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Manufacturing Hall of Fame

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Wisconsin’s manufacturing roots go back further than statehood. Many industrious innovators and entrepreneurs settled in this part of the Midwest, and these extraordinary individuals and the companies they built propelled Wisconsin’s economy forward.

To honor their legacy, the Wisconsin Industrial Hall of Fame was established in 1958 by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s predecessor organization. Over the next decade and a half, 78 of the state’s most accomplished and influential industrialists were recognized.

For unknown reasons, the Hall of Fame was discontinued in 1970, even as the Wisconsin manufacturing sector continued to thrive thanks to a new generation of manufacturers who followed the footsteps of Wisconsin business titans like Blatz, Case, Froedtert, Johnson, Miller and Trane, among others. These new leaders continue Wisconsin’s proud manufacturing heritage.

To honor their many economic and societal contributions, WMC is proud to reestablish the Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

2024 Inductee

Ronald G. Wanek

Founder, Ashley Furniture Industries

Ron Wanek grew up a sharecropper’s son near Utica, Minnesota. After spending a decade in the furniture business, Ron set out on his own in 1970 to establish and manage Arcadia Furniture – which is now known as Ashley Furniture Industries. Through the years, he realigned operations to match his customers’ needs. This included establishing overseas manufacturing and distribution capabilities, new product categories, expanding the company’s footprint and entering the retail market. Today, Ashley is the largest furniture manufacturer in the world, and Wanek has used his success to give back. While his philanthropic contributions are numerous, a notable project is the Soldiers Walk at Memorial Park in Arcadia – one of the nation’s premiere salutes to veterans.

Historic Inductees

Born in Logans­port, Indiana. In 1870 he moved to Beloit where he worked as a draftsman for the Merrill and Houston Iron Works (which as the O. E. Merrill Company was the first manufacturer of papermaking machinery in the state, 1858). When this firm failed in 1882, Aldrich and four others began to acquire capital and in 1885 organized the Beloit Iron Works, using the plant of the older firm. Aldrich was secretary of the company (1885-1889) and president (1889-1931). An inventor, he was granted numerous patents on papermaking machinery. The Beloit plant was the largest manufacturer of papermaking machinery in the world.

Neekosa Paper Company

In 1903, Lynde Bradley invented the compression rheostat, which offered a better way to control the speed of electric motors. After securing an investment from a life-long friend, Dr. Stanton Allen, he founded what would become the Allen-Bradley Company. Bradley held the title of president of the company from 1916 until his death in 1942, by which time they were producing a complete line of electrical control devices found in items from radios and televisions to RADAR and fighter planes. The Allen-Bradley Company was sold to Rockwell Automation in 1985.

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After moving to Wisconsin in 1842, Jerome Case opened a thresher machine repair shop and began working on his biggest innovation. In 1844, he developed a combination grain thresher and separator, and set up a plant to manufacture these implements. The plant enlarged over the years as demand grew, and in 1863 the J.I. Case Company was organized. The firm became one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural implements in the world and is still producing products in Racine today.

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As a young man, Patrick Cudahy became superintendent of Plankinton and Armour, one of the largest meat packing companies in Milwaukee. He later took over the business with his brother and renamed it Cudahy Brothers. In the 1880’s, Cudahy bought 700 acres of land outside of Milwaukee to build a plant and developed a village bearing his name by allowing workers to purchase lots with deductions from their wages. In the early 1900’s Cudahy Brothers became one of the first packers to sell semi-perishable canned hams and also specialized in sliced dried beef, Italian sausage and sliced bacon. The company – eventually known as Patrick Cudahy – was purchased by Smithfield in 1984.

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At 53-years-old, Samuel Johnson took on his next venture by purchasing the Racine Hardware Company and began selling parquet wood flooring. When customers asked how to care for their new floors that dried out with soap and water, he developed a wax that would protect the flooring. The term “Johnson’s Wax” became established household words around the world as the company now known as S.C. Johnson continued to grow. Throughout his career, Johnson donated 10 percent of his earnings each year to civic improvements – a trend that continues today with five percent of S.C. Johnson pre-tax profits going to charity.

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Following time as a postal clerk and bookkeeper, F.J. Sensenbrenner began his Kimberly-Clark Company career in 1889. He became a stockholder in the company in 1907, rising in the ranks until eventually becoming president and director, where he served from 1928 to 1942. He also served on the Kimberly-Clark Board of Directors and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, including as president, until his death in 1952. In addition to his work at Kimberly-Clark, Sensenbrenner helped found the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association – WMC’s predecessor – in 1911 to ensure employers had a voice at the State Capitol.

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