First industries here based on wood products

This is the interior of the Hoeppner and Bartlett Co. planing mill in Eau Claire around 1890. Production of wood products was the area's first industry. Nearly all the first plants used wood materials or manufactured clothing or equipment for men connected with the lumbering industry. (State Historical Society WH (x3) 31016)

     All industry in the first days involved lumber in one way or another in the various valleys of the Chippewa, Black and St. Croix rivers.
     For about 30 years until around 1880s no one dreamed that it might all change. However, the coming of the railroad changed transportation from river to rail and the public became more informed of the outside world and what it had to offer.
     During the last 20 years of the 19th century, some newspaper editors were writing that soon pine would be gone and the area ought to start thinking about it.
     From such notices, Eau Claire tried to attract new industries in the early 1880s but didn't succeed very well.

Businessman issues warning

     In November 1885, local businessman G. A. Buffington told the common council:
     "Gentlemen, all I have to say is, you had better get something going unless you all want to move out, for you have seen the last sawmill built in Eau Claire."
      There were few new ones built on the Chippewa River in the Eau Claire area after that, although some hardwood mills were built further north around the 1900s.
      Previously most of the industry in the community and the area was centered on keeping the sawmills operating at full capacity.

Started machine works

The McDonough Mfg. Co., Eau Claire, has made machine tools for the lumbering industry from its start in 1863 when Frank McDonough went into business. Here is one of the larger saws it has produced at the plant during the years. (Courtesy McDonough Mfg. Co)

     For instance, in 1863 Frank McDonough who had learned the trade of blacksmith and carpentry became a millwright and later superintendent of the Eau Claire Lumber Co.
     Within a few years he started a plant above the Eau Claire River for the purpose of manufacturing of sawmill machinery. he later brought in Emment Horan and Peter John Holm as associates and by 1888 they were producing products that were sold in all sections of the country and abroad. In 1892 the firm employed 60 men.
     It is still in operation today and produces sawmill equipment and grinders.

Made first log haulers

The Chippewa Falls Progressive League build a large Sugar Beet Plant in that city in the early 1900s. It was located along the Chippewa River west of the city. It has since been torn down. At one time the sugar beet was a major crop for area farmers. (Courtesy Chippewa County Historical Society.)

     The Phoenix Manufacturing firm started in 1861 to build and repair sawmill equipment.
     From this plant they developed the Esplin and the Emerson type saw and later the much acclaimed Phoenix light band saw.
     The largest logging contribution was its steam operated tracked vehicle used to pull sleighs of logs and later wagon trains of ore from the mines in the west.
     Later the invention was developed into a gas operated tracked vehicle for the same purposes.
     Hobbs Co. took over the company and today it has emerged as Phoenix Steel Corp.

Demanded good shoes

     The shoe business developed as a side product to the lumbering industry, at least, that's the way the A. A. Cutter Shoe Business started in Eau Claire in 1870. The lumberjacks demanded good shoes and had them made by Cutter. The word of his quality shoes spread as far east as Pennsylvania when a man left here and moved there to become foreman at a lumber mill.
     Also the shoe industry developed rapidly at Chippewa Falls where shortly after the turn of the century the L. G. Shoe, Harshman Shoe, Independent Shoe, Mason Shoe, Hand Made Shoe, Chippewa Shoe and the Valley Shoe companies were all operating. Today, the shoe industry at Chippewa is a major employer of the community and modern plants dot the industrial park on the east side of the city.

Clothing for lumbermen

     Clothing manufacturing was started here to serve the early lumbering industry. The Nor and Blum Mfg. Co., Eau Claire, produced overall jackets, shirts and extra heavy clothing for lumbermen and at its peak turned out a complete garment every 40 seconds.
     Wood also influenced other businesses.
     Linderman Box and Veneer Company in Eau Claire was formed in the early 1900s and in 1914 employed 75 men. The company used the refuse from the sawmill and glued strippings together to create boxes.
     At Stanley, scraps of lumber were used in producing toys and a toy factory was shipping products across the country. Stanley, because of the former mills, always has been a woodworking center and the tradition continues today.

Largest hardwood sawmill

     Wood products manufacturing spread elsewhere. The community of Downing had what was claimed to be the largest hardwood sawmill in the north. Founded in 1882 by John H. Coolidge and his associated, the plant produced railroad ties.
     Also at Downing in the early 1900s plans were made and a building constructed to manufacture automobiles but it never was done. Later the Hubbard Box Company took over the property and manufactured folding boxes which were used all over the country in grocery stores and by delivery firms. They also were used by the fishing industry in the northeast.
     Presence of wood led to the building of the Hardwood Mfg. Co., near Menomonie which in 1881 manufactured 2,500 sets of barrel stocks in a single day. Boyceville was the home of a Cadott Hub and Spoke factory and a number of furniture plants developed locally including the Phoenix Furniture Co. in Eau Claire.
     There were several broom plants and the Chippewa Hoth Hay Mower Co., which made snowfences, added to the firms depending on wood as a base product.

Box company here

     One that lasted for a number of years was the Eau Claire Box and Crating Company.
     It was started in 1905 when John H. Kaiser, who was born in Hulda, Germany in 1852, came to Eau Claire from New York. He purchased the Shaw lumber interest at Shawtown and in 1905 a "Leader" reporter noted that business near Half Moon Lake was booming.
     Kaiser took advantage of the waste in the ordinary mills, using that material to make box boards, lath and short boards about 12 inches long.
     The boxes were shipped in "knocked down" form and became known as "shooks." About 400 carloads of shooks were sent out of Eau Claire each year. Purchasers assembled them into boxes.
     They were later purchased for meatpacking, home appliance bathroom fixtures and a number of other items.
     In 1917 the Kaiser Box Company became the Eau Claire Box and Crating Company. About 200 workers were employed year around. In 1924 a fire destroyed some of the buildings and those remaining were sold to Dumphy Boat Works. In 1931 the General Box Company of Chicago purchased what was left of the Kaiser Company and the plant's equipment was shipped to Sheboygan. Kaiser opened another box factory in 1933 which he operated until he dies in 1939.

Paper plant continues today

This is the interior of the old Dells Paper and Pulp Co. manufacturing plant in Eau Claire. Manufacture of paper products started here in 1890. Today the company, operated by Brown Paper Products, is one of the largest employers in the area. (Courtesy Chippewa Valley Museum.)

     Brown Co., another plant which started from wood products, has now become one of the largest employers in Eau Claire. Brown Co. here manufactures paper products.
     It started in 1881 as the Paper and Pulp Company when O. H. Ingram and associates organized it. In 1890 it became Dells Paper and Pulp Company and had 40 employees.
     In 1935 it became Sterling Pulp and Paper Company and three years ago it was sold to Brown Co. Its products are distributed across the country.
     Refrigerators were once manufactured here and some 40,000 were designed for use by hotels, florists, grocers, meat markets, homes and restaurants.
     As industry diversified in the area, a number of iron and steel plants emerged and some became known for their tools and fine designed pieces of equipment.
     These included the Litnum Bronze Co., at Menomonie which purchased the Globe Iron Works and made gas engines, bronze casts for paper mills and centrifugal pumps. The Forster Foundry Co., Menomonie, at one time produced the Aetna Gas engine and the Northwestern Steel and Iron Works in Eau Claire produced gas engines, cannery machinery and fine tools.
     White Machine Co., Northwestern Motors and Gould National Battery have all been involved in producing equipment for the automotive industry.

Tire industry grew

The demand for rubber tires for cars, trucks and some farm machinery brought a rubber company named the "Boone Tire Co." to Chippewa Falls. The firm did not last long, but did produce a number of tires. It was still operating in 1919 when this photo was taken. One tire is on display at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls. It was pulled from the river a number of years ago. (State Historical Society, A. A. Bish, WHi (b52) 265)

     This area has been a center for tire production for many years. In the first part of the 20th century, Chippewa Falls had a tire plant which produced the "Boone" brand tire but the company was not successful and faded from the picture.
     However a rubber company which started in Eau Claire in 1917 is now among the top employers not only for Eau Claire but for a number of communities around it.
     It's possible to almost determine an Eau Claire resident's age by the way her refers to the tire plant.
     The eras are reflected in terms such as "Gillettes," "U. S. Rubber," or "Uniroyal."
     Ray Gillette came to Eau Claire in 1915 with the idea of producing tires here. He liked the attitude of the people and started to build tires in 1917. The plant continued under the Gillette Safety Tire Co. until 1940 when it became known as the U. S. Rubber Co., and in 1967 it was renamed Uniroyal.

Been among leading employers

Among the more modern products manufactured here are huge off the road tires at the Uniroyal plant. From left are S. L. Kruger, factory manager; D. J. Leland, department superintendent, off the road tires, and G. D. Becker, plant engineer.

     It has employed for years, from nearly 2,000 to 3,000 persons and currently is specializing in large "off the road tires."
     Plants in Eau Claire have been large contributors to the nation's war effort and shell contracts have been awarded to the National Presto Industries. "Pressure cooker" as it is known to a number of its workers during the years has been a leading employer of the area.
     Not all of the industry in Eau Claire has dealt with woods or metals or byproducts.
     The area developed into a food processing center with meat-packing plants at Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Whitehall and other locations.
     In addition, there have been a number of large canning concerns including Lange Canning Co. of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls.
     Many area communities at one time had their own breweries. Included were cities like Bloomer, Durand and Menomonie. Rice Lake had a brewery until just a few years ago.
     There are not many remaining in the state, but this region has two of them. Tracing their origin well back into the 19th century are Leinenkugels at Chippewa Falls and Walters at Eau Claire. Today, these two plants are bottling beer under their own labels and also under other brand names.

Once a leading rope producer

The Eau Claire Linen mill was located along the Eau Claire River, active in the namufacture of flax into rope, toweling, furniture and refrigerator packing materials. Most of the flax used was produced from area farmers, including several in the vicinity of Elk Mound.

     At one time Eau Claire Linen Mill purchased large stores of flax from farmers in the Eau Claire and Elk Mound area. A number of prominent Eau Claire men were involved in the plant which manufactured flax into rope, toweling and furniture and refrigerator packing.
     Woolen mills were operated as early as 1875 when a mill on Otter Creek along U.S. Hwy. 12 east of the city produced 75 yards of cloth a day.
     Later, Chippewa Woolen Mills became one of the major concerns of this type in this part of the state.
     Realizing the value of diversification in industry, a number of men of carious communities pumped thousands of dollars into industrial development.
     At Chippewa Falls the Progressive League was formed and one of its major accomplishments was the development of a large sugar beet plant in the early 1900s. The plant was located on the west side along the Chippewa River and for years was one of the largest enterprises after the closing of the sawmill. The sugar beet factory, too, closed because of economic conditions.

Yes, even a piano factory

     Adding to the spice of variety of area industry was the piano factory at Menomonie. A man by the name of Segerstrom from Minneapolis opened a plant in the early 1900s but it failed. However, it reopened under new management and at one time turned out 3,000 pianos a year. There were two major known models, the Holland Upright and the Geo. P. Norris model. They were shipped to points across the country.
     Many other industries have come and gone, but most of them or the roots from them, started with the lumber industry here.

-- Arnie Hoffman

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

Search this site          powered by FreeFind

    Cresswell Graphics   Eau Claire County Main Page


This page created by Susan Fanning - American Local History Network - Wisconsin Local History Network - Eau Claire County
Page Last Updated - Thursday, 27-Apr-2000 03:32:22 CDT
All rights reserved.

Site Meter