbird feeder has been 'tweaked' only a bit, as this handcrafted "metal" feeder has already stood the test of time. In 1999 the Tejas acquired new graphics (label) including hummer food recipe. For sturdiness, a brass grommet was inserted between closure (cap) and top of red feeder base for a more secure fit of the glass bottle.

Late 2009 finds the Tejas hummingbird feeder 'tweaked' once again!  After many years of searching, a sturdy aluminum metal 'screw cover' component was discovered, to be used in construction of  the "new-style" Tejas hummingbird feeder base.  Beginning spring 2010 the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder features a screw cover feeder base, allowing the hummingbird feeder base to be opened for cleaning, and aluminum construction, a remarkable metal for its ability to resist corrosion.  A custom made gasket is included with the screw cover hummingbird feeder base to provide a water tight seal between top and bottom halves of the screw cover hummingbird feeder base.

So after 50 plus years, still only a few changes have occurred to the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder... and in a changing world, that's not so bad!

Sam Chiodo passed away Saturday, July 3, 2004 at his home in Kerrville, Texas.  He was 90 years old. The street he lived on in Leakey is named Hummingbird Hill Lane in honor of his love for hummingbirds

March 16, 2023

Production of 2023 Tejas Feeders has been completed, and feeders are now being painted (red powder coating).  This is our final Tejas Feeder brand production after 29 years in business, 1995-2023.  The inflationary impact of the last 3 years, influenced by both Pandemic and Russia's war, has made it clear that our small company Tejas Feeder brand business is no longer viable.

When 2023 inventory is depleted, the Tejas Feeder website will continue only as a 'Hummingbird Feeder History' website... focused on the history of the "Texas style hummingbird feeder".  Ironically, it was the Pandemic that provided the 'downtime' to accomplish discovery and research leading to the story of the 1932 V. A. Hospital "Legion Hummingbird Feeder" created in Legion (Kerrville), TX.  A framed walk-up-to narrative of this story is today found in the History Room of the Kerrville V.A. Hospital.

Thank you very much for your past purchase of a Tejas Hummingbird Feeder, and to many of you, for your multiple purchases over the last 28 years.  Also, thank you for your kind word-of-mouth promotion of the Tejas Feeder which has served as our best advertising.

This 'mom and pop business', initially meant to be 'something to do in retirement', evolved into a feeling of 'being in the entertainment business'... "entertaining folks who enjoy feeding hummingbirds".  Many have said how much their hummingbirds have enjoyed the Tejas Feeder. As Sam Chiodo once told Harriet and I back in 1995, "Hummers like the Tejas best!"  Warm regards from the Lewises. 

Harriet and Marion Lewis
Kerrville, TX
July 21, 2023

Tejas Hummingbird Feeder brand retired.
 

April 10, 2024


 

 

VA Hosts Centennial Celebration Celebration of the Kerrville VA Medical Center’s 100 years of service to veterans in the Hill Country and beyond was celebrated last Friday at the center. Speakers for the event included  Dr. Julianne  Flynn, executive director of the south Texas Veterans Health Care System, State Senator Pete Flores and representative from U.S. Congressman Chip Roy’s office and a representative from Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham presented the medical center with a Certificate of Congratulations.

County Judge Rob Kelly read a proclamation approved earlier in the week by the Kerr County Commissioners’ Court which proclaimed Friday, April 12 as the Kerrville VA Medical Center Centennial Day in Kerr County. Kerrville Place 2 City Councilman Jeff Harris, on behalf of Mayor Judy Eychner, read a similar proclamation from the City of Kerrville.

The Tivy High School Air Force Junior ROTC color guard participated in the Presentation of the Colors. Michael Bankston for the Kerrville VA staff led the Pledge of Allegiance and VA employee Ms. Alma Criado sang the national anthem, followed by an invocation by Kerrville VA Chaplain Lou Pittman.

“Today Kerrville has a modern medical center dedicated to the preservation of life and history. Our dedicated employees are committed to ensure our nation’s heroes receive the best health care possible, as we strive to create a lifelong relationship with veterans and their families,” said Dr. Julianne Flynn, executive director of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

The Kerrville VA Medical Center is the oldest, continuously operated veterans’ medical facility in the state of Texas, dating back to July 1923, when a public health service hospital in Houston closed and its patients were transferred to Kerrville. The medical center currently has 400 employees.

“Veterans are at the heart of everything we do. Now it’s our job to care for them,” said Dr. Wendall Jones, Network Director for the VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network.

The history of the Kerrville VA Medical Center, which has been so much a part of the local heritage and economy for the past century, began at the end of World War I in 1918 when discharged veterans suffering from diseases, especially tuberculosis, returned from the battlefields to their homes in Texas. [1]

Tuberculosis, at that time, was a deadly bacterial infection that spread in the air and there was no viable treatment or cure for the infection. TB patients were advised to relocate to a dryer climate and the only treatment available was bed rest, nutritious food and isolation from others because it was so contagious. TB was prevalent in the U.S. until anti-bacterial medications were developed in the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1919 Kerrville citizens who saw the value of having a hospital for TB patients began a fundraising campaign and with the help of the state of Texas and the American Legion leadership, a half million dollars was raised to build a hospital for veterans in Kerrville. The fundraising campaign took four years to raise the funds needed. In 1920 the Schreiner family donated 790 acres of land for the construction of the American Legion Tuberculosis Hospital. Construction began that year, but the funding ran out before the hospital was completed and in January 1921 the project was sold for one dollar to the American Legion, Department of Texas.

The American Legion, along with the Daughters of the Confederacy, and then State Senator Julius Real (from Kerr County) persuaded the Texas Legislature to appropriate $1.5 million to finish the building which would house up to 600 patients, and the hospital was to be known as the American Legion Memorial Hospital. In 1923 the completed facility was leased by the Veterans Bureau and opened its doors on July 1, 1923, to the first patients. The Kerrville facility is one of 93 veterans’ hospitals to open in the U.S. since 1923.

In December 1925 the Veterans Bureau purchased the facility from the state for almost $1.2 million. In 1930 when President Hoover created the Veterans Administration within the federal government, the VA then took over operation of the Kerrville facility. [2]

Senator Pete Flores reminded those in attendance at the event that nothing in America would be possible without our veterans.

“The VA health system provides dignity, professionalism, care, and respect for veterans in their most vulnerable moment. I take great comfort knowing the taxes I am about to pay will pay for this facility,” said State Senator Pete Flores who represents Kerr County in the Texas Senate.

The present Kerrville VA Medical Center stands on 70 acres which includes 1.7 acres set aside for a VA National Cemetery. The cemetery is generally closed for new burials due to its proximity to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, which has remaining space to inter veterans for decades in the future.

The main hospital building, which is still in use, was formally dedicated in December 1947.  In 1995 the Kerrville VA Medical Center and the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Hospital in San Antonio merged to form the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, which includes 15 community-based outpatient clinics located mostly in San Antonio. The merger significantly shifted health care delivery for veterans, who now get most of their health care needs addressed in their community-based clinic rather than in the hospital setting. The VA restructured assets in the Kerrville facility to form community clinics within the facility.

The Kerrville VA Medical Center today now consists of outpatient clinics with seven primary care teams providing 40 different types of services including audiology, ophthalmology, urology, geriatrics, radiology, mental health, a laboratory, and a pharmacy. Specialty-care clinic staff from Audie Murphy also come to Kerrville each month for a limited time to provide services. The KVAMC also has a state-rated five-star community living center on the campus for veterans who need assisted living or nursing home care. Over 114,000 patients are currently registered for care at the Kerrville VA facility.

The VA donated 500 acres of the original 720 acres of land donated by the Schreiner family to the Texas Lions League for what is now called the Texas Lions Camp which provides a camping experience for children with disabilities and their families year around. Another 116 acres was donated to the Texas Hill Country Development Foundation (at the time) and 72 acres was donated to the Kerrville Independent School District for use with their vocational agriculture programing.

Notes

  1. VA Hospital network evolved to include hospitals focused on Health & Medical, Psychiatry, and Tuberculosis.                                                                          
  2. Within the 93 veterans' hospitals to open in the U.S. since 1923, the Tuberculosis hospitals provided patients with 'occupational therapy workshops'. Here, W. R. Sullivan designed and perfected his Kerrville, Texas hummingbird feeder in 1932.

      




 














 

Heinz 16 oz.Vinegar Bottle ca. 1930s







































 






















 

 "1970 Original Tejas"

"32oz. & 16oz. Tejas Feeder"

                                                                                                      

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