Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Manitowoc-Two Rivers

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Manitowoc-Two Rivers

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Manitowoc-Two Rivers follows the evolution of two cities whose culture, commerce and recreation have been shaped by neighboring Lake Michigan. The program includes tales of shipwrecks and life-saving operations, the development and proliferation of wooden type and aluminum manufacturing, the region's participation in the World War II home front effort and the emergence and growth of new businesses in recent decades.

Premiere date: Jul 06, 2009

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Intro

Announcer:
This program is brought to you by the combined resources of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television. 

Narrator: 
On “Wisconsin Hometown Stories:” two cities founded on the Lake Michigan shore built up by a great maritime trade and industries started seemingly out of the blue. Cities transformed by skilled labor able to accomplish what few other communities could. On “Wisconsin Hometown Stories:” Manitowoc - Two Rivers. 

Announcer:
Manitowoc - Two Rivers is made possible in part by a principal gift from Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.  And major gifts from the Francis A. and Georgia F. Ariens Fund; Burger Boat Company; the Manitowoc Company; the Jane and Arthur Stangel Fund; Orion Energy Systems; and these additional funders. Additional funding provided by the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin History Fund supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Trees & Fish

Narrator: 
In the 1700s, French fur traders traveled down the western shore of Lake Michigan. They paddled around a point of land jutting seven miles into the lake. And beyond that they came to a protected bay. There, they found villages of mixed bands of Ottowa, Potawatomi, Menominee and Ojibwa Indians.

Kerry Trask: 
This region was called Manitowoc by them. Manitou is the root word. And "manitou" means "spirit" in the Algonquin languages. And Manitowoc is the place of the spirit or the place of the good spirit. And that may have been the case because of the rapids at Manitowoc rapids where the water was white. And there was the mist from the rapids and the thunder of the water. So it was regarded as a magical place. The rivers running into the lake through Manitowoc the Manitowoc River and the two rivers in Two Rivers. They go fairly far inland. And that not only provides an opportunity to do lumbering up river and float the logs down but it also provides power sources for saw mills. 

Narrator: 
As the area opened up for European settlement, sawmills went up in what would soon become Two Rivers, Manitowoc Rapids, and the city of Manitowoc.  Most of the people that came were New Englanders. They came from Vermont and New York state. And the sawmills attracted other people to come here and work. Benjamin Jones, the founder of Manitowoc, also had a sawmill.

Kerry Trask: 
Ben Jones and his brother bought 2,000 acres of land in this area for a buck and quarter an acre. Within a year or so, he was selling house lots which were a quarter-acre in size in what now is the city of Manitowoc for $200 a lot. But the other aspect of Jones' plan was lumbering. Jones also constructed a sawmill on the south side of the river to cut the white pine that were plentiful and dense in this region. Chicago was this voracious market for almost anything that could be produced. And Jones made a lot of money on selling lumber into the Chicago market. 

Narrator: 
In Two Rivers, the abundant harvest of fish caught by the Native Americans caught the attention of early settlers.

Kerry Trask: 
The Indians came out of the forest in springtime after they made maple syrup and maple sugar. And, you know, came out of the forest to get away from the mosquitoes, and mostly to fish. The fish were at times, especially in the springtime, just dense in the water. And white fish and perch were especially plentiful. 

Narrator: 
French Canadians heard about the rich fishing and a number of them, with names like LeClair, LaFond migrated to the area.

Evan Gagnon:
My great-great grandfather was the first commercial fisherman. He built a small home on the harbor shores. He built a Mackinaw boat, as did all the other fishermen that followed him. Very soon, within a year or two we had half a dozen fishing boats there.

Narrator: 
Early on, fishermen went out with what is called a Mackinaw boat first developed for the Great Lakes fur trade.

Evan Gagnon: 
These were big enough for two men to sail on a lake on calm days and to do their fishing with what is called a gillnet.

Narrator: 
The French-speaking Canadians established a distinctive fishing village where they built sheds, set up reels for drying nets and docked their boats. Today, only a few families continue to fish, carrying on a tradition passed down through the generations and a way of life that's always been difficult.

Peter LeClair: 
Long, hard days. You gotta get seasick I got seasick for two years. When I was going to high school, my junior and senior year and two years after I got out of high school I threw up every day. I went down to a hundred pounds. And my ma said, "You got to get that kid home. He's gonna fall over dead." "Nobody ever died from seasickness yet. And he ain't gonna, either. Get up and let's go!" 

Narrator: 
In the early days, fish were salted and shipped by schooner to Chicago or Detroit. Schooners also brought in animal hides to a tannery in Two Rivers built in the midst of a hemlock forest which supplied the bark necessary for processing leather. 

Bob Fay: 
The county had vast stands of hemlock trees. The bark from the hemlock trees was used to tan animal hides. The Wisconsin Leather Company Tannery was the largest tannery in the world at one point. Two huge, more than 100-foot-long, brick buildings were located along the shore. And of course, a settlement developed there around the tannery. There was a school and boarding houses. And houses were built for company workers. Vats were used to soak and tan the hides. Then after that process, they were stretched and dried and put on schooners and sent down to Milwaukee to be made into leather shoes and other types of products. Without Lake Michigan there probably wouldn't have been any tanning industry developed in this area because they needed it as a major artery of transportation. Railroads didn't come to the county really, until the 1870s, 1873. So, we were really dependent on our lake for moving products, and produce, and also people. 

When a frontier settler built a schooner called “The Citizen” it was the first of many boats that would soon be built launching a shipbuilding industry that would drive the destiny of the community for generations to come.

Schooners & Steamers

Narrator:
As schooners carried away the lumber from Manitowoc and Two Rivers, shipbuilders in both towns began building their own boats.

Theodore Kamaranski: 
When a town like Manitowoc or Two Rivers began to develop, a key moment in its emergence was the launching of its first sailing ship.

Kerry Trask: 
The agricultural economy, the lumbering economy. You know, you name it. Whatever we're doing in the early days has got to get somewhere else. And almost inevitably, it is by ship.

Tom Wenstadt:
It brought in a lot of wealth and ability to expand further. By getting the revenue from the goods that were shipped. And then ultimately getting revenue from actually building the vessels themselves. 

Theodore Kamaranski:
Really important in the emergence of Manitowoc as a shipbuilding center was the arrival of William Wallace Bates in the town, along with his father. Bates became one of the foremost shipbuilders on the Great Lakes. Bates' great contribution was the classic Great Lakes clipper schooner. 

Kerry Trask:
Bates is one of the first in the upper Great Lakes to design ships specifically for the lakes.

Tom Wenstadt: 
Most of the rivers that flowed into Lake Michigan had sand build-up at the mouth of the river. And it was hard to get any vessel of any carrying capacity through that. So his boats had unique characteristics. They were designed for shallow draft yet capable of quite high speeds for the day given the load they had to carry. And he became quite famous for that. 

Narrator: 
As Manitowoc and Two Rivers built schooners, the schooners, in turn, helped to build the two towns.

Kerry Trask:
What happens is you begin to attract a skilled labor force. A lot of the early workers in Bates' shipyards were Norwegians. They were skilled workers. And once you begin to accumulate a skilled labor force like that then you get more and more business. And so, with a reputation of Bates' ships of being, really, just absolutely perfect for sailing on the lakes you get more and more business. And suddenly, you get a community that is really beginning to grow and develop. 

Narrator: 
Waves of German, Bohemian, Polish, and Irish immigrants also arrived by steamboat at the docks of Manitowoc and Two Rivers which became regular stops on the Goodrich steamship line.  For decades to come, the Goodrich line would travel the lakeshore and purchase much of its fleet of steamers from Manitowoc Shipbuilders.

Tom Wenstadt:
The very end of William Bates' career here in Manitowoc he started building two steamers for the Goodrich line which were the first steamers built in Manitowoc.

Narrator: 
Bates eventually sold his shipyard to Greenleaf Rand, who went on to build several more steamers for the Goodrich line. Rand also teamed up with local ship owners to build a drydock launching a ship repair business that brought in steady work and serviced many of the boats wintering in the Manitowoc Harbor.

Kerry Trask: 
The thing with shipping in the Great Lakes is that it's a seasonal business. From November to April, the ships were in the harbor. And Manitowoc was always a good wintering place. The ships would come in. They'd line the harbor along both sides of the river. And those ships that needed repair and needed re-outfitting were serviced in the dry docks here. 

Narrator: 
As Manitowoc became a regional shipbuilding and repair center it attracted a boat builder from Milwaukee named Henry Burger.

Tom Wenstadt:
Henry Burger came in the early 1860s and built his first vessel, the “Fleet Wing,” in 1867.

Narrator: 
Throughout a long shipbuilding career Burger built dozens of schooners and steamers.  But when he launched the “Cora A.” in 1889 it would be the last of the Great Lakes schooners.

Theodore Kamaranski:
At the peak of the Great Lakes schooner era there were close to 2,000 of these vessels sailing the lakes. Twice as many sailing ships as there were steamboats. Carrying lumber, carrying grain, tying the rural communities of the region to the big cities. But the days of the sailing ships were ending. They ended, largely because Wisconsin was beginning to decline as a lumber center. 

Narrator: 
In Two Rivers, fishermen removed the sails and added engine houses to their Mackinaws covering a new gasoline engine developed by local engineer William Kahlenberg.

Erick Kahlenberg:
He had found books from Daimler and Benz who were the inventors of the marine gasoline engine. But after reading those books and investigating one other engine that was already being produced, that was a gasoline engine, he came up with his own, came up with his own design.

Narrator: 
The engine became famous for its reliability and revolutionized the commercial fishing industry.

Theodore Kamaranski:
If you can imagine the difference between rowing when the wind died or sailing when the weather was reasonable going to a gasoline engine that would take you through any weather, even wintertime, that was a huge change for that industry. 

Narrator:
In Manitowoc, a second Burger Boat Company started by a nephew of Henry Burger focused on building smaller craft built around the new Kahlenberg engines. Meanwhile, Henry Burger continued to turn out large wooden steamers. But the days of big, hand-crafted boats were nearing an end. As he approached retirement, Henry Burger sold his yard to Chicago shipbuilders Charles West and Elias Gunnell. The new Manitowoc Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company would refit the yards to produce steel-hulled boats like the luxury steamer Alabama which became the flagship of the Goodrich line. Crafted in a modern shipyard by highly skilled labor Manitowoc-built boats were now better prepared to meet the challenges and the hazards of shipping on the great lakes. 

 

Wreck & Rescue

Narrator: 
The prosperity brought about by schooners and steamers came with a heavy price: lost lives, and a lake bottom littered with shipwrecks.

Frederick Stonehouse:
Lake Michigan can hold title to probably 2,500 shipwrecks. That is more shipwrecks on Lake Michigan than any of the other Great Lakes. All of that really in testimony to the dangerous lake out there when the storms begin to kick it up.  In a storm, you develop a very sharp chop. In other words, the peaks of the waves are very close together and they can be very, very steep. So you can have 30-foot waves that might be only 50 feet apart and they can literally batter a ship to death. 

Keith Meverden:
The Manitowoc Two Rivers area down to about Sheboygan has probably the best collection of deep, intact, significant shipwrecks in Wisconsin.  The shipwrecks in this area tend to be deeper water, mostly 150 feet or deeper, but they're very well-preserved. They're in very cold, fresh water. Unlike ocean shipwrecks, they don't deteriorate as quickly because of the cold, fresh water. They're very intact. There's still a lot of cultural material on the vessels. We have a very important collection of shipwrecks in this area.

Narrator: 
Marine archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society are working with experienced divers to document shipwrecks in the area.  On this trip, they're focusing in on the “Home” a lumber schooner that went down about ten miles offshore in 170 feet of water.  Deep-water dives require special breathing equipment. And the frigid water limits the divers to about 40 minutes of bottom time. But each dive tells a bit more of the story of the schooner “Home.”

Keith Meverden:
The “Home” is the second oldest known shipwreck in Wisconsin. It was built in Ohio in 1843, and it sank in 1858 which is very early for Wisconsin's history. The Home was involved in a collision with the “Fisk.” She was struck off of her starboard bow. And when she sank three of her crew members went down with the vessel.  If you look at the shipwreck on the bottom the collision damage is very evident on the starboard bow. 

Paul Bently:
When we look at the schooners now we're really looking at an ancient design, almost ancient history. Things didn't change over time. In Wisconsin and the Midwest many of the ships were built by family-run organizations. and they had their own plans. In fact, the plans were in their heads. They didn't leave blueprints. So the only way to understand how they built these ships is to actually go down on them, and to record to survey, to shoot. 

Keith Meverden:
The “Home,” I think, is a good testament to a lot of the dangers the mariners faced out on the lakes. They didn't have radar at that time. They didn't have GPS. On a foggy day, when you didn't have good visibility, collisions sank many vessels out on the lakes. Fire was also a big problem. They had wood vessels with oil lamps and a lot of steam machinery. If something caught fire, it burned quickly. There were a lot of vessels lost to fire and also to running aground. Also, the storms, you can get very fierce, violent storms in a matter of minutes out on the Great Lakes when the thunderstorms roll through.  

Narrator: 
To save lives, the U.S. government established a life-saving service and located one of the first stations on the Great Lakes in Two Rivers.

Frederick Stonehouse:
The station here at Two Rivers would have a keeper often referred to as the captain. And he would have seven surf men under him. They were the sons of fishermen, the sons of mariners. They were folks who grew up on the water. And each one of those would be personally trained by him in all of the skills that they needed to have that were critical for them to be able to respond to an emergency, and save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. As soon as the lookout spotted a ship in distress he immediately would ring the bell. There was a big watch bell up there. That would summon the keeper. They would both evaluate the situation and then, if necessary, the keeper would call the entire crew. They would man the life boat or surf boat, as needed. They would go out regardless of the weather conditions and make the rescue or literally die in the attempt to make the rescue. Their motto was, "Regulations say we have to go out. They say nothing about coming back." And they lived that motto. There were 40 lifesavers on the Great Lakes that lost their lives, either directly in rescue attempts or succumbing to injuries from those attempts.

Narrator: 
In 1887, the steamer “Vernon” went down in a November gale eight miles off Two Rivers. The captain of the steamer “Superior” reported seeing survivors on rafts. But the storm had broken his ship's tiller and he was helpless to save them. Later, fishermen recovered the bodies of 19. In hopes of identifying the dead, photos of victims were sent to cities around the lake. In the end, the community buried eight unidentified sailors and the people of Two Rivers raised the money to place a marker on their grave. 

Making Headlines

Narrator: 
The plentiful supply of wood used for shipbuilding also helped Two Rivers carve out a reputation as the wood-type capital of the world. Shipping wooden letters to print shops around the world.  It began when a skilled woodworker named J.E Hamilton was asked if he could create some large letters out of wood that a local printer needed for a poster.

Gregory Corrigan:
He printed posters, to announce events. He needed wood type for an event that was going to happen at Turner Hall here in Two Rivers. And there was going to be a dance there.

Narrator: 
To make dance posters and other announcements, printers used small letters made of metal. But it was cheaper and easier to make large letters from wood.

Gregory Corrigan:
Wood type, at that time they would get from the East Coast for the most part. He wasn't able to get it, or have it back here in time to meet his deadline for this poster. So he went to Hamilton simply out of desperation. Hamilton did such a great job of polishing the wood and getting it to the right thickness that it printed really well. 

Narrator: 
Hamilton set up a shop in the back of his mother's house. And with a foot-powered scroll saw began cutting out samples of wooden type and sending them to area newspapers. He gets a response from the Green Bay Gazette. That was his first order. And he had an order from them for $2.50. And so, that starts his company. 

Narrator: 
As more orders came in Hamilton had enough work to build his own small factory.

Gregory Corrigan:
He builds his first factory and he hires 22 employees in 1882. Ten years later, he has 200 employees.

David Shields: 
There were all sorts of new markets opening up out here as the frontier pushed west. With the port here at Two Rivers with everything flowing by this way he had his pick of really the best materials. All the guys back on the East Coast began having to buy wood from out here. They were slowed down, not only in getting the wood to them but then distributing it back to the new customers. And Hamilton didn't have any of those problems. He was sitting on the wood and could make it quicker. And then he could distribute it quicker.

Narrator: 
Hamilton also developed a new way to produce type using the wood of the holly tree and sold it for about half the price of his competitors.

David Shields: 
He had come to dominate the industry economically because of his being able to undersell everybody else. And so he becomes kind of the last man standing. He bought up all the other producers. 

Narrator: 
The Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers with its collection of working machinery tells the story of the American wood type industry and how it continued the communications revolution first begun by Johannes Gutenberg.

David Shields: 
Movable type was developed in the 1450s by Gutenberg in Germany. It was small, metal pieces of type that could be moved around to compose books. That lasted for hundreds of years and was really the way mass communication started. The limit to metal was that it could only be made small, half an inch, maybe an inch at the most. If it got too big, it was difficult to make. Great for books, but not so great for advertising. Wood type was developed in the early part of the 19th century, about 1828, as a way of cheaply making really large sizes of type. And it allowed for a real explosion in the kinds of things you could print, so, bigger posters, broadsides, newspaper headlines. It just sort of revolutionized that. The fact that you could make something that was a foot tall or two feet tall was exhilarating. Large broadsheets that needed gigantic type on the side of a building were made in wood type. And with wood type things were much easier to produce. The space between the designer thinking of something and then making the drawings and converting that into wood type was radically reduced. It went from something that would take years to almost days. So the sort of Victorian type of graphic styles that were slow to take hold in metal type just exploded in wood type. Not only could you make type out of wood but you could also engrave illustrations and make drawings and pictures. It was a technology that kind of allowed for everything. So the sky was limit, really.

Narrator: 
As Hamilton cornered the market on wood type he also discovered that printers needed better places to store it. 

Bill Moran:
In general, printer shops were dirty, messy unorganized places. Hamilton comes in and sees the need to supply type to these printers. But then he has the bright idea-- I've got all this woodworking equipment, why don't I make the storage devices to put the type in. He takes it a step further. He says, okay we need working surfaces to work on every day. And even though I'm not making lead type, the lead type has to go somewhere, too. That was where he really turned a corner from a business standpoint. Suddenly, the cabinetry starts to eclipse the wood type. 

David Shields: 
Today, any type shop anywhere has Hamilton cases. It's just the de facto printer's equipment. If you have a printer's case, it's a Hamilton case.

Narrator: 
With its highly skilled workforce, the Hamilton Company diversified further, starting a spinoff business making cabinets for dental offices.

David Shields: 
Hamilton really uses that body of knowledge to really start making a lot of other things better. I think that whole period of the progressive movement in American history, making things better. They made a lot of money, but their real intention was sort of to make things more efficient and make things better. And I think that's a wonderful story that can happen here that oddly enough, comes out of wood type. 

Narrator: 
The Hamilton Company reinvented itself once again when an inventor brought in a prototype of the first automatic clothes dryer.  Following their tradition, the company improved the machine. And in the years after World War II, sales of dryers took off.

Woman in advertisement:
Why, here's real emancipation from old-fashioned chores! Just set the dial, and walk away! 

Narrator: 
The company went on to make classroom furniture and laboratory equipment. But by this time, its wood type business was in decline as the hand-setting of type now took place in only the smallest print shops replaced by modern typesetting machinery.  But through the 1960s, Hamilton continued to make wood type for newspaper headlines. And most of the country's newspapers broke the biggest stories with the biggest headlines using Hamilton wood type.  

Vit's College of Aluminum Knowledge

Narrator: 
In 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a display of a new miracle metal called aluminum inspired Joseph Koenig to start another new business in Two Rivers.

Gerald Schultz:
So, he decided, well, I'm gonna try that.

Narrator: 
Setting up shop in a corner of the Hamilton wood type factory, Koenig launched the first of several aluminum companies that would follow. Most of them started by his former employees. The region would soon become a leading producer of cookware, putting aluminum pots and pans into kitchens across the country. Koenig began by building machines to work with what was then a new and unfamiliar metal.

Gerald Schultz:
He came up with combs out of aluminum. He designed some machines to cut the teeth of the comb. They made novelty combs and different novelty items. All kinds of gadgets that somebody would come up with and then they'd go and make it.

John Singer: 
They made little boxes for cigars.

Warren Wentorf:
They made a collapsible cup with a cover that you could pull out. It would seal, and you could get a drink of water with it. Fancy, fancy stuff, you know? Coins.

Gerald Schultz:
There were two men that engraved all that stuff.

Narrator: 
In Manitowoc, Henry Vits closed down his tannery, hired away a couple of tool and die makers from Koenig's plant and started the Manitowoc Aluminum Novelty Company, making the same kinds of products. The firms soon merged creating the Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company, or as it became known locally, the Goods.  The move into cookware production came about when Adolf Kummerow, a plant foreman, quit after Joseph Koenig ordered him to start punching a time clock.

Richard Kummerow: 
He was a foreman. My grandfather didn't want to punch a clock. He said, "If I have to punch a clock, I'm leaving." And he left.

Narrator: 
Kummerow's wife Caroline suggested that he try making cookware, something that Aluminum Goods wasn't doing.

Richard Kummerow:
They made their first cookware in their basement. The home is still there on 21st Street in Two Rivers.

Narrator: 
Kummerow formed the Standard Aluminum Company and renting space in an old woodworking plant in Two Rivers, expanded the production of cookware.

Warren Wentorf:
They were making pudding pans and frying pans. They made the dairy pail in there, and got into roasters.

Richard Kummerow: 
He expanded his presses. Then he got into the first aluminum rolling mills.

Warren Wentorf:
God almighty, that opened up the whole thing, you know? 

Narrator: 
Eventually, Aluminum Goods Manufacturing bought out Standard Aluminum. And within a few years the Goods became a cookware giant, producing over 40% of all U.S. aluminum cookware.  Early success came when Quaker Oats sold over a million double boilers as part of the company's first cereal box premium.

John Singer: 
You put water in the pot, then you put the oatmeal in here and it never stuck to the pan. That's the way you do it without burning it.

Narrator: 
The flagship Mirro brand launched in 1917 with full-page ads in national magazines.

Gerald Schultz:
Some of the designs were the paneled percolators and paneled tea kettles.

John Singer: 
This was a brand new science, no one had ever done it. No one knew how to take a sheet of metal and make a big pot out of it and not have it split. How do you make the cover? How do you make it round, and how do you make it fit?

Narrator: 
Mirro sales soared with the growth in chain stores and catalogs and as the company made new products that found their way into cupboards and drawers across the country.

John Singer: 
When we got married, we both worked there. So we got, I don't know how much money. Probably $100 worth. Of cookware, you know. You could pick out whatever you wanted. Everybody at work that got married got it. But because we were both there at the time we got twice as much.

Nona Singer:
We have every tin that Mirro made muffin tins, pie tins, different cake pans. This is the tart pan. And the muffin tins, small ones, large ones. And Jell-O molds.

John Singer:
My dad made the tools and dies for this. He made all the tools to make this spout.

Nona Singer:
Our house is filled with Mirro! Everything they make.

Narrator: 
The company grew rapidly and with plants in both cities became part of the fabric of life.

Walter Vogl:
I remember this scene very well. That whistle would blow at noon. The doors of these industries would literally fly open and humanity would come exploding out of the doors. Everybody walking very fast to be able to get home for lunch.

Gerald Schultz:
From Plant One I could get home in seven minutes back in seven, so that was 14. That gave me about 13 minutes to eat. 

Narrator: 
Over time, generations of families worked at the Goods under the community-minded leadership of generations of the Vits family.

John Singer: 
Those old Vits could walk through the plant. If there were a thousand people in one plant they'd pat 'em on the back, and knew their name.

Gerald Schultz:
Say you were working in the press room and you happened to have your hand smashed, or something, instead of laying you off, or retiring you or whatever they wanted they would put you as a boat elevator operator or as a sweeper, janitor, or something like that. So, more or less, like a family.

John Singer: 
They used to have a picnic. Two Rivers had a picnic and Manitowoc had a picnic and the company paid for all of the beer and the food and the parade, and all the things. All the kids got toys, and whatever. A lot of the Polish people that came over and lived in what we called the Polish Hill. And the first generation worked in the buffing room. The second one were tool and die makers. The third one were doctors. 

Narrator: 
And over time, the company continued to innovate, designing and developing new products.  

Gerald Schultz:
Just about any cookware that was made out of aluminum we made it. 

John Singer: 
A lot of engineers. We did things that cost money to do.

Warren Wentorf:
Always built knowledge. The company always was willing to pay to educate people. They'd train their own engineers, electricians, machinists, pipefitters. We called it Vits' College of Aluminum Knowledge. That's what it was. A lot of people learned a lot of things. 

 

Homefront

Narrator: 
With the coming of World War II, Manitowoc and Two Rivers, like most cities, geared up for the war effort. Aluminum Goods Manufacturing retooled its plants completely for wartime production. And its skilled workforce turned out hundreds of items large and small for the military. The area's agricultural industries were ideally suited for the war effort. With companies like Lakeside Foods and the White House Milk Company canning huge quantities of food for the troops. In Two Rivers, the Carron Net Company a maker of fishing nets began making camouflage netting. The reliable engines of the Kahlenberg Engine Company made their way into Navy ships. Burger Boat, with workers still skilled in wooden boat construction, received contracts for building wooden sub-chasers, minesweepers and other ships for the Navy.  But the biggest and most unusual contribution to the war effort would be made by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company headed by Charles West.

Carl Umlandt: 
Charles West had friends in the Navy in Washington, DC. He went out there and he met Admiral Jones. And he said, "We would like to build destroyers for you." Admiral Jones said, "We don't want you to build destroyers. We want you to build submarines." 

Marge Miley: 
It was big headlines in the newspaper. Yes, three-inch headlines, at least. Their first contract was for ten submarines. And then they got ten more, then they got eight more. That was an exciting time in Manitowoc though when they had all those people down there. Nobody who could work was out of a job at that point.

Kerry Trask: 
Honestly, submarines at the time were very high-tech projects. And therefore it required a very, very skilled careful and productive workforce.

Narrator: 
Launching the massive effort, the company recruited workers not only from Manitowoc and Two Rivers but also nearby cities and farms.

Jerry Pilger: 
When a farmer would apply for a job at Manitowoc Ship he was the first one they hired. A farmer is a jack of all, maybe a master of none, but he can fix anything. That's the kind of people that they were looking for down at Manitowoc Ship. He could weld, burn, do a lot of things. He had a lot of mechanical skills, so to speak.

Kerry Trask: 
And what West did, was he hired on and trained about 400 women, who became very skilled welders.

Marge Miley: 
And it was quite an adjustment, I think for the men to have women working side-by-side as welders and machinists. 

Rosella Siebert: 
They told us the only way we could get in was by taking welding, because they needed welders bad. So we went back to Sheboygan and went to vocational school. I never missed a day. I was proud that I could be one of them. As far as I'm concerned that was the best place I ever worked, the shipyards.

Marge Miley: 
They used to bring the welders in from Green Bay and Sheboygan by bus. There were over 7,000 people working there round the clock.

Jerry Pilger:
The other submarines that were built at Connecticut, Groton, they did a wonderful job. But the submarines that were produced here, everybody took a lot of pride in their work. With whatever they did, it was beautiful.

Rosella Siebert: 
The sailors ask, how did they ever get cherry pickers, cheese makers, and farmers to do such wonderful work?

Kerry Trask: 
What you have here is you have people who have a tremendous amount of pride in what they do, and what they know. And a tremendous of pride in how productive they can be. The first submarine that came off was 288 days ahead of schedule. 

Harold Bieberitz: 
We had quite a crowd of people for the launching of the Peto.

Marge Miley: 
The first one, as I recall, even the schools were let out for that.

Harold Bieberitz: 
It was exciting. Now you see the whole submarine. It had its camouflage paint job on too, by the way with black and gray.

Jerry Pilger: 
A group of dignitaries, of course, were here with a lady that was picked to launch the ship. It was quite a day.

Harold Bieberitz: 
They were always launched broadside.

Rosella Siebert: 
And then they were wondering if, when they did launch it, when it tipped over if it was going to come back up again. They thought maybe it was going to sink.

Jerry Pilger: 
They had built a water tank, and they put a model in there just to see if it would turn over completely. And that was what was worrying everyone.

Rosella Siebert: 
The first one tipped over pretty far. And there were guys from the shipyards riding it.

Harold Bieberitz: 
I'm well aware of that, because I was on it. I was one of five. One fellow, he was facing me, I was facing him. I'm facing the river. And I could see when we started to move. I said, "Here we go." And I looked at this guy, and he looked at me. And he was white as a sheet. I swear he wet his pants. (laughs). When we went over we were supposed to go over to 37 degrees I think it was. And actually, it went 39 degrees. When you take two degrees, that's a lot. And all you could hear was, and even the fellows with me they were saying, "Come back, come back... We're coming back." And we came back. And pretty soon, we settled with the top side up, the way it should be. That was an exciting day, the launching of the Peto. 

Waves

Narrator: 
After World War II, the Manitowoc Ship Building Company used the skills acquired making submarines to turn out big lake freighters.

Tom Wenstadt: 
In the '50s, there was lots of demand. And companies were looking to move large amounts of limestone, coal, and iron ore. That's what these vessels were designed to do. The larger the vessel the more economically they could ship these bulk commodities. So they were trying to build larger and larger vessels. 

Narrator: 
When the yard launched the Edward L. Ryerson in 1960 it was the biggest vessel on the Great Lakes. And getting the boat around the bends in the river proved to be difficult.

Tom Wenstadt: 
As you can see here, the stern of the vessel is just barely clearing the Sioux Line bridge. And the bow is up into the cutout that was made in the far bank just to barely clear the bridge and the river bank to get it out.

Narrator: 
The Manitowoc Shipyard had reached its limits. It was clear that it would never be able to build anything bigger than the Ryerson. Reluctantly, the company moved the building of large vessels to Sturgeon Bay, marking the end of an era and the end of a big source of local pride.

Kerry Trask: 
This was really a place. This is really a place that did something that very few other communities could do. There was a real powerful sense of identity with the yards, with the ships, with the lake, with the whole maritime tradition. And then, all of it was gone.

Narrator: 
While the shipyard was closing down, the Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company continued to thrive in both Manitowoc and Two Rivers. Changing its name to Mirro Aluminum Company after its famous national brand the cookware business grew with the introduction of Teflon-coated pans. The company built a large rolling mill, which allowed it to expand into new products, like aluminum siding, motorboats and other items. In 1983, its success attracted the Newell Companies to buy Mirro adding the company to its collection of national brands. But the new management brought about big changes in the company culture.

Gerald Schultz:
All of a sudden, you more or less became a number instead of a person, you know. 

Narrator: 
While Newell made the company more efficient, global competition eventually forced the company to give up its "Made in U.S.A." label and shift production overseas.

Gerald Schultz:
They closed Plant One. They closed Plant Four. Then they closed Plant Three. Then after that, it just kind of seemed to go down as far as employment goes.

Narrator: 
When Newell ordered the closing of the last Mirro plant it was a devastating blow to the area.

Kerry Trask: 
At which point, the transition is becoming gigantic in that the whole country is moving from an industrial economy to a post-industrial economy. Towns like Manitowoc and Two Rivers suffered like most of the industrial towns in the Great Lakes region. They really become part of the rust belt. There was this sinking feeling about, gosh, you know, are there going to be any jobs here? Can we make a living here? And for a while, it looked pretty dismal.  People, while they may feel discouraged and set back, nevertheless, there's a real resilience here. And bit by bit, by bit and development by development there's been a real revival here.  The adjustment is being made. And it's being made in pretty creative ways. But it's being made in a way that still relies upon some of the old resources here. It relies on the work ethic of the people, the skill of the labor force. And it's still in manufacturing.

Narrator: 
In 2003, laid-off Mirro workers teamed with a local entrepreneur to restart the aluminum rolling mill.  The mill, in turn, attracted a cookware manufacturer to restart the production of pots and pans in another Mirro plant next door. When the Burger Boat Company went bankrupt, the workers formed an organization to keep it alive until new owners were found. Since then, the luxury boat business continued crafting high quality custom-built yachts, keeping the ship building tradition of the area alive.  Manitowoc Ship Building became the Manitowoc Company focusing its efforts on building construction cranes. The company also diversified into ice-making machinery putting Manitowoc ice machines into hotels and motels around the world.  And new industries developed, building on the need for greener energy like Tower Tech, fabricating the giant steel towers needed to support wind turbines. Orion Energy now occupies another old Mirro plant producing fixtures that make more light with less electricity. These and other industries brought about an impressive rebound. But even as the cycles of the economy threaten such gains, Manitowoc and Two Rivers face the future with a tradition of innovation that began with the first lakeshore industries. And for these cities founded on the lake, some of the old ties to their maritime past remain. The U.S. Lifesaving Service eventually became the Coast Guard, which still patrols the waters from a Two Rivers headquarters. Lake Michigan continues to bring in prosperity this time with a steam-powered car ferry carrying boatloads of tourists. And there is still a submarine in Manitowoc for them to explore. And museums that display the area's maritime heritage. Other museums feature the rich history of the area and even serve up another Two Rivers invention: the ice cream sundae. And celebrations of more recent events take their place alongside the old.

Narrator: 
Like Sputnik Fest, commemorating the day in 1962 when a piece of a Russian satellite crashed into the street in Manitowoc. But today, as always, people continue to be drawn to the timeless beauty of Lake Michigan.

Walter Vogl:
We all love the lake here. We never tire of it. And most of us never forget that we have the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place. We have a beautiful trip between Manitowoc and Two Rivers. And I don't know of any other area on the Great Lakes where you go from one city to another along the open beach and beauty of Lake Michigan. And I talk to people about whether we take these things for granted. And most of us agree that every time we drive along Lake Michigan or cross one of our rivers, we get a little thrill and certainly a feeling of deep appreciation for being able to live in an area like this.

Funding

Announcer:
“Wisconsin Hometown Stories,” Manitowoc - Two Rivers is made possible in part by a principal gift from Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.  And major gifts from the Francis A. and Georgia F. Ariens Fund; Burger Boat Company; the Manitowoc Company; the Jane and Arthur Stangel Fund; Orion Energy Systems; and these additional funders.  Additional funding provided by the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin History Fund supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.   

* Teachers *

Teacher Resources: Manitowoc–Two Rivers

Hometown Stories-Manitowoc-Two Rivers Teacher Resources were developed to meet the needs of Wisconsin teachers by a team of teachers and curriculum specialists.

Essay

Manitowoc-Two Rivers

Historian Michael Goc provides in-depth insight into the region's past.

Galleries

Historic Views of Manitowoc

Over the last three years, the Wisconsin Historical Society has been scanning and cataloging its collection of images of Wisconsin places. Consisting of over 10,000 items, the collection highlights main street views, prominent buildings in each community, local monuments and other features of interest. In support of the Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Manitowoc-Two Rivers broadcast, the Society is pleased to present a selection of historic views of Manitowoc.

Wisconsin Bird's-eye Maps

Over 200 panoramic drawings of Wisconsin cities and towns from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society are now available to browse and purchase. Known as bird’s eye views, panoramas, or perspective maps, these detailed illustrations were very popular with inhabitants of proud and growing communities during the latter half of the 19th century.

Wood Type and Wood Type Posters

Explore images of wood type and wood type posters. Many of these come from the collections at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum and Silver Buckle Press.

Resources

Manitowoc-Two Rivers Resources Page

Explore articles and Web sites related to Manitowoc and Two Rivers.