From Our Archives

‘It Made Me a Little Conspicuous’

When full-time preacher Charlotte White arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A., rolling a suitcase on wheels, she caused quite a stir.

THE year was 1908, and Sister White certainly got the attention of the townspeople with a brand new invention—the Dawn-Mobile. “It caused some comment,” she reported, “and made me a little conspicuous.”

The Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, saw the need to share the precious truths they had learned from a diligent study of the Scriptures. Many had gained Bible knowledge by means of a series of books entitled Millennial Dawn (later also called Studies in the Scriptures). Those Christians who were willing and able traveled far and wide—through towns, villages, and rural areas—offering these books described as “Helping Hands for Bible Students” to other eager readers.

In 1908, Sister White and other zealous Kingdom proclaimers would have offered the six-volume, clothbound set for $1.65 (U.S.). Instead of placing the Dawns on the spot, they would take orders and return later—usually on payday—to deliver them for the modest printing cost. One opposer complained about how little money people contributed when receiving the books!

Malinda Keefer remembered taking orders for two hundred to three hundred books a week. But the great interest shown in the Dawns brought with it a dilemma. Why, the sixth volume alone consisted of 740 pages! “Fifty books weigh forty pounds,” (18 kg) admitted The Watch Tower, making deliveries “too great a strain,” especially for sisters.

To solve the Dawn delivery dilemma, Brother James Cole invented a foldable, two-wheeled frame to which a suitcase could be attached by screws. No longer obliged to carry heavy cartons full of books, the inventor himself remarked: “I am not breaking my shoulders.” He introduced the new apparatus to a delighted audience at the 1908 Bible Students convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. On buttons at each end of the crossbar was engraved the name Dawn-Mobile, since its main cargo consisted of volumes of Millennial Dawn. With a little practice, transporting a suitcase filled with dozens of books became an easy, one-handed operation. The height could be adjusted, and the wheels could roll along wagon-wheel tracks. After a day in the ministry, the rubber wheels could be folded up against the side of the suitcase for the trip home on foot or by streetcar.

Sisters in full-time service could have a Dawn-Mobile free of charge. Otherwise, it cost $2.50 (U.S.). Sister Keefer, pictured here, mastered the Dawn-Mobile technique so well that she could wheel a full suitcase with one hand and carry an additional satchel of books in the other. Finding many receptive individuals in one Pennsylvania, U.S.A., mining town, she typically made three or four trips across a bridge on delivery day.

In the late 1980’s, an airline pilot invented the wheeled luggage that is now such a common sight in airports and on busy city streets. But some one hundred years ago, zealous Bible Students likely enjoyed the stares of curious onlookers as they conspicuously wheeled their Dawn-Mobiles to and fro while scattering precious seeds of Bible truth.

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Sister Keefer typically made three or four trips across a bridge on delivery day

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It solved the Dawn delivery dilemma