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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Made in Milwaukee


Milwaukee's always been a manufacturing powerhouse. From its old nickname "Workshop To The World" to the fact that more of its population is employed in manufacturing today than almost any other American city its size, this town, its companies and its people provide a lot of goods to the world.

In 1920, for example, about 58% of the city's workforce was employed in manufacturing. Hard times ensued from the 1960s through the '80s as the decline of industry, diversification to a more service-based economy and competition from foreign labor gutted many of Milwaukee's major employers. Today, the number of Milwaukeeans employed in manufacturing is closer to 22 percent, and that's impressive for a major American city.

Milwaukee's most famous products, beer and motorcycles, are ones you probably know about already, so we'll skip those. However, this city and its environs make a lot of other things that are used everywhere, and not necessarily made in quantity anywhere else.

Carmex: The balm that heals chapping and cold sores all over the world is made and packed into those instantly recognizable yellow containers and tubes right here in town. Carmex was invented by Alfred Woelbing in 1937, after he lost his job at a department store, a victim of the Depression. He manufactured Carmex out of his house until its success necessitated moving to a Wauwatosa manufacturing facility 20 years later. Today, Carmex is made in Franklin. It is sold in all 50 states, plus Canada, Australia, and increasingly in Europe (where Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn, who once called Carmex one of her hip accessories, stocks up -ed.). Woelbing's grandsons now run the company. Alfred passed away in 2001, shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday. Find out more at www.carma-labs.com.

Engines, Motors, and Components: Harleys aside, Milwaukee's always been about making things that help people get places. The outboard engine was invented by Ole Evinrude and today companies like Evinrude, Briggs & Stratton, Tower Automotive, the Falk Corporation, Generac, Simplicity, Eaton, Leeson, Textron, the Gehl Company, ABB Automation and Twin Disc still produce outboard motors, lawnmower engines, paving equipment, structural frames, machines for farms, hydraulics, generators, gear motors, drives, transmissions and other power equipment.

Measurement Products and Control Systems: If it gets regulated, monitored or weighed, chances are companies in Milwaukee make the devices that do it. Go find a thermostat in a Los Angeles office building, and chances are a Milwaukee company's name is on it. Johnson Controls and Badger Meter are but two of the companies that make things that measure and control the world around us.

Billiard Cues: When you pick up a cue stick in a bar anywhere in the country, or see somebody's custom cue stick (meaning you shouldn't play him for money) there's a chance that stick was made in Milwaukee. McDermott Cue Manufacturing of Menomonee Falls (try saying THAT fast five times) is one the largest makers of custom, two-piece pool cues in the nation.

Power Transmission and Distribution Equipment: We all need electricity, and it moves via many Milwaukee products. Transformers, capacitors, voltage regulators and distribution systems for electric power are made in large part right here, by companies like Rexnord and Cooper Power Systems.

Excavation Machinery: There's nothing like huge holes in the ground, and Milwaukee makes a lot of things that dig them. Throughout our history, companies like Allis-Chalmers, Harnischfeger and Bucyrus-Erie have made the machines that played a huge role in the construction of the interstate highway system, Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and countless skyscrapers all over the world. Although in a more limited capacity, some of these companies are still making the equipment and digs everything up so we can build on it.

Model Trains: Model railroad buffs, you're in the right town. Wm K. Walthers of Milwaukee is the nation's largest manufacturer of model trains and accessories.

Magazines and Publishing: Many magazines and newspapers around the country are made on paper and printing from Quad Graphics. Magazine publishers are all over the area, too. To continue the Model Trains category, one could point out that "Model Railroader" is published by Kalmbach in Waukesha. "Milwaukee Magazine" is obviously published here (by Quad), but so is "Astronomy," "Birder's World," "Reminisce," "Quick Cooking" and "Farm & Ranch Living," among others.

Paperboard and Cardboard: With all that forest nearby and an international port from which to ship goods, Milwaukee is a logical place for a company to make paper and cardboard and deliver it to a world market. Companies like Wisconsin Paperboard, right behind North Ave. along the Milwaukee River still make things we can write on and pack stuff in.

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