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Once upon a time, an array of classic brands was started and made right here in Southeast Wisconsin, from dress shoes to professional tools and even a popular green-tinged soap.
Over the years, economics and competitive pressures led some companies to move some or all of their manufacturing operations out of the Milwaukee region, while others continue to make their iconic products in the area.
Here’s what’s what.
PRODUCT: Men’s dress and casual shoes
HISTORY: In 1922, Allen Edmonds founder Elbert W. Allen launched his new shoe company in Belgium, Wisconsin, about 10 miles from the company’s current headquarters and production facility in Port Washington. Today, Allen Edmonds is renowned for its quality and craftsmanship and is one of the few remaining shoemakers with any level of production in the United States.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Shoe uppers for Allen Edmonds’ handsewn collection are cut and sewn in the Dominican Republic before being shipped to the Port Washington plant, where shoe construction is completed.
HISTORY: John C. Koss invented the first high-fidelity stereophones in Milwaukee in 1958. Today, Glendale based Koss continues to design and market a complete line of headphones, Bluetooth speakers and computer and telecommunications headsets. Koss is known for its witty billboards, which have been a staple in the Milwaukee area since 1972.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Nada. Koss has no local production these days.
PRODUCT: Power tools and hand tools
HISTORY: In 1924, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. began by producing a lightweight drill for the automotive industry. The company later established its corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations in Brookfield and became known for products like the Sawzall reciprocating saw.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Manufacturing operations in Brookfield ceased in 2004 after shifting production to plants in Mississippi, Arkansas and Mexico. In January, though, the company unveiled plans for a $26 million hand tool factory in West Bend. It’s also building a $100 million R&D campus in Menomonee Falls.
PRODUCT: Men’s dress shoes and casual footwear
HISTORY: Founded in 1892 in Appleton as the W.R.P. Shoe Co., offering retail shoes regionally, the business moved to Chippewa Falls in 1895 and then to Milwaukee in 1900. In 1976, it adopted the name Weyco Group and today produces brands including Florsheim, Stacy Adams, Nunn Bush and Bogs.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Zip. All local production ended in 2003, when Weyco closed its last United States factory in Beaver Dam.
HISTORY: Milwaukee’s B.J. Johnson Soap Co. introduced Palmolive, a formula created using palm and olive oils and cocoa butter, in 1898. The distinctive light-green bar became the world’s best-selling soap. In 1928, the company merged with Colgate to form Colgate-Palmolive, which now generates close to $4 billion worth of business annually.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Zero. The Milwaukee plant, located under the Sixth Street Viaduct, has been shuttered since 1934.
PRODUCT: High-end customized tools
HISTORY: Founded in Milwaukee in 1920 as the Snap-on Wrench Co. by Joseph Johnson and William Seidemann, the company started by making 10 sockets that would snap on to five interchangeable handles. Snap-on moved its headquarters to Kenosha in 1930.
WHAT’S STILL MADE HERE? Hand tools such as sockets, pliers and screwdrivers are manufactured at Snap-on’s plant on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side, which opened in 1980.