Copyright © Burr Angle 2013
Tour 2 begins at the former railroad bridge over the Yahara River just north of Williamson Street and follows the Isthmus bike path beside Eastwood Boulevard to the intersection of Eastwood and Division Street, so named because it once marked the city limits of Madison.
This area was the home of Coan Manufacturing that made the U-Select-It brand of vending machines and is the present location of Schoep’s Ice Cream and Capital Water Softener. The bike path continues a few blocks northeast beside the railroad tracks to the intersection of LaFollette Avenue and Waubesa Street, site of the former Steinle Turret Machine Co., Kupfer Iron Works, Madison Brass Works, and the current home of Madison Kipp. The oldest Kipp plant runs south along Waubesa Street where it is joined on the south by the former Four Lakes Ordnance building that has been part of Kipp since 1937.
From LaFollette and Waubesa the bike path curves to the southeast. Another Kipp plant is located a few hundred feet to the east where the tracks cross Fair Oaks Avenue. This site was once the car barns for trolleys operated by the Madison Street Railway Company and later a garage for the city buses.
Portions of the large building on the east side of Fair Oaks Avenue now occupied by Kessenich’s were built in 1903 for the American Plow Company that ceased operations in 1911 after which it was occupied by Jackson Reuter’s Madison Plow Company from about 1912 to 1952.
The large yellow or cream brick building a few hundred yards farther east was built about 1903 for the U. S. Sugar Company as a sugar beet refinery and was later occupied by Garver Feed and Supply. The Madison Cement Stave Silo Company and the milking machine manufacturer Ben H. Anderson Manufacturing Company also used this area.
The only other large industry along the bike path was the F. S. Royster Guano Company fertilizer factory at the intersection of Dempsey Road and Cottage Grove Road. The Royster site was cleared for future development in 2011-12.
As of 2013 the bike path continues a short distance beyond Dempsey Road to Cottage Grove Road but bike lanes continue both east along Cottage Grove Road and south on Dempsey, one set of which leads through portions of Madison and the City of Monona around the east and south shores of Lake Monona, and then turns north near John Nolen Drive.
Coan Manufacturing Co.
John W. Coan (about 1893-May 19, 1961) was working in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1923 where he opened a small vending machine company that was wiped out in 1929 early in the Depression. In 1933 he bought a Madison vending machine company, the Rush Hour Company, and renamed it Coan Manufacturing Co. whose products were sold under the U-Select-It brand name.
Coan’s plant was at 2070 Helena Street on a site that was occupied by the Schoep’s Ice Cream Company in 2013.
By 1953 Coan had about 70 workers and had made more than 100,000 vending machines. The company made all of its own jigs and tooling and much of its machinery. The vending machines dispensed candy bars, chewing gum, cigarettes and other merchandise. At some point Coan also made amusement devices.
In 1970 the firm officially changed its name to U-Select-It, Inc. As of 2013 a company in Des Moines, Iowa with that name has manufactured 2.1 million pieces of equipment and is the world’s second largest vending machine company.
Coan Manufacturing is another Madison and Rock River Valley company that supports many of Alexander’s conclusions:
- It was a metal fabrication company that had to import all of its materials and whose products were nearly all sold in distant markets.
- It gained an important market share in a highly competitive specialized field by constant improvements to low-bulk, high value products made by well-paid unionized workers.
The only thing unusual about the Coan Company is that newspapers of the time did not report any company sponsored sports teams.
Schoep’s Ice Cream
Schoep’s [Shep’s] Ice Cream Company, 2070 Helena Street, takes its name from a grocer and ice cream maker, Edward J. Schoephoester [Shepheister] who was born about 1882 and who died on September 16, 1966. He was originally from Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin but had moved to Madison and operated several grocery stores on the east side in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was successful enough to become a director of a central Wisconsin grocery store owner’s association in 1935.
He began to make Schoephoester’s ice cream in 1928 for sale in his stores and at local malt shops and later shortened the name to Schoep’s.
In 1940 Peter B. Thomsen bought the ice cream business and the name from Schoephoester. “P. B.” Thomsen was born in Korlum, Germany about 1891 and came to America in 1911. He first lived in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois and then operated creameries in Washburn County, Wisconsin and at Windsor, Wisconsin. He was a partner in an ice cream factory in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin before moving to Madison.
Peter and his wife Hilda, who died in May 1963, had four sons and four daughters. Peter died on January 13, 1964 leaving an estate of $300,000.
As of 2013 six Thomsen family members work at Schoep’s Madison headquarters and the company is the largest independent ice cream maker in Wisconsin producing about 12,000,000 gallons a year. There are about 150 workers.
It sells the Schoep’s brand in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Private label customers include such firms as Walgreen’s Drug Stores.
Capital Water Softener
The history of Capital Water Softener Corporation is largely the story of three families: Rice, Pederson, and Wick. Capital was founded in 1936 by Clinton A. Rice who was born on September 6, 1890 in Michigan and who died in Madison on June 7, 1954. At some point he learned how to build a better water softener for the tasty but hard water in the Madison area.
One of Rice’s early employees was Norman Arthur Pederson who was born April 23, 1920 and who was raised on the family farm at Seminary Springs near Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Norman graduated from Madison’s East Side High School in 1937, his highest level of formal education. He began to work at Capital soon after graduation.
The 1940 U. S. Census lists his occupation as “assembler” in a water softener company.
From 1942 to 1946 he was in the U. S. Army where he served with the First Infantry Division, earned a Purple Heart, and was a prisoner of war. He then returned to Capital where he became a partner in 1947 and owner in 1954.
Norman and the former Ethel Bradley were married on November 25, 1942; she had been born on October 5, 1922. Ethel became a co-owner and director with Capital. She died on August 2, 1986. Norman died on December 27, 2007, age 87.
The Wick family became involved when Erik Wick married the Pederson’s daughter Penny. Erik and Penny’s first child was born on August 1, 1967.
Capital has had several locations such as East Wilson Street, Winnebago Avenue, and Atwood Avenue and since about 1985 has been at 2096 Helena Street.
In 2011, Capital’s sales were about $3,000,000. It produces many sizes of domestic and commercial water softeners that are sold through distributors in several Midwestern states and more distant areas.
Madison Plow Company
In 1910 when Fuller and Johnson decided to drop agricultural implements in order to concentrate on internal combustion engines, it found the perfect buyer in Jackson A. Reuter (March 29, 1858-June 15, 1946) who had been head accountant at Fuller and Johnson in the firm’s early years.
Reuter took over a 1903 plant at 131 Fair Oaks Avenue that had been built by a company called American Plow Company. He called his new firm Madison Plow Company and continued to make and repair Fuller and Johnson implements for many years. He also added new products.
By the late 1940s the Fair Oaks Avenue Madison Plow Company factory was a single-story square building about 250 feet on a side.
On November 19, 1950 a fire damaged parts of the plant but the company remained at the Fair Oaks site until it closed in September 1951. The building was purchased in 1952 by Red Dot Foods, a Madison-based potato chip and snack foods company. As of 2013 the area was home to Kessenich’s, Ltd., a full-line commercial and residential food service company founded in Madison in 1929.
Other aspects of Reuter’s career are equally interesting. After leaving Fuller and Johnson about 1898 Jackson bought a controlling interest in the First National Bank of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. During this period he also invested heavily in northern Wisconsin forest property and did very well in this field. He returned to Madison about 1904 and was secretary-treasurer until about 1908 at the Northern Electrical Manufacturing Company at 201 South Dickinson Street that had been started about 1895 by Conrad M. Conradson, a former Fuller and Johnson executive and machine tool designer.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s Jackson was president of the Fair Oaks Land Company. He is considered to have been one of the most important men in the early development of that village.
For many years Jackson lived as a lodger with the Angus P. Udell family at 1351 Morrison Street. Mrs. Udell arranged for his burial at the Forest Hill Cemetery.
Jackson left a $200,000 portion of his estate to be used for a hospital facility for the aged that was to be named in memory of his mother, Augusta.
American Shredder, Steinle Turret Machine, Theodore Kupfer Iron Works, Durline Scales, Goodman Community Center
In 1903 East Side developers such as James Corry and Jackson Reuter were excited about a large expansion of the Northern Electrical plant at 201 South Dickinson Street, the new American Plow Company building on Fair Oaks Avenue and the American Shredder Company building at 149 Waubesa Street.
American Shredder had been founded about 1880 to build a type of power operated machine that became popular when Midwestern farmers began to use more corn in livestock rations. According to Charles H. Wendel, author of Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques, Iola, Wisconsin 1997, a husker shredder used rollers and other devices " that snapped the ears from the stalks, cleaned them in a husking bed and delivered them to a waiting wagon. Meanwhile the stalks and leaves were cut and shredded, passing through the machine, and into a blower which conveyed them into a pile or into the barn."
The husker-shredder was most popular between 1880 and 1940. Early models were hand fed which is one reason why there were so many one-armed farmers during that period. The American Shredder was self-feeding so that the company’s ads in 1903 stated “it leaves no cripples.”
The 1903 building was acquired in 1909 by the Steinle Turret Machine Company. There was a major expansion in 1916-1917. The site was especially desirable to Steinle and other occupants because it was located at the junction of the Chicago and North Western Railway tracks and those of the Milwaukee Road. A spur track beside the plant provided direct access to both railroad lines, a feature shared by the Fuller and Johnson and Gisholt properties. This was important because shipments could go directly to all points served by these railroads without any switching or extra fees.
The Steinle Turret Machine Company’s major product was turret lathes designed by George A. Steinle (September 11, 1865-October 10, 1939), a Madison native who became a Western Union telegraph operator after graduating from high school. He became familiar with machine tools at the Ball Brothers Foundry in Madison before joining Fuller and Johnson where he designed their early turret lathes. He became Fuller and Johnson’s and Gisholt’s chief salesman and traveled frequently throughout Europe promoting these products and then set up his own business.
In 1917 the U. S. War Department created the Four Lakes Ordnance Company to manufacture 5” guns for the U. S. Navy and built a large shop at 3810 Atwood Avenue that was operated by the Steinle Company until 1919. The Four Lakes building was then mostly vacant until 1937 when it was purchased by Madison-Kipp probably in anticipation of rearmament. Madison-Kipp was still using the building in 2013.
Steinle Turret Machine ceased operations in 1934 leaving the 149 Waubesa Street shops empty until 1940 when they were taken over by the Theodore Kupfer Foundry and Iron Works. The Theodore Kupfer Foundry had been started in 1892 by Theodore Kupfer, Sr. (about 1862-1936) in the 600 block of East Mifflin Street where it did general foundry work and made cast iron fittings for store fronts and similar items. It moved to the Waubesa Street plant to gain more space and to have direct access to its own railroad siding.
By 1940 Kupfer was making large fabrications such as bridge railings and steel columns. During WWII it made mounts for Navy machine guns and supports for the Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines used in U. S. Navy fleet submarines. Kupfer closed in 1985 after 93 years in the foundry and fabrication businesses.
Durline Scales and Mfg. Co. used some of the former Steinle/Kupfer space for a few years in the 1990’s to make its line of industrial scales.
The property was then purchased by a real estate investor who hoped to convert the abandoned and decrepit buildings into condominiums. This plan fell through.
By 2008 work was under way to rehab the buildings, add a new gymnasium, and update the utilities for a City of Madison facility to be named the Goodman Community Center after Madison residents Robert and Irwin Goodman whose contributions made the center possible.
According to the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society the Madison-Kipp Corporation began in 1902 when a lubrication company in Rochelle, Illinois merged with a similar company in Madison, Wisconsin.
In 1903 the firm moved into a new building at 201 Waubesa Street which is still the company headquarters. It was purchased by the Coleman family in 1904. The Waubesa Street area was established by Fair Oaks developers and civic leaders to attract high wage industries such as those pioneered in the Madison area by John Johnson and the Fullers.
Lubricating devices for steam and gas engines were the most important products during the company’s early years. By the 1920’s zinc and aluminum castings of all sorts became important. In 1937 the firm bought the old Four Lakes Ordnance building fronting on 2824 Atwood Avenue that had been built by the War Department in 1917.
Beginning in 1938 and continuing throughout WWII, Madison-Kipp pioneered new ways to make artillery ammunition for the U. S. armed forces, designed machines for munitions manufacturers, and built aiming devices for mortars, as well as TNT containers for antiaircraft ammunition. Military production again became important during the Korean War.
As of 2013 the firm still uses the Waubesa Street space as well as a newer plant at the intersection of Fair Oaks Avenue and the railroad tracks and a 2006 plant in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
Also as of 2013 there were about 300 Kipp workers with an average tenure of 16.5 years.
Madison Brass Works, Surf Inc.
Madison Brass Works, 206 Waubesa Street, was started in 1907 by Henry Vogts (about 1879-February 1, 1968) and Edward Schwenn (about 1882-November 4, 1918).
Henry Vogts was born in Germany and came to America in 1894. At age 14 he was working on a farm near Waunakee, Wisconsin for room and board and an annual salary of $120. He attended three winter sessions of grammar school at Waunakee, mostly to improve his English.
At age 18 he left the farm and worked at foundries in Beloit, Milwaukee, and Kenosha, Wisconsin and at Waukegan, Illinois as an informal apprenticeship. He and several friends then began a western working trip with sessions at foundries in Denver, Salt Lake City, Portland and San Francisco where in 1906 they lost all of their possessions in the San Francisco earthquake. He returned to Wisconsin and worked for about a year at the Madison division of the Fort Wayne Electric Company, 201 South Dickinson Street.
The first Madison Brass Works plant was a wooden shed on Waubesa Street on a lot that Henry and Edward bought for $400 and paid for in $10 monthly installments. The shed burned down in 1912 and was replaced by a fire-resistant brick and steel structure.
Madison Brass was primarily a “jobbing foundry” that made castings for other firms. About 90% of its products went to manufacturers in Madison, Racine, Milwaukee, and Chicago, but it also did one-off custom work such as the 1910 “sifting and winnowing” plaque for the University of Wisconsin.
Henry was a musician who played with the Madison Civic Symphony and the Zor Shrine Band. He was a life member of the Madison Musicians Union.
He was also a director of the Security State Bank, a member of the Madison police and fire commission, and a founder and director of the East Side Business Men’s Association.
He owned a construction company that built at least 60 houses near the Nichols School in the Village of Monona and on the East Side of Madison.
In 1965 at age 87 Henry was still working at Madison Brass although by then he had turned over most of the supervisory tasks to his nephew Elmer Schwenn. He never lost his German accent.
Henry’s son Harry (about 1909-1994) was an outstanding instrumental musician at Madison’s East High School and at the University of Wisconsin. He was owner and leader of a band after graduating from the UW.
Harry and his wife Elizabeth (Betty) were local, regional, and national motor boat racing champions. He was a plant supervisor and officer at Madison Brass and the founder and president of Surf, Inc. that made cast metal boating accessories and decorative items.
His Ace Builders Corporation, “Ace sets the pace,” built many single family houses in the Glendale and Acewood Boulevard areas of Madison in the 1950s and 1960s.
As of 2013 Madison Brass is officially defunct but a present occupant still uses some of the casting facilities.
U. S. Sugar Company, Garver Feed and Supply
The yellow brick building on the north side of the railroad tracks a few hundred yards east of Fair Oaks Avenue was the home of several industrial firms from 1904 to 1997. It was built about 1902 to 1904 for the U. S. Sugar Company as a beet sugar refinery that operated in most years between 1906 and 1924 when the company went bankrupt.
A thorough discussion of the brick building’s architecture and its changes through the years until 1994 can be found on the Internet at:
One of the U. S. Sugar Company’s founders was an inventor and chemical engineer named Magnus Swenson who was born in Langesand, Norway on April 12, 1854 on the estate of Thorstrand and who died in Madison on March 21 1936. In 1868 at age 14 Magnus came to the United States by himself. He then lived with an uncle in Janesville, Wisconsin for about eight years where he attended grammar school and worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the Chicago & North Western Railway shops.
He then entered the engineering college at the University of Wisconsin. His senior year thesis was on the pollution of well water in Madison that caused quite a stir and was partly responsible for the subsequent development of a sanitary sewer system in Madison. In 1880 he became William Arnon Henry’s first research assistant in the new college of agriculture.
At this time Magnus became interested in better ways to obtain refined sugar from sorghum. He left the ag department after a few years and continued to study sugar refining. He decided that sorghum would never become an important source of sugar but discovered many ways to improve sugar cane and sugar beet processing, so much so that he was soon called “the Eli Whitney of sugar.”
Swenson’s biographer was Olaf Haugen whose article on Magnus appeared in Volume X of Norwegian-American Studies, the journal of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. The article can be read for free on the Internet. Haugen wrote that Swenson’s combination of mechanical skill, chemical knowledge, practical skill, and perseverance helped Magnus prosper in the sugar business and other fields such as mining.
In 1902 Swenson returned to Madison where he became president of the U. S. Sugar Company that established sugar beet refineries in Menomonee Falls near Milwaukee, and at Janesville, Madison, and Chippewa Falls. This seemed like a good idea because sugar beets grow well almost everywhere in Wisconsin, especially in the eastern part of the state and Swenson certainly knew the trade.
The Madison plant operated for almost every annual processing season (usually October to February) from 1906 until 1924 when it closed forever.
The sugar beet industry never took hold in Wisconsin. For example, by 1938 only three of the nine sugar beet mills that had been established from 1869 were still in business.
It can be conjectured that by 1906 many Wisconsin farmers had become so heavily involved in dairy farming, livestock, truck gardening, tobacco, and other crops that they did not have the time or money to go into beets. Also beets require extensive thinning and weeding in the spring just when mint, peas, onions, sweet corn, potatoes, tobacco, and others also most need attention.
Another answer may be that other parts of the United States such as northeast lower Michigan, east and west North Dakota, eastern Montana, southwestern Idaho, and elsewhere developed a sugar beet culture similar to the dairy culture in Wisconsin or the pork culture in Iowa.
In hindsight, as Alexander would have pointed out, a sugar beet factory should never have been built in Madison, which was no place for a commodity producer.
Magnus Swenson remained a leading Madison citizen. In 1922 he built a large house on his estate, Thorstrand, near the southwestern shore of Lake Mendota. As of 2013 he is probably best known for his role in constructing the hydroelectric dams on the Wisconsin River at Kilbourn (Wisconsin Dells) and Prairie du Sac.
Garver Feed and Supply
James R. Garver was born in Abilene, Kansas about 1885 and died in Madison on May 2, 1973. He graduated from the University of Kansas and then earned a master’s degree in animal husbandry at the University of Wisconsin in 1908. He became the head of the Indiana Agriculture Extension Service.
In 1917 James and his wife the former Ann Van Vranken moved to Madison where he started an agricultural supply company that had several names over the years—Garver Feed Co., Garver Feed and Supply, Economy Feed Milling Co., and Garver’s Supply.
In 1931 he bought the former U. S. Sugar plant for a feed mill and warehouse. He removed some of the upper portions of the sugar plant and made other changes.
In 1946 one of the largest fires in Madison commercial history destroyed the warehouse section of the plant. The fire was especially hard to control because there was only one hydrant near the plant, so hoses had to be extended from several blocks away. Four hundred bystanders helped company workers move cars, trucks, and equipment out of danger and a firewall prevented damage to the main shops. Damage exceeded $100,000.
Garver later expanded beyond cattle, swine, and poultry supplies into cat and dog food and rations for rabbits, ostriches, and emus.
For many years Garver’s produced about 500 tons of animal feed per week.
Several workers continued the business after Garver’s death. The 66-year old firm was sold to Nutrena and closed on October 31, 1997.
As of 2013 the U. S. Sugar and Garver office building between the east end of the plant and the railroad tracks had been restored but the future of the main building was still in doubt.
Madison Cement Stave Silo Company
Madison Silo Company was started in 1914 by J. Ray Trusler and Clyde C. “C. C.” Woody who had been building silos since about 1906.
Trusler (October 1, 1988-September 22, 1966) and Woody (January 31, 1886-March 31, 1982) were both from Jasper County, Iowa. Woody earned a civil engineering degree from Iowa State University at Ames in 1911. Both men shared an interest in farming and harness racing. Each was an officer in several horse racing and horse breeding associations. Woody was a founder and president of the Madison Rotary Club.
Their silos were made from concrete staves 30” long by 10” wide x 2 ½” thick, each with a tongue and groove. They were fireproof, windproof, and “would last until doomsday.” The sales price included installation on the purchaser’s property. In addition to silos, the staves could be used to make tanks, standpipes, culverts, and well curbing.
The first plant was at 2126 Winnebago Avenue near Buell Street. First year sales were 30 silos; this grew to more than 12,000 a year by 1956, the most by any company in the world.
In April 1928 Madison Silo moved from Winnebago Street to a 2 ½ acre site off Atwood Avenue near the abandoned U. S. Sugar plant where they were soon joined by the Ben H. Anderson Manufacturing Company, makers of Clean-Easy Milking Machines, and by Garver Feed and Supply. Additional plants were erected in Chippewa Falls and Waupaca, Wisconsin; Winona, Minnesota; and El Paso, Illinois.
In the 1960s and 1970s Madison Silo was purchased and sold by at least two conglomerates including American Marietta. By 1982 the company had been purchased by 12 employees and became known as Madison Farm Structures.
In 1986 there was an auction to disperse nearly all of Madison Farm Structure’s tools and machinery.