Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

October 11th, 2008:

The Turtle Wax Turtle

Somewhere in Chicago (Pete Albrecht and I are still trying to figure out precisely where) there was once a very Gothic-looking building with a giant turtle on top of it. It was the Turtle Wax turtle, of course, and it existed when I was quite young. Any time we'd be in the car passing by it, my folks would very carefully point it out. That would have been 1958-1962 or so. Pete thinks the building is the Wendell Bank Building at the intersection of Madison, Ashland, and Ogden, and it certainly looks right, though Pete remembers the sign being somewhere on Cicero and not Ashland. I confess that I have no idea, but that intersection would have been on the way to visit my grandfather and Uncle Louie, so it's a plausble hypothesis.

The search for the abode of the Really Big Turtle did turn up an interesting little video on the main Turtle Wax history page about Ben Hirsch and the genesis of Turtle Wax. Hirsch invented Plastone Car Polish, which became Turtle Wax after Hirsch stopped by Turtle Creek near Beloit and had the brainstorm that his car polish created a “hard shell finish.” Hirsch also invented the chocolate-covered banana on a stick and a few other things, though I suspect he made most of his money on Turtle Wax. The video shows some stills of the Big Turtle being erected and is worth a look, especially since it shows the monumental size of the statue. The video also includes an animated ad from the 1950s that's worth the cost of admission. The turtle sounds like Jimmy Durante.

I'm a little surprised that something that big and that iconically Chicago has been so little recorded online. It may be that it existed for only a few years, and it may have been moved to another location at some pont. We're looking for better information and I'll post any updates here as they happen.