History of the Rhode Island Red Bantam
By Robert Blosl
The history of the Rhode Island Red Bantam goes back to the period of the early 1920’s when Perrin Johnson of Rochester, New York
began his new strain of Red Bantams by crossing large fowl Single Comb Rhode Island Reds with old English Game, Cochin and
Wyandotte bantams. In Mr. Johnson’s 1925 mating list, he stated that the Rhode Island Red Bantam should be
true bantam in weight, size and not be a half-size Red. Mr. Johnson eagerly supplied most of the original bantams to other
red breeders who began raising this popular new bantam and worked with this group to organize the Rhode Island Red Bantam
Club of America. During this time, he served as their President for over ten years then club secretary until the club
merged with the Rhode Island Red Club in the mid 1940s. The red bantam breeders had their problems during this early
development period with this new breed as they where plagued with fluffy wide feathers , cushions in the top lines from the
Cochins and the elevated top lines from the Wyandotte's. To make thinks even more difficult, the introduction of Old English
Games gave them pinched tails and pointed down wing carriages. In the 1930s the Red Bantams started to shape up like their
large fowl counterparts, however their major problems was with oversized birds. Mr. Johnson was displeased with this dilemma
and began to complain to the membership of the Red Bantam Club about the judges picking the best red bantams because of under
color, surface color, and bigger birds rather than correct weight and size. The members voiced back the old age reason if
we do not show the bigger birds we cannot win. He fired back challenging them what is more important winning at the shows
or perfecting the breed. The members began to listen to Perrin and started weighing the red bantams at the shows and before
long the larger birds where no longer being exhibited and the judges where forced to pick the truly better typed birds. For
a period, Mr. Johnson would weigh all the bantams at the National Meets and Regional Red Meets that he attended and place
the weights on the coop tags for all to see. .
Purves Introduction: The majority of the breeders where still trying hard to produce bantams that resembled their large fowl siblings,
however, it was not until the late 1930s that Perrin Johnson made a visit to Upstate New York to Robert Purves home and asked
him if he ever had any small runty large fowl birds to ship them to his home to help him improve his color and type on his
strain of red bantams. That year Mr. Purves did have a very small large fowl R I Red cockerel and shipped him to Mr. Johnson
to cross onto his bantams. An interesting side note to this is the small large fowl cockerel was half Harold Tompkins strain
from Massachusetts and half Thomas Ricksecker strain from Kansas, which is how the introduction
of the Red Web feather was introduced into our red bantams from the Ricksecker cross. It was about two years later that Ken
Bowles of New York visited Mr. Purves at his home and told him that the little large fowl cockerel that
you sent Perrin really helped him improve his type on his bantams.
The Lost Gene:
A few years later, looking for more help with darker color, Mr. Johnson obtained from Ernie Jones of Rochester New York a
small runty Rose Comb large fowl pullet and this little female really spring boarded the Johnson strain with more intense
color and type. This rose comb large fowl pullet set the stage for the improvement of the dark even red color in the strains
of Rhode Island Red Bantams then and even today. Ernie Jones had a strange trait in his Rose Comb Large Fowl that they
where so dark in color that about a half hour before dark his whole flock of large fowl would display a vermilion hue color
to their feathers. Many who visited Mr. Jones poultry yards and saw this phenomenon at sundown said it was a sight to behold.
Many of the Jones chicks when hatched displayed a purplish down color rather than dark red color and were considered a major
indicator of the finest color a Rhode Island Red could obtain when full grown. One of my articles on this web site titled
“In Search of the Lost Gene” is based on this very trait from this introduction of rose comb blood into the Johnson
strain of bantams.
Introduction to the Standard of Perfection: The single Comb Red Bantam was first introduced to the public at The Salem Poultry show, in Salem, Ohio in November
1939. A special request was presented by the National Red Bantam Club to the APA where there where 9 cock birds,
15, pullets, 7 hens 13 cockerels, 4 old trios, and 4 young trios exhibited by over ten exhibitors. It took until March 1940,
to secure the necessary affadavideds to the standard committee of the APA and the breed was except at the 1940 St. Louis, Missouri
APA meeting. The weights accepted by the APA standard Committee were: Cocks 34 ounces, Hens 30 ounces, Cockerels 30
ounces and Pullets 26 ounces. Four ounces over weight in any class will disqualify the bird from competition. Further recommendations that
type and color for both males and females be the same as for the large Reds. The leading breeders in the 1940’s of the
new Single Comb Red Bantam where Perrin Johnson of New York, Harold Thomforde of Minnesota, Jack Mundhenk of Ohio, Paul Zawadzke
of Indiana, Charles Naugle of Ohio, Ralph Knickerbocker of New York, John Melchert of Minnesota, Walter Gainey of Illinois,
F. G. Crumbacker of Ohio, Lewis Bennison of North Carolina, L.A. Hamilton of South Carolina, William Etter of Pennsylvania,
Oscar Winfield of Kansas, Harold Serviss of New York, E.W. Leffingwell of Kansas and Pearl Daniels of Massachusetts.
The first National Meet held after the admission of the Single Comb Red Bantams was at Rochester New York Show where 120 red
bantams where exhibited with their crops empty. All birds where weighed by Perrin Johnson and of the nine cocks entered only
two were eligible. The first cock weighed 34 ounces.
Introduction of the Rose Comb to the Standard of Perfection: As Mr. Johnson kept improving his single comb strain of red bantams by the introduction
of the Jones Rose Comb large fowl pullet, he also developed a new line of Rose Comb bantams and this is how the origin of
the Rose Comb Red Bantam began. Mr. Johnson continued to share his single and rose comb bantams with the other breeders throughout
the country and it was not too much longer the red bantams where getting to the size and brick shape type that he always dreamed
of. It took much time and development by many but the rose combs red bantams where gaining popularity with the members of
the Red Club and in 1954 at the Ohio State Fair ten members exhibited 50 rose comb bantams under the leadership of F.G. Crumbacher
of Ohio to qualify the variety to be introduced to the Standard of Perfection.
Heavy Promotion by the Red Club: During the period of 1947 to 1950, the members of the Rhode Island Red Club started to promote the Red Bantams
in the Rhode Island Red Club Chronicle under the direction of the new bantam editor Allen D. Fitchett of Oklahoma.
Each issue during this timeframe was stuffed with great articles by many of the old time breeders of red bantams as well as
the new members who caught the bug and started to write about their opinions and experiences. Many members who once kept large
fowl Reds where forced to down size their poultry plants from large poultry farms and convert to bantams more as a hobby than
a business. Many members moved into the cities and suburbs and had back yard flocks, which served there purpose for eggs,
meat and show birds. The Rhode Island Red bantam because of these two years of promotion in the Red Chronicle was becoming
one of the most popular bantams at the shows in our country as well as England, Europe and Australia.
The Next Level of Excellence: As time moved, forward into the mid 1950s a breeder named of R. Paul Webb of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
made a cross of some Walter Gainey bantams onto an unknown line of red bantams and produced some of the finest red bantams
the world ever saw. At 1957 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Poultry Show the Rhode Island Red Club held its National meet and Judge
Harold Weideman from Kansas City, Missouri picked a Single Comb Cockerel of Mr. Webb’s line as Best Rhode Island Red
of the show and Reserve Champion of the entire Show. Mr. Weideman went on to say to the members at the National Meet that
this is the finest Rhode Island Red I ever handled and I had made many trips to Harold Tompkins farm as well as judging thousands
of Reds in my judging career. Much of the Rhode Island Red bantam strains today that we have can link back to this cross
by Mr. Webb through the introduction of his birds to the strains of Tom McLaughlin of Indiana and Lee Roy Jones of
Kentucky, Anton Mazanec of Texas, H. H. Andrews of Texas and David Bell of Texas.
Visit to Paul Webb’s Home: It was my pleasure to visit the home and poultry yards of Paul Webb in 1967 before Mr. Webb retired from
Red Bantams because of rezoning in his neighborhood. Paul showed me pictures of his old line of world-class winners in 1957
up to the big winners of the early 1960s. Paul helped me understand the importance of the history of the Rhode Island Red
bantam, by stressing to me the history of the origin of Perrin Johnson’s bantams back in the early 1920s. He visualized
to me the importance of using bantams with medium width feathers with substance and good webbing. Trying to avoid using females
with lifts in their top lines, this will bring out the Wyandotte type and gives your bantams that blockier look than the true
brick Rhode Island Red shape that the Standard of Perfection displays. He placed emphasis towards the weighing of your red
bantams to avoid getting your bantams to large and then losing the true shape and size that Mr. Johnson was trying so desperately
to perfect and instill into the members who where taking up the breed during that early period of the breed. Mr. Webb illustrated
to me in my four-hour visit the problems that I may someday be faced with, as a bantam breeder that would relate to the introduction
of how the breed was developed by Mr. Johnson.
as I present this article to you who are reading this new web site on Rhode Island Reds and my promotion of the Rhode Island
Red Bantam that you will get some benefit why this variety of bantam is so valuable to the home owner and homesteader as the
most popular dual purpose bantam to own today. For you who plan to take up this breed of bantam and wish to join us
the Rhode Island Red Club of America in breeding showing and preserving this variety of fowl I cannot emphasize the importance
of the history of the Rhode Inland Red Bantam. The history and the development of the breed helped Paul Webb in the 50s and
60s with his great strain of Red Bantams, has helped me with my new strain of Red Bantams and I promise it will help you with
your strain of bantams as years go by.
Who would ever believe a fellow from New York State
by the name of Perrin Johnson would develop such a wonderful little beautiful fowl for all of us to own and enjoy. A true
dual-purpose bantam that fits the purpose of meat, eggs and beauty and to those who are members of the Rhode Island Red Club
the fellowship of members with a common cause for the preservation of the breed. Long live the Rhode Island Red Bantam
and the Rhode Island Red Club of America. Note: With the last issue of the Poultry
Press showing a good number of Rhode Island Red bantams on Champion Row around the country I thought it would be fitting to
share this article with you on the history of the Red Bantam. The Rhode Island Red Club is celebrating the 150th anniversary
of the Rhode Island Red breed and the 50th anniversary of the Rhode Island Red as the state bird of Rhode Island.
For more information on this historic event and to join, the Rhode Island Red Club look under the classified ad section of
Rhode Island Reds and contact our new secretary John Klimes. We would be honored to have you as a new member.