Originally named Jumbo, this elephant was bought by Detroit’s Cunningham Drug Stores in 1951 to promote its jumbo photo prints and jumbo milk shakes. It carried about 10,000 children on rides during its first four weeks, according to newspaper clippings. The thrill ended on Week 8 when a mechanical leg failed, spilling six to 10 children to the curb, according to differing news accounts. Three or four were slightly injured. Two years later, in July 1953, the pretend elephant was up for sale.
Ownership changed several times. Wendell was repurchased by Cunningham Drug Stores in 1961 for a static display. He was sold and used as an attention grabber at a riding stable. In 1978 he was bought and restored, and for the first time since 1962 it provided rides to neighborhood children.
Over the years the elephant was used in Dwight Eisenhower’s and Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns and other Republican events.