The battered straw Panama hat looks like it has been run over by a truck. The simple embroidered Indian pullover could have been purchased yesterday at any import-curio store.So why were curators at the Smithsonian Institution's recently renamed National Museum of American History so delighted to add them to their vast collections?
The two articles were, until last week, the possessions of Wally Amos, better known as Famous Amos, the chocolate chip cookie man. The hat and shirt were adopted as his corporate symbols back in 1975 when the simple Mom-and-Pop store of his dreams began to expand into the $250-million-a-year cookie manufacturing operation it is today.
Last week the guardians of the "Business Americana" collection at the museum added the first memorabilia from a successful small black businessman -- Wally Amos -- to the exhibit.
"We are dealing with items that are trademarks," explained Douglas E. Evelyn, duputy director of the museum. "They are evidence of the business history of the nation."
After the traditional signing of a deed-of-gift form, Amos acknowledged that the acquisition of his corporate logo by the Smithsonian was the zenith of his rapid climb in private entrepreneurship. He credited the free-enterprise system.
"You can do whatever you want to do," the self-made millionaire said. "I didn't even graduate from high school, but I tried really hard to make it. That determination is all it takes.
"As bad as some people may say the system is, it still works," he added.
Hooked on a chocolate chip cookie habit early in life, Amos drifted through a series of jobs before rediscovering his love for the baked delight in the early 1970s. He began cooking small batches for friends, experimenting with the standard "back of the Nestle's package" recipe until he found the blend that best satisfied him. The momentous change in his life came when a friend suggested the former ad-agency-rep-turned-baker try to market his concoction.
Amos sought bakers among his friends, which included several well-known entertainers he had met during his days as an advance man. Helen Reddy, Marvin Gaye and others combined resources to lend the ambitious baker $25,000. The idea took off in nothing flat, and now Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies can be found in groceries, specialty stores and elsewhere all over the country.
In the Baltimore-Washington area the cookies are distributed exclusively since last month by Service Plus, a specialty bakery distributor based in Bladensburg that also handles all area deliveries of Thomas English Muffins. Company executive Walter Czerwinski said, "Our trucks and people are in the same outlets that Famous Amos approached every day. We've given the cookies a lot of exposure."
Also assisting in the spread of Famous Amos through the Washington area is Distribution Services Corp. of Washington, headed by Michael Williams.
"There is something special about chocolate chip cookies," Amos said at the Smithsonian presentation. "I talk to them while they're baking, sort of give them words of encouragement."