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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ethel Reames papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1954-1999
Creator: Reames, Ethel (1926-)
Extent: 2.50 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0673
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Businesswoman who was the creator and proprieter of the Reames Noodle Company in Des Moines, Iowa.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has not been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 724) were donated by Ethel M. Reames in 2000.

Preferred Citation: Ethel Reames papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Ethel May Pitts Reames, Des Moines area businesswoman, was born August 3, 1926 on a farm near Maxwell, Iowa to Cornelia Kaldenberg and Joseph "Park" Pitts. She and her brother and sister were raised on a series of rented farms northeast of Des Moines. She attended several rural schools and high school in Madrid, Iowa. Her parents had moved to Monroe, Iowa in March of 1943, leaving their sixteen-year old daughter to board in Madrid in order to finish high school there in June. After graduating, she worked at a grocery and in her parents' bakery in Monroe before moving to Des Moines to attend Capitol City Commercial College in 1944. In Des Moines, she lived in inexpensive rooms near a working-class African-American neighborhood and worked part time at a bakery. She felt confident about her ability to make her way in the city. At the bakery, she met co-worker William Reames. Their difficult childhoods gave them a bond and they dated even after she left the commercial college and got a job at the telephone company. They married in June of 1945.

Three Reames daughters were born: Lucinda in 1948, Chris in 1949, and Joellen in 1952. In November of 1949, Ethel Reames made her first batch of peanut brittle in her kitchen. Her husband sold it to co-workers at the factory where he worked. She made fifty-four two-pound batches at a time. In 1950, she made 1200 pounds of added peanut brittle, divinity, and fudge for the Christmas season and used the money to buy a sewing machine to sew diapers for their third daughter.

They expanded steadily. She began making egg noodles to use the left over yolks from the divinity. Her husband marked the candy and noodles at corner grocery stores across Des Moines. The noodles required refrigeration and kept poorly. They experimented with different methods of freezing noodles and became the first company to market frozen homemade noodles. They expanded the kitchen at their home, adding a rolling machine, a mechanical noodle cutter, and a tumbler to separate the cut noodles. Hiring neighborhood ladies as needed, they made noodles Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and froze and wrapped them on Tuesday and Thursday. In 1958, William Reames quit his factory job and began marketing noodles across the state and country full-time. Ethel Reames noted that a conveyor system to freeze noodles and wrapping machine to replace hand labor provided the dramatic difference in the speed and quantity of production. They now bought flour dough by the semi-truck load and egg yolks by the fifty-gallon drum.

In 1963, they sought legal advice about a business mortgage. Up to this time, they had considered the business an equal partnership. Their attorney, however, insisted that one member have a sixty percent controlling interest. Ethel Reames had done all the jobs from janitor, painting, delivery, marketing, office management, cooking, billing, banking, and planning and felt that fifty-one percent interest would have been enough to establish controlling interest for mortgage purposes, but the lawyer insisted. William Reames became the legal owner of sixty percent of the business and during disputes with Ethel Reames, he used his controlling interest to his advantage. After this, Ethel retired from the business. She began divorce proceedings that became deadlocked over her forty-percent interest in the business. When the divorce was finalized in 1975, Ethel Reames considered hers a poor settlement. William bought the company as part of the divorce and sold it in 1989 for twelve million dollars. After the divorce, Ethel Reames began a successful restaurant business that closed after losing its lease in the second year. She is now retired and enjoys writing family and personal histories.

The Ethel Reames papers date from 1954 to 2000 and measure 2.5 linear inches.  The collection consists primarily of photocopies of a disassembled scrapbook of the Reames' Noodle Company from its beginning in 1954 until it was sold in 1989.  The scrapbook details the significant changes in scale, production, and marketing as the business grew from her kitchen into a twelve million dollar corporation.

The collection also contains Ethel Reames' family histories that recount in a straightforward way her childhood with alcoholic parents.  Her ambition and talent are demonstrated throughout the scrapbook, while her reminiscences reveal the personal dimensions of her youthful years.

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • Chronological scrapbook [disassembled] - 1954-1957
  • Chronological scrapbook [disassembled] - 1957-1963
  • Chronological scrapbook [disassembled] - 1964-1969
  • Chronological scrapbook [disassembled] - 1969-1971
  • Chronological scrapbook [disassembled] - 1973-1989
  • Series 2: BIOGRAPHICAL
  • Box 1:
  • Photographs, undated
  • Family history - 1990-1999