Story and photo by Kyle Bruggeman
June 18, 2009, DeWitt, Neb: Most people hope to live to an old age, yet most of us never conceive of getting near the century mark. But for Harriet Peterson Fort, that conception is a reality. At age 99 she's as sharp as a tack and as lively as a teenager.
Fort was born on January 21st 1910 in Axtel Nebraska. She grew up in various places until finally settling in DeWitt, Nebraska. She was a school teacher for a few years until she began marketing an all purpose wrench that her father invented in 1920.
The wrench would become world renowned as the Vice-Grip. It would be in the 1930's that Harriet placed a large emphasis on direct sales organization. Small ads in Specialty Salesman and Opportunity magazines helped attract direct sales agents.
Fort's book The Pioneer Story of Bill & Ane Peterson: And The Evolution of the Vice-Grip chronicles her family history and explains how one invention would help sustain an entire community through the hardest economic times of the United States.
An excerpt from her book gives a great example of how life was like in her community during the depression.
It must be borne in mind that the depression was deep upon the land. People were without money. Corn was selling for ten cents a bushel and it was often burned for fuel. Some of the stories that come to mind from those early sales efforts were amusing in their sadness. Farmers were good prospects because they could readily see that one of these tools would perform a multitude of jobs on the farm. Sometimes when a farmer wanted a Vise-Grip badly but had no money he would propose a barter–some chickens for a wrench. The salesman would make a deal and would then pack up the chickens and deliver them to the local produce station where he would convert them into cash.
Today Fort lives in DeWitt and is a philanthropist for the community. She has donated to several projects to help the community, including a recent donation to KC's Grocery. A store that opened this week in De Witt that will allow the community to get their goods without having to travel to the nearest town.
Fort and her family will continue to help their community and are a great example of what makes Nebraska; the good life.
The Pioneer Story of Bill & Ane Peterson: And The Evolution of the Vice-Grip
by Harriet Petersen Fort
ARTCO, INC. Lincoln Nebraska © 1996