This ad, from 1903, is quite detailed compared to the other advertisements of its time, which mostly included text, or a simple drawing. The story of the man behind the advertisement – Charles A. Webb – is even more interesting. Charles A. Webb was born into slavery in March 1841, in Buncombe County, North Carolina. He arrived in Indianapolis at the end of the Civil War, in 1865. He entered the business world in the 1870’s and his coal and steam business grew into one of the largest in the city.
His main office was first at the corner of Capitol and South Streets, not far from Union Station. He eventually had to move his location further south, directly across from Emerich Manual Training School on Meridian Street. At one time, he provided all of the green hickory needed to smoke the meat at Kingan’s Packing House. By 1888, Webb’s reported income was $20,000, or about a half million dollars today. He was regarded as one of the most successful African American businessmen in Indiana.
After natural gas replaced coal as a means of heating, Webb entered the house moving business, and became a prominent house and heavy machinery mover. He reportedly hauled Miss Indiana, or Lady Victory, to the foot of the monument in 1902 for placement at the top. Webb passed away July 26, 1906, after suffering from tuberculosis and heart trouble. After Webb’s death, his son-in-law, Willis Bryant, took control of the moving business. After Bryant’s death, his son, Otis Ralph Bryant, took over the business. It is not clear what happened to the C.A. Webb business after that time.
Charles was not the only member of his family to be well-known in Indianapolis, his wife, Huldah, was president of the Alpha Home, a home for aging African Americans. She was also Indianapolis’ first Emancipation Queen, an honor bestowed during the annual Emancipation Celebration in August, during which African American families gathered at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and celebrated the end of slavery with parades and other festive activities. Charles’ daughter, Ida, wrote a book published in 1960 entitled, “Glimpses of the Negro in Indianapolis, 1863-1963,” which chronicles important members of the African American community.