Zephyr Albert Macabee was born in the small town of Malone, New York in 1857. He was one of eight children and was just seven years old when the family moved to California. His father first settled the family on farmland, in Central California’s Santa Clara Valley, but left farming to manage a hotel in the small town of Los Gatos, California. The family remained in this area as the children grew up.
As a young man, “Zeph” (as he was known) made his living as a barber. He married and began a family; but poor health and his doctor’s urging to get more fresh air and sunshine pointed to a different occupation. What to do? Zeph had a cousin who owned an orchard in the Santa Clara Valley. His cousin complained bitterly about the destructive habits of a little rodent, the Western Pocket Gopher, This pest lived in underground burrows and made its living by consuming roots, and sometimes entire plants, at an alarming rate. The gophers were destroying the cousin’s young fruit trees.
There were a few gopher traps available in the late 1800′s, but nothing seemed to work well. Zeph liked to “tinker”, so he examined what was available and decided that he could do better. The wire “snap trap” that he perfected did, indeed, do better. When he was satisfied with his results, he began offering them to farmers and orchardists in the area. He would hitch up his mare, “March”, to the family wagon and set off, sometimes with one or another of his young children riding along. Business was slow at first, but soon word-of-mouth brought more and more customers to his door. Traps were produced in the basement of Zeph’s home. As sales grew, a few employees were hired. It was a labor-intensive business. Zeph “tinkered” some more and came up with manually-worked machinery to help with wire-bending and forming smaller pieces, to complete each trap.
By 1900, Zeph obtained a patent for his gopher trap. The Company was on its way! By the 1920′s, business was booming. Zeph had a new home built for his family. The old house was now used exclusively for the production and sale of traps. (It remains the home of the Macabee Company to this day). Wholesalers began ordering traps for re-sale to nurseries and retail stores, in California and most of the western states. By the 1930′s, thousands of traps – all still hand-made, painted and inspected – were on their way to the never-ending battle against that pesky little rodent.
Today, the Z.A. Macabee Gopher Trap Company is still owned by the grandchildren – and great-grandchildren – of Zephyr A. Macabee. They still have a lively interest in this unique, family business and still insist that their product remain of the highest quality possible.