ANAHEIM, Calif. — In 2021, Western Exterminator celebrated its 100th anniversary. After fighting for the United States in World War I, Carl Strom started the company in the early ‘Roaring Twenties’. Mr. Little was first introduced in 1931 as a recognizable character for use in Western Exterminator yellow pages ads. Since then, Mr. Little and his sidekick, Menace the Mouse, have become West Coast icons. Not only did her image appear high on billboards all over the coast, in books and on the big screen once or twice, but she was even seen performing on the rock band Van Halen’s 1984 tour. .
Mr Little has answered many names over the years, including ‘Kernel Kleenup’, ‘Inspector Holmes’ and ‘The Little Man’. In its early years, every Western Exterminator vehicle even had a statue of Mr. Little on it. Although Western Exterminator became a Rentokil company in late 2012, it continues to prominently feature Mr. Little in its advertising.
Mr. Little is a big deal, which is why Rentokil “gladly” accepted a restoration offer from Vintage Roadside, a small, family-run business outside of Portland, Oregon dedicated to preserving and promoting the story of the road. Vintage Roadside has offered to save and safely relocate one of its 20ft Mr Little statues. The one currently on display at the Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, CA, stood outside of Western’s Santa Ana, CA location for years. Illuminated by antique neon signs and surrounded by classic cars and other icons of yesteryear, the company said, Mr Little stole the show.
Cherissa Vandergriff, senior marketing manager, residential pests, Rentokil NA, said Western’s Santa Ana office was moving and knew her statue needed restoration due to general wear and tear. Around the time management was trying to figure out what it would take to move the statue, they contacted Vintage Roadside. Western Exterminator supported the organization’s mission to preserve historical memories and share them with the public.
“Being able to take this long, rich legacy and share it with the public so they could all come and see it was something that suited us perfectly,” she said.
Jeff Kunkle, owner of Vintage Roadside, said the passion for his business was inspired by the local A&W restaurant he grew up near. There were the “Burger Family” statues, he said, and Kunkle always recalled how seeing those larger-than-life statues was “as treat as frosty mugs of root beer.” In 2007, a former A&W owner asked if the company wanted to be the next guardian of its statue set.
The latest statue in his care is the not-so-small statue of Mr. Little. He joins Vintage Roadside’s collection of statues which also includes Esso Tiger, a Tastee Freez Twin, a former Gas Station “Muffler Man” and a Jantzen Diving Girl.
“In working with Rentokil, our common goal is the preservation and continued enjoyment of this wonderful piece of publicity and company history,” Kunkle said.
Shortly before the pandemic, plans were well advanced for a traveling museum exhibit that included several of these statues. Unfortunately, he said, those plans are currently on hold until several uncertainties pass. Contacting a few museums regarding Mr Little’s exhibit, however, yielded a “fantastic” response.
“We started by exhibiting it at the Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, California. We felt it was a good match as it was quite local to where the statue originally stood and the museum has a large collection of mid-century advertisements. and other historical artifacts on display,” Kunkle said.
Seeing roadside giants like Mr Little, he said, reminds people not just of a business, but of a specific location and a fantastic era of roadside advertising. These types of statues are large, heavy, difficult and expensive to move, and expensive to restore. It’s fantastic, Kunkle said, that Rentokil saw the value in preserving one.
The statue of Mr Little on tour is made of steel, plaster and fiberglass, Vandergriff said. The general wear and tear he suffered was largely due to his exposure to the Santa Ana weather elements. Due to the size and weight of the statue, a crane was needed to move it. Kunkle said the company didn’t get an exact weight, but it was estimated to be around 1,500 pounds.
“Typically, statues of this size weigh around 500 pounds, but Mr. Little also has an internal steel frame that adds significantly to his weight,” he said.
Kunkle also said Mr Little had the benefit of living in a “fairly gentle” environment over the years and had also received excellent periodic maintenance. After removing it from its original perch, it underwent a thorough examination and thorough cleaning.
“Compared to some of the statues in our collection, he was in fantastic shape,” he said. “When the time comes for him to move to his next museum, we’ll take him to our restoration studio in Oregon to see if there’s any work needed.”
This is a great opportunity for Western Exterminator to be able to use the Mr. Little statue in a broader way and share it with the public, Vandergriff said. Keep an eye on Western Exterminator’s social media to find out where he’s headed next. It is expected to be at the Valley Relics Museum through the summer of 2022.