A cartoon character called Mohawk Tommy was used by Mohawk Carpets of Amsterdam in advertising and promotional items starting in the 1950s. A company linked to Walt Disney’s movie studio created television ads featuring Mohawk Tommy and a cast of Disney-like cartoon characters.
Mohawk Tommy, sometimes called Tommy Mohawk, was depicted as a youth with a Mohawk haircut and a single feather or pair of feathers in his hair. In one promotional item, a popular coin bank, the character has a pot belly, wears a loin cloth and carries a hatchet.
The Mohawk Carpet Company formed in 1920 when two of Amsterdam’s major rug makers — Shuttleworth Brothers and McCleary, Wallin & Crouse — merged. Before and after Mohawk Tommy was created, more traditional views of a Native American with a full feather headdress were used to symbolize the company.
“American Indian culture sells sports teams, Jeep Cherokees, Cherokee clothing, Land of Lakes butter and Mohawk carpets,” wrote professor and Ojibway Nation member Selene G. Phillips in an essay for the book, “American Indians in the Mass Media.”
Native American activist and attorney Marchell J. Wesaw, writing on a website called Cultural Survival, said media portrayal of “the Indian” is “a figment of the White imagination and is completely manipulated by it.”
Jerry Snyder, president of Historic Amsterdam League, became interested in the connection between Walt Disney’s studio and Mohawk Carpets while preparing the league’s 2016 history calendar, which focuses on former industries in the city. Snyder found several blog posts discussing Disney and Mohawk Carpets.
Art director and illustrator Kevin Kidney posted a blog in 2012 saying he had “acquired a stack of rare television commercial model sheets created by Disney artists in the ’50s.” According to Kidney, Disney was “looking for ways to earn extra money to keep his studio afloat and help finance Disneyland.” Kidney said the cartoon characters for the Mohawk commercials “were drawn in 1952 in the traditional Disney style.”
Wade Sampson, who blogs about Disney issues for MousePlanet, said characters included Tommy Mohawk, Chatter the squirrel and an Indian maiden named Minnehaha, Minnie for short. The drawings were made by Hurrell Productions, headed by photographer George Hurrell, who was related to Disney.
Sampson said the Hurrell studio was on Disney’s lot in California. Kidney speculated that Hurrell Studio actually was started by Disney, “Producing commercials for TV in the early days was considered way beneath the status of a major Hollywood movie studio.”
An animated Mohawk Carpets commercial called “Tommy Plants Carpet Seeds” is posted on Kidney’s blog. The soundtrack features music and drums with a female singer’s version of the company’s jingle, “Carpets from the Looms of Mohawk.”
Tommy uses his hatchet to make holes in the ground while Chatter the squirrel plants seeds from a packet labeled “Mohawk.” The seeds sprout carpet squares which cover the landscape.
Tommy and Chatter roll a carpet and Chatter gets stuck inside the roll. Tommy uses his feather to write “heap OK” on the carpet roll. Several birds and a sign saying “Shipping Department” appear. The carpet unrolls and birds carry the finished product away.
Sampson wrote that nine 30-second radio commercials made by Mohawk Carpets in 1957 have been auctioned off on eBay, “In those radio commercials, Tommy Mohawk invited listeners to visit Walt Disney’s new magic kingdom in Anaheim.”
A large Mohawk Tommy sign outside Westcraft Carpets, a floor covering store on South Colorado Boulevard in Denver, is still standing. A store employee said the sign is no longer animated. Previously Tommy’s arms moved up and down to beat on a drum.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]
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