In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Homer and Ima Mathis worked as sharecroppers for a local landowner. Being a sharecropper means you plant the crop – cotton, wheat, or whatever – and share the proceeds. The landowner gets a large percentage of what the crop haul brings, depending on the deal you make, but he doesn’t really do anything. The sharecropper pulls the cotton, chops it, get the weeds out of it, and the landowner gets his share from the results. Back then, the whole family was pulling cotton: Homer, Ima, even the kids.
Until their home burned down in 1945, taking everything with it, which meant they had no place to live. So Homer packed up the family and a bunch of old automatic Bendix washing machines he had traded for, put them in a truck and moved to Oklahoma City.
Looking for a place to live, he found a building on Southwest 29th and rented it, and the family moved in. Turns out there were a few old gas-type wall heaters and some metal mailboxes in a back room, and Homer and the boys set those out on the sidewalk to get them out of the way. Right away people driving by stopped to ask if they were for sale. It was right after the war, and metal was scarce, which made the heaters and metal mailboxes attractive.
This was an eye opener for Homer. So he started knocking on doors to see if people had anything made of metal in their garage – heater, mailbox, or anything else they wanted to sell or get rid of. With the advent of at-home mail delivery by walking mailmen, many Oklahoma Citians had taken down their in-ground mailboxes and stuck them in the garage or attic, so there were plenty to be had for little or no cost. With the proliferation of the new “floor furnaces” there were also many small room and bathroom gas heaters to be found.
So they canvassed the city for items they could sell, and checked the want ads in the Sunday paper as soon as it came out on Saturday night. They got the business going pretty well, and pretty soon bought a bigger building. And Homer started to buy a little bit of new furniture from some of the wholesalers in town and mix it with the new and used.
And the rest, as they say, is history.