What do Jacob Miller, an Amish dairy farmer in northeast Ohio, and Brad Pitt, the Golden Globe-winning Hollywood star, have in common? They both shop at Lehmanâ€™s, the countryâ€™s most famous old-time general store.
Where else could Jacob find the butter churns, cream separators and glass milk bottles he needs for his cows? And where could Brad (or more accurately, his production staff for the film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) find candle-making supplies, oil lamps, washboards, boot scrapers, shopkeepers’ bells, corn planters and milkhouse brooms?
Providing merchandise to movie production companies looking for historically accurate period pieces is a growing segment for Lehmanâ€™s. Virtually every major movie set from 1800 to 1950 purchases authentic set pieces from the store. Cold Mountain with Nicole Kidman; Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp; War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise; Disneyâ€™s remake of Little House on the Prairie and many more.
Founded by Jay Lehman in 1955 to serve the local Amish in northeast Ohio, Lehmanâ€™s stocks a huge selection of non-electric appliances, wood stoves, hand tools, old-fashioned kitchenware, toys and much more in its one-acre retail store, 160-page-plus catalog and e-commerce web site (Lehmans.com).
“We were curious why so many set designers were coming to Lehmanâ€™s,” said Glenda Lehman Ervin, vice president of marketing and daughter of company founder Jay Lehman. “They gave us six reasons:
1) Lehmanâ€™s is one-stop shopping. Why should designers search all over the country, when a phone call or visit to Lehmans.com can find them everything they need?
2) Lehmanâ€™s merchandise is historically accurate.
3) And the merchandise really works — the butter churn, for example, will churn butter.
4) Lehmanâ€™s has hard-to-find products in quantity.
5) Lehmanâ€™s can ship products anywhere in the world, quickly and accurately.
6) Knowledgeable employees understand how to use the products.” (PBS even gave Lehmanâ€™s staffers a title of Historical Technology Consultants for The Frontier House series)
“Jokingly we say that means we tell them â€˜No, no, crank it clockwise, not counterclockwise,â€™ ” Glenda finished with a laugh. “Dad always dreamt of preserving the past for future generations, but he never had any idea it would take place in a Cinema Ten movie theater.”
Ironically, what started out as a business to serve the local Amish has turned into an international operation, shipping products all over the world. Missionaries, survivalists, environmentalists, homesteaders, vacation home owners and the chronically nostalgic, as well as movie producers wanting to create an authentic scene, have made Lehmanâ€™s their low-tech superstore. The guest book in the crowded Kidron, Ohio store is peppered with signatures from all over the world, including South Africa, Slovakia, Siberia, Germany and Kenya.
“We have two types of customers,” said Galen Lehman, president and son of Jay Lehman. “The serious, who purchase our products to sustain their way of life, and the curious, who either remember the good oleâ€™ days, or want to learn more about old-time skills like baking bread, heating with wood and canning vegetables from their garden.”
Interestingly, many times the staff doesn’t even know when production designers purchase items for films unless those designers specifically tell them during the ordering process, Lehman Ervin said. Sometimes the pros may be purchasing only a few items, and it’s only when Lehman’s employees sit down to watch a new movie that we may exclaim, “Hey, that looks like our (meat cleaver/oil lamp/cultivator/axe/etc.)!”
Below are some productions which have used Lehman’s products as part of their set design and props.
Major motion pictures:
Interview with the Vampire with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt
Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp
Cold Mountain with Nicole Kidman
Mystic River with Sean Penn
War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise
The Patriot with Mel Gibson
Legend of Beggar Vance with Will Smith
K-19 the Widow Maker with Harrison Ford
Back to the Future III with Michael J Fox
Witness with Harrison Ford
Oprah Winfreyâ€™s Beloved
The New World with Collin Farrell
Gangs of New York with Daniel Day Lewis
Next with Nicholas Cage
Into the West
Disneyâ€™s remake of Little House on the Prairie
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Fat rope, wooden washboards and wheelbarrows, cast iron kitchenware, oil lamps, grannyware plates and cups, grain mills, meat grinders, Dietz lanterns, milk cans, galvanized washtubs, water pumps, kegs and barrels, copper kettles, meat cleavers, axes