In 1931 with an original investment of $12.50 for used tools and plenty of ambition, F.A. started his own company Hawkeye Novelty named after the state of Iowa.
Francis Arthur Wittern (1899-1996)
One of his first machines was a penny peanut dispenser that had a special innovation that was new for its time. Every ninth vend a bell would ring and delivered a free portion. It was this type of innovative marketing that served Hawkeye well and made it successful in the following years, manufacturing peanut vendors, matchbox dispensers and other small vending devices.
It didn’t take long for things to become hectic enough for F.A. to hire a part-time secretary. Vi eventually became Mrs. Wittern and an important factor in the company’s growth and success.
During World War II, when steel was allocated primarily for military and high-priority consumer needs, F.A. Wittern turned to manufacturing juvenile furniture, magazine racks and other wood-based products. After the war, Wittern returned to the vending and amusement business, adding a bumper pool, shuffleboards, hot chips and salted-in-the-shell peanut machines, matchbook and postage stamp dispensers and other assorted vending products.
In 1947 Hawkeye Novelty became FAWN. The trade name was derived from Mr. Wittern’s initials. F. A. W., and the N from the last letter of Wittern, thus Fawn. Manufactured products also changed and the production of cigarette dispensers marked the starting point for real growth in the years to follow.
From cigarette vendors, FAWN’s products expanded to popcorn vendors, snack machines, hot and cold beverage machines, as well as many different forms of non-traditional merchandising equipment. It was also during this period of time when Wittern made a decision that would greatly contribute to the company’s success in the next several decades.
At that time, merchants could only lease machines from vending operators. The operators maintained the machines, kept up the inventory and pocketed 90 to 95% of the profits. Wittern felt that since the retail merchant was providing the change, the location, the customers and electricity, he should be able to make more than 5% of the profits. So Wittern decided to let business owners buy their own vending machines direct from FAWN. Since then, the vending industry has never been the same!
In 1952, to help retailers buy and profit from their own machines, Wittern established Inland Finance, a wholly-owned subsidiary. One of the important keys of the financial programs that still exist today is the “easy payment plan” including no money down. In nearly every case, the machines make enough each month to pay for themselves, while leaving plenty of extra profits for the merchant. After a few years, when the machines are paid for, the merchant pockets all the profits.
In 1957, Wittern’s son, Art, joined the company as Sales Manager and continued to build upon his father’s ideals and philosophies for the organization which centers around the customer. “If we take care of our customer we take care of ourselves.” Art understood that simply providing an equipment solution was a limiting factor and would take the company only so far. In order to be successful in the long term, he recognized the need for creating a total support structure for vending entrepreneurs that provided solutions throughout the many stages of their business.
It was also during this time that The Wittern Group moved locations from East 18th Street and Grand Avenue to its present location at 8040 University Avenue in Clive, Iowa.
By the 1970s, The Wittern Group was manufacturing and distributing 32 vending machine models. Additionally, the company grew to 420 employees.
As The Wittern Group celebrates 50 years in the vending industry, they are now distributing vending machines to all 50 states and employ over 500 people. Additionally, 15% of vending machines manufactured at the FAWN Manufacturing facility are exported.
In 1989, our founder, F.A. Wittern Sr., was inducted into the Iowa Inventors Hall of Fame.