"No city ever became very populous and powerful without various and extensive manufactures . . ." wrote I. N. Taylor in the Columbus Journal, June 9, 1875. "Is such an attainment possible and practicable to Columbus," he continued, noting that the Loup River was a source of immense power, if made available, and that the entire area of Platte County possessed "exhaustless agricultural and pastoral resources" for the production of flour, starch, oil, yarn, cloth, paper, ropes, brooms and cheese.
The answer to the promoter's question is to be found in the busy factories and the growing stockpile of industrial products of Columbus, including everything from beer to wooden shoes and processed alfalfa. Business, for Platte County entrepreneurs, has been correspondingly profitable and the modern merchant can look back upon almost a century of development since the days when his predecessor bought the pelts of bear, otter and buffalo from the Indians and sold them to the ever-moving stream of westward-bound emigrants.
The year 1876 was a typically pioneer year. The Columbus paper that fall announced that the Columbus State Bank business showed an increase of thirty percent over 1875. A new hotel was opened on Thirteenth Street near Gross Brothers, and Jake Gregorius was running a broom business in connection with his barber shop. In May of the following year two new services were announced for the community. Henry Gass became the proprietor of the first hearse in Columbus and Joseph Bucher was preparing to open a local beer garden.
Merchandising in those early days was still informal. A wagon load of freshly caught pickerel would arrive in town from the Elkhorn while residents crowded to buy it, at the rate of ten cents a pound, from the fisherman-businessman. The Deutsches Gasthaus in Columbus offered supper, bed and breakfast for one man with hay and stable for his team for ninety cents.
However, Columbus was destined to occupy a far more important place in the industrial economy of the middle west and its merchants were slated to become leaders in the use of modern techniques and efficient, production line methods. Although such trades as the blacksmith and the wagon and carriage maker passed with the slow parade of history, they were replaced by the garage mechanic and the gasoline and oil dealers of the modern service station.
Located literally at the crossroads of the continent, Columbus stands at the intersection of Lincoln Highway 30 which runs from east to west, and Pan-American Highway 81 which bisects the country from Canada to the southern border. Truckers by the thousand pass through Platte County every month and not a little of the dollar volume of Columbus' businessmen emanates from this century's emigrants whose travel is swifter if less inspiring.
In 1948 when the first Columbus Manufacturers' Exposition was held, ten thousand persons came from all over Platte County to see exhibits sponsored by the city's twenty-eight manufacturers and processors, producing a total of one hundred twenty-one items. More than seven hundred fifty employees were listed on the payrolls of these firms, whose annual salary, in the aggregate, totaled $1,532,163. Nor are these manufacturers marginal operators, as evidenced from the tax records which showed a '48 state and federal tax on manufacture which topped $533,728 and a local tax of $27,893.81. This was levied on the basis of the figures of the previous year, giving the total value of all products manufactured in Columbus, exclusive of power, at $6,962,926.
One of the biggest industries in town is the Reece Wooden Sole Shoe Company which had its roots in Columbus long before there was such a thing as a production line and when the average factory was an overgrown shop that hired craftsmen rather than technicians and assemblers. When C. A. Lutz came to Platte County from his native Switzerland, he brought his wooden shoemaking art with him to found the first plant in 1885.
Lutz's son, Albert, became his leather cutter,
stayed on when the firm passed into the hands of the Reece family twenty-seven years later and remained the foreman of the leather department. When J. A. Reece died, the business was incorporated by his wife and daughters with Miss Dorothea Reece, president; Mrs. Alfa C. Reece, vice-president; Miss Genevieve Reece, treasurer; and Mrs. Angeline Reece Bergman, secretary.
Reece shoes continued for many years in the tradition established by the firm's founder, Lutz. They were designed for the workingman and geared for industrial use through protection from heat and chemicals. Gus Bergman, designer and general production manager as well as chairman of the board of directors, in the years following World War II, introduced a line of style-conscious play sandals for beach, shower and bathing to augment the established products of boots and work shoes.
In August, 1942, the Reece plant expanded through the acquisition of the old Columbus Bakery Building on the west side of town. This space was used to house the company's woodworking. Considerable exporting to foreign markets is handled by the firm. In 1949 the Reece offices were moved to this site.
Indigenous to the agricultural country which buys its products is the Fleischer Schmid Corporation owned by two Columbus men who had an idea to prevent "tractor seat spanking." Leonard Fleischer and Ivan Schmid incorporated their business in 1945 after an interlude of turning out the tractor seat shock absorbers from their work shop and finding them in great demand.
Ignoring those who predicted that the firm would fail because "farmers aren't sissies" and steel tractor seats had become a tradition among tractor drivers the firm developed an air-cushioned seat known as the de luxe "joy-rider" seat which sold twenty-five thousand in a single year. The firm incorporated for two hundred thousand dollars and took over additional buildings. A new plant with 20,000 square feet of floor space was built to house the rapidly expanding activities of the concern. They have since added other farm accessories -- weed sprayers and fertilizing machines. Both men work continually on new product ideas and their ingenuity plus the merchandising policies of the Fleischer-Schmid Corporation are sufficient to maintain an employment of sixty-five to eighty-five workers.
Other Columbus and Platte County residents whose experience in farming or proximity to agricultural country led them to manufacture are J. Cook, who started the Columbus Steel Company in 1945 to produce corn shucker attachments; Ray, Edmund and Herbert Arndt, of the Habco Manufacturing Company, who went into business in 1945 to meet Department of Agriculture specifications for a corn drier. Experimentation with their drier at Purdue University laboratories led to their first sales to the government, whose program called for the salvaging of large amounts of wet corn in war time.
Three other World War II veterans, Max, Howard and Alois Kosch moved from their farm near Shelby into Columbus in 1947 where they began production on a power mower first used in harvesting their own crops.
Other industrial firms in Columbus include the Sokol Irrigation Pump Company which moved to the county seat from Duncan in 1940 to continue making wagon box lifts, corn stock cutters, manure loaders and turbine irrigation pumps. Another plant to move to town from Lincoln, Nebraska, was the Short Manufacturing Company whose line of de luxe shirts necessitated the training of fifty local women in needlework and garment manufacture.
Mrs. W. H. Ditzler and her son, Allan Hammer, produced equipment which most farmers of Platte County and surrounding territory deem necessary in modern agricultural schedules; and still another result of the growing habit of just inventing something to do the work better was the Midwest Manufacturing Plant, established in 1945 by Carl Siefken who couldn't find a corn blower until one day he invented his own.
This trend toward a market which serves the needs of its own community was begun many years ago, some time before electrical power was made available to residents of Platte County. Produce is as natural to Columbus as citrus is to Texas and California and the first move to process meat came in 1879 when Charles F. Elias initiated a pork packing establishment in the county at the crossing of the Union Pacific and the Burlington and Missouri Railroads, about one mile east of town.
This Columbus Packing Company, with R. H. Henry, J. P. Becker, David Anderson, Leander Gerrard, Abner Turner and J. C. Morrisey as chief incorporators, killed as many as ten thousand hogs at the height of its season and employed between thirty and forty men.
The History of Platte County Nebraska
George Rambour and his dachshund
A smokehouse and store rooms were added to the slaughterhouse and the firm began to ship cured meats as well as salted. It shipped largely to the southern market but the business was not sustained, the building was later abandoned, and on April 22, 1891, a raging fire wiped out the entire plant.
A meat packing plant was conducted south of the Platte River bridge by F. Klaus and later by Klaus and Moersen.
The first creamery also opened in Columbus in 1881 and in 1917 the Columbus Canning and Packing Company was established to process both produce and livestock. The chicken industry is represented in Platte County by the Columbus Hatchery, owned by Don Clabaugh; Quality Hatchery, owned by Eugene Treadway and managed by Alvin Hulsebus; Oberg's Hatchery, operated by Orville Oberg; and Lynn's Hatchery, under the administration of Lynn Randall.
The oldest industry in Columbus, however, is the local brewery operated by George Rambour and his sons Louis and Walter.
George Rambour, trained in the tradition of an old-world brewer, has operated the brewery at 670 Fifteenth Avenue since December 1904. It is the oldest brewery in Nebraska and the only one in the state outside of Omaha; started by Charles Bremer in 1866, it was later purchased by J. H. Kersenbrock and Joseph Henggler, two early settlers whose training in the old country enabled them to produce three thousand to three thousand five hundred barrels of quality malt annually. From 1880 to 1904 the business was owned successively by Joseph Henggler and Martin Jetter of Omaha, J. H. Kersenbrock and George Mack of Atchison, Kansas,
The Columbus Brewery
and then by J. H. Kersenbrock. After the turn of the century, George Rambour and W. J. Walter were the owners. It went into the manufacture of soft drinks during the prohibition era and expanded its sideline of artificial ice, added in 1916. With repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, the Columbus Brewery renovated its plant and installed modern machinery preparatory to resuming manufacture of beer under the All-American and Pawnee labels. Both brands are popular throughout the state.
Both Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola have bottling companies located in Columbus, the first operated by Con H. Keating and the latter by W. F. Bates. L & M, a partnership made up of Lewis Lippman and William Marsden, supply the Platte County district with wholesale and retail liquor and other allied lines. The Fricke-Fleischer and Miessler Drug Stores also retail liquor.
During World War II, a ninety-acre tract of land on Highway 30 was purchased from the Fred Gottschalk family and improved for a war plant that did not materialize.
In 1946 this tract of land was bought by the Loup River Public Power District and developed into a modern industrial area.
One of Platte County's most outstanding success stones in the field of private enterprise is that of the Behlen boys --- Walter, Gilbert and Mike. Two of the brothers formerly delivered packages for Railway Express while their father, Fred A. Behlen, now superintendent of the Behlen Manufacturing Company, ran a dairy. Like countless other Americans, the Behlens were "putterers" in workshop and garage. Their first venture into business was in 1938 when they bought a small corn husking hook business which they operated from their shops.
Their hobby grew. One offshoot of it was a special clamp to be used on egg case covers. The boys took small ads in farm journals. They began to supply the Reece Shoe Company with metal tips for safety shoes. Finally, in 1941, the brothers bought a downtown Columbus building, went into the production of corn drying equipment. Dehydrators followed, and all-steel corn cribs. The firm was expanding beyond the limit of its facilities-at one time, seven buildings were needed to house all the machinery, offices and supplies.
Backed by a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Behlens built a new streamlined factory that is one of the most modern in the state on the war-developed tract northeast of the city. Forty thousand square feet of floor space and a goodly amount of glass brick assured the best in lighting and design for the new plant.
With a 1947 payroll of $339,000 going to an employees' list of one hundred to one hundred eighty-five people, the three brothers still operate with a minimum of administrative formality. Walter Behlen is known as president, product developer and "chief dreamer," and Gilbert Behlen, who joined the operation on a full-time basis in 1945, is in charge of purchasing and personnel. Mike (or Herbert) Behlen oversees production in the industrial plant which now specializes in farm products. In November, 1949, the manufacture of precision surgical instruments was started by a New Jersey firm.
In spite of the fact that Columbus had no war plants, it gained thirteen of its total of twenty-nine factories between 1940 and 1949. Population jumped from seventy-eight hundred to ten thousand, and the community began to reap the benefits of its earlier successful effort to become the headquarters of the Loup River Public Power District and Consumers Public Power District. Now known as the City of "Power and Progress," Columbus began in the early years of the century to work toward the improvement of its business and the development of its stature as an industrial center.
It was the year 1910 when a little party of Platte County businessmen paid a call on Louis Held, Mayor of Columbus to request paving of at least "the business section of the city" and an underground outlet for surface drainage. Spring thaws had sparked the move, when deep, black mud formed on all the roads and sidewalks in town. Oil paving was attempted in 1913 and 1914 but this, the local newspaper announced, "only proved the need of a more substantial kind of paving." It was paved a year later.
Like many other middle western towns in which the number of automobiles per capita mounted steadily, Columbus found itself in 1925 with a parking problem. Curb parking as opposed to center parking was discussed heatedly in City Council sessions and a reporter observed that "many people engaged in business now drive their cars downtown and park them in the main streets each day."
Also in 1925 an announcement was made of a fifteen-year lease taken by the Woolworth Company on the Curry Building, occupied by the L. R. Brininger Company's five and ten-cent store. The lease set a new high mark for rentals
© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller