Made in Milwaukee

The man who dreamed of locks

0304171059-1

This Master Lock no. 3 padlock is made from multiple steel plates stacked and riveted together under enormous pressure, just as Harry Soref designed in 1921. Carl A. Swanson photo

Harry Soref, the founder, general manager, and chief designer of The Master Lock Company, was a most unlikely industrial tycoon. Small, slight, and soft-spoken, he preferred working in an unadorned cubbyhole of an office in the huge factory he built. His working day started at 5 a.m. and often continued until 9 or 10 at night, six days a week.

“There is no Sunday, no Monday, no Tuesday for me,” he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1940. “The days are too short and nights too long.”

His factory employed more than 600 people but Soref refused to install time clocks or set production quotas. One could spot newly hired employees when they referred to the company’s founder as “Mr. Soref.” The workers who had been there awhile called the boss by his first name.

(more…)

Advertisements

Grenades and underwear

A woman mills munitions primers at the Eddystone Ammunitions Plant, Eddystone, Pennsylvania, during World War I. Women did similar work at the Briggs Loading Co.in Milwaukee. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-40775

A woman mills munitions primers at the Eddystone Ammunitions Plant, Eddystone, Pennsylvania, during World War I. Women did similar work at the Briggs Loading Co.in Milwaukee. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-40775

A few months after the United States entered the First World War Milwaukee investors established a company to make munitions, built a factory along the Milwaukee River in Glendale, and hired an all-female workforce.

Many Milwaukeeans fought the Kaiser. The women of Briggs Loading Co. did so in their underpants. (more…)

The sweet smell of disaster

In 1919, with Prohibition about to end beer production, the Uhlien family, owners of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., expanded into candy production, building a vast factory complex on North Port Washington Road in Glendale. It proved a rare, and expensive, failure for the powerful Milwaukee family. Carl A. Swanson collection

In 1919, with Prohibition about to end beer production, the owners of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., turned their attention to candy, building a vast complex on Port Washington Road in Glendale. Carl A. Swanson collection

From its massive purpose-built factory to the staggering amount of money lost in its eight-year history, everything about Milwaukee′s Eline’s Chocolate and Cocoa Co. was outsized.

The venture was launched by the Uihlein family, owners of Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. It’s not easy to go from Beer Baron to Count Chocolate but they certainly gave it a good try. The family hired experts, built a sprawling state-of-the-art factory on Port Washington Road in Glendale, hired an army of workers, and launched an ambitious marketing campaign. 

Eight years later it was gone. Today only a few buildings remain of the Eline complex – monuments to a mistake. (more…)

Flambeau: The little engine that couldn’t

Flambeau Motors factory

This brick building at 245 E. Keefe Ave., formerly housed Flambeau Motors, a maker of outboard engines. The company lasted about 10 years and made interesting, if quirky, lightweight aluminum motors that are today collector items. Carl Swanson photo

Wisconsin has led the outboard motor industry ever since Ole Evinrude fired up his prototype engine on the Kinnickinnic River in 1909. In the years following World War II, Wisconsin outboard makers manufactured half the motors sold in the United States.

With the easing of wartime manufacturing restrictions in 1945, a new company on Milwaukee′s near north side was ready to earn a place in a market dominated by established brands. Metal Products Corp., 245 E. Keefe Ave., was late to the game but confident its lightweight and innovative Flambeau outboard motor would be a hit as the country turned its attention from war to recreation.

(more…)

Testing outboards in Riverwest

The concrete footings of the Evinrude outboard motor testing facility can still be seen on the west bank of the Milwaukee River, near the foot of East Wright Street. Carl Swanson photo

The concrete footings of the Evinrude outboard motor testing facility can still be seen on the west bank of the Milwaukee River, near the foot of East Wright Street. Carl Swanson photo

There are reminders of the past everywhere along the upper Milwaukee River. For example, you can still see traces of the testing facility of Evinrude outboard motors on the west side of the river between East Wright and East Meinecke streets.

If these pieces of aged concrete could speak … well, they might tell you about the time Ole Evinrude made an ice cream run.

(more…)

Milwaukee’s sweetest story

Brix Apartment Lofts

Twenty tons of candy were made each day in this seven-story building at 408 W Florida St. The former home of the George Ziegler Candy Co., it was recently remodeled into upscale housing and is now known as the Brix Apartment Lofts. Carl A. Swanson photo

Although its reputation has more to do with brewing than bon bons, Milwaukee once ranked among the top five candy-producing cities in the United States. Even in the bleak years of the Great Depression, the city′s 16 candy factories employed 2,000 people with annual sales of $7.8 million.

One of the 16 firms, the George Ziegler Candy Co., was founded before the Civil War and lasted into the 1970s. Its annual production averaged 12 million pounds, the Milwaukee Journal noted in a 1920 article. That’s about 20 tons of candy produced each working day.

This is a story about chocolate. And a fire hose. But mostly chocolate.

(more…)

Deaf workers aided war effort

Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

A supervisor communicates with a deaf ammunition inspector at the Milwaukee Ordnance Plant, a massive but short-lived World War II factory manufacturing .50-calibre machine gun cartridges. Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, the federal government contracted with the United States Rubber Co. to build and operate the Milwaukee Ordnance Plant, producing .50-calibre machine gun ammunition.

U.S. Rubber leased a massive factory, which formerly housed the failed Eline Candy Co. operation on North Port Washington Road, and set about converting it to ammunition production. Time was of the essence and cost was no object.

(more…)