Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019

Rudy Bettoli: From Winemaker to Toy Maker

By Catherine L. Gowdy · June 07, 2016

Rudolph Betolli's patented design for a whimsical "bunny rabbit" baby bottle, 1927 <span>&copy; U.S. Patent Office </span>

Rudolph Betolli's patented design for a whimsical "bunny rabbit" baby bottle, 1927


World War I Draft Registration for Rudolph Bettoli <span>&copy; Ancestry.com </span>

Rudolph William Bettoli was born in San Francisco on December 16, 1889, the son of immigrants Stephen Bettoli and Frances Plistil. Stephen Bettoli was born in Switzerland on April 3, 1865 and arrived in New York at age 17 on December 27, 1883, having sailed on the ship St. Laurent from France. His final destination was San Francisco where he made a living as a waiter.

 Rudy is documented as living with his parents on both the 1900 and 1910 San Francisco censuses. The 1908 Oakland City directory notes Rudy is a student in that city. In 1916, Rudy received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley. While a student at Berkeley, he worked as a chemist for the Italian-Swiss Colony winery in 1915 and then as a superintendent at the Petaluma Winery in 1916.

 In 1917 he registered for the World War I draft. By then he had married and had a child and was an office manager for a wine company. Of interest is a note on his draft registration that he was partially blind in his right eye.  In 1918 Rudy was living on Stanyan St. in San Francisco and working as a bookkeeper for the Ciocca-Lombardi Wine Company. The 1920 census shows Rudolph in San Francisco with his wife Edith, nee Belluomini, and their children Hilda Marie, age 5 years, and Philip, age 2 months.  Edith’s mother, Marie Belluomini, was living with them. Rudolph’s occupation is given as chemist.

 In the early 1920s Rudy and his family moved to San Rafael. An October 15, 1925 Marin Journal piece describes Rudy as a “one time head chemist for the California Wine Association” and “now an invalid, confined to his home, with a wife and two children dependent upon him.”

 Unable to work any longer as a chemist, Rudy decided to make his children a doll house using a small pen knife as his only tool. His children and their friends loved it!  Neighborhood children came to visit and brought their dolls to see the “new, two-story fairy home.”

 But when the house was finished how were the dolls to live as they should without tiny furniture, cooking kettles and dishes? So Rudy set to work once again and made tables and chairs, benches, a cradle, a stove and all of the things a doll house should have.

 Soon Bettoli became known in San Rafael as a toymaker and by 1925 was making miniature houses and furniture for trade. Many of his pieces were used in store windows about town as advertisements. And so it was that Rudy, though an invalid, was able to earn a little money for his family.

Rudy's creativity didn't end with his dollhouse designs. In 1927 he filed a U.S. Patent for a whimsical baby bottle which looked like a rabbit (see illustration).

 Rudy died in Marin County on February 18, 1931, still a young man. The funeral was held February 20th at the Masonic Temple in San Francisco. Cremation was at Cypress Lawn where his father –Stephen- was also later buried.

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Dorsey McTaggart wrote almost 3 years ago

I'm sure there are others like me grateful for these snapshots into history, which intriguing stories often exapand  into more elaborate ones, depending upon our imaginations and knowledge. Thank you for the pleasure.

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Laurie Thompson wrote almost 3 years ago

We're so glad you're enjoying them, Dorsey!

I am fortunate to have many outstanding and knowledge collaborators in the local history world!

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