March, 2012. Comfort, Texas. The Armadillo Basket Company

Posted on March 10, 2012

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We love historical markers.

Texas is full of them, many pointing out aspects of the cowboy and cattle drive era, but the one on the road to Comfort was a bit different.

So here is a little story, taken from one of these markers, that makes you wonder how many business opportunities are out there today, just waiting to be discovered.

Charles Apelt emigrated to Comfort from Germany in 1887 when he was 15 years old.

Like all Texans, he soon encountered the armadillo, a mammal native to the Americas, and thought there must be some type of commercial use for the animal’s unique shell.

According to published stories, he had this thought after killing one with a rock, extracting the meat and cooking it for his supper. After finishing what must have been a real tasty meal, he noticed how the now-empty shell curved into a basket-like shape.

Apelt eventually took this casual observation, combined with some earlier experience as a basket maker, and turned it into a business – the Armadillo Basket Company.

The novelty baskets were a great success right from the beginning.  During the first six years of operation his company shipped 40,000 units throughout the United States and the world.

He displayed his wares at the 1904 World’s Fair, and by the 1920’s was employing dozens of local hunters from the Hill Country area.

At the height of operations, the company was producing 100 baskets each week, selling for a basic price of $2.50 each, or up to $15.00 each if decorated with beads, buttons or bows.

Apelt soon branched out into the manufacture of table and floor lamps, smoking stands, desk sets and ladies purses, all using armadillo shells. A postcard dated somewhere around 1909 indicates he may have branched out into producing items utilizing rattle snakes – a commodity as abundant as armadillos in the Texas countryside.

He and his wife eventually built a large home, along with outbuildings for processing the animals and crafting his various products.

The Apelts actually “farmed” armadillos in an elaborate series of concrete burrows and tunnels built into their front yard, and sold live animals to zoos, medical research facilities and private individuals looking for an unusual pet.

Charles Apelt ran the farm until his death in 1944 and his wife continued the business until her death in 1947.  The farm reopened – I’m not sure by whom – in 1951 and continued in operation until 1971.

During its years of operation, the Armadillo Basket Company employed many hunters, craftsmen and general laborers from the Comfort area, and the baskets they produced are very collectible today.

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