In the early 20th century, ostrich feathers were the hot commodity, and even Mesa jumped on that bandwagon.
One of Arizona’s most well-known ostrich farms was run by A.J. Chandler in Mesa. In the early 1900s, Chandler brought ostriches to his ranch with the intent of being the area’s largest ostrich owner.
At the turn of the century, ostrich feathers were highly valuable. A plume went for $30 and high-quality feathers could sell for as much as $250 a pound. In today’s currency, that would be roughly $800 and $7,000, respectively. The plumes were popularly used for embellishments on women’s hats. Chandler’s ostrich farm also became a popular destination for winter tourists who wanted a glimpse of the exotic birds, sometimes even attempting to ride them.
By 1914, when World War I broke out, the ostrich trade came to a halt. Americans were urged to help with the war effort, and spending on frivolous clothing items was no longer a priority. The flamboyant clothing and feathered hat trends also went away. Due to the war and the fashion changes, the price of ostrich feathers plunged. To make matters worse for Chandler and his ostrich farm, the Spanish influenza ravaged the nation, and it killed most, if not all, of Chandler’s ostriches. Chandler was convinced, however, that the ostrich feathers would be in style again, so he kept a large collection of them in his basement.