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La Crosse Rubber Mills

rubber_mills_shoe_float_1921_specialcollections_murphy_edit

Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)

 

Rubber Manufacturing

> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> CITATION: see within summary

Collection Summary

This collection was put together for the FFA. It is actually ten different manuscript collections, each with their own title and call number. Together all these different sources tell a story about the LaX Rubber Mills . . . and a lot more!

This collection contains two vertical files on the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., six oral history transcripts of people who worked for the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., and two booklets published by the Rubber Mills Co. that explain the manufacture of rubber. The two booklets have very unusual names:  “Caoutchouc,” published in 1915 (31-pages), and “Caoutchouc II”  published in 1925 (39-pages).  Don’t be turned off by the name.  These booklets are very interesting and informative.  They are also filled with pictures of the factory and the production process.

The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. opened in 1896 in La Crosse and moved to Portland, Oregon in 2001. They imported rubber from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America for making rubber products, mostly footwear. Though they were a small company, they were unique and grew to be one of the largest employers in La Crosse. This collection not only tells the story of a factory, but brings to light ways La Crosse was connected to other areas in the world because of manufacturing. It also tells the story of unions, strikes, and the exploitation of workers in La Crosse.

All the parts in this collection work very well together.  For example, many of the people interviewed in the oral histories talk about the same subject, thus providing a number of viewpoints on the same topic. Likewise, the booklets give background and images to some of the things discussed in the oral histories.  Lastly, the vertical files have a wide range of information about everything covered in the both the oral histories and the booklets.  Each part of this collection is strong, but together it’s even stronger!

PLEASE NOTE: The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. changed its name to LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. in 1986.

 

Vertical Files

CITATION FOR LACROSSE FOOTWEAR: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. (1896- present). Special Collections, Murphy Library,University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

CITATION FOR RUBBER MILLS: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: La Crosse Rubber Mills (1896-present). Special Collections, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

PLEASE NOTE: The citation for documents in the vertical files changes depending on what is used. For example, a newspaper article would be cited differently than a pamphlet. Look at a Chicago Style citation guide or ask a librarian or teacher how to cite your specific source.

Collection Description

The two vertical files are very similar. They have many newspaper articles, pamphlets, programs, newsletters, and advertisements that explain the history and the people working for the Rubber Mills and/or LaCrosse Footwear. Most articles date back to the 1970s, but there are some from before that as well.

One of the oldest newspaper articles is from 1887. It describes the factory when it was quite small and also tells about the imported rubber the factory used. Other articles talk about workers’ strikes, the company’s name change, and the company’s move to Oregon. There is also an issue from a newsletter called “LRM Footwear Footnotes” with an interview of a woman who started working in the Rubber Mills in 1907!

 

Oral History Transcripts

Bill Larkin
Jerry Larkin
Donna Lemke
Richard Morkwed
George Schneider
Herman Tietz

Collection Description

CITATIONS FOR ORAL HISTORIES

Bill Larkin, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 8 April 1997.

Jerry Larkin, interviewed by Herbert Tancil, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 22 April 1997.

Donna Lemke, interviewed by Margaret Larson, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 17 November 1994.

Richard Morkwed, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 1 April 1997.

George Schneider, interviewed by Dan Freudenburg, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 19 March 1997.

Herman Tietz, interviewed by Howard Fredericks, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 20 June and 25 July 1972.

The oral histories are interviews with people who worked at the Rubber Mills. Some people worked at the Mills for only a few years, while others worked there their entire life. These interviews cover topics like: unions, working conditions in the factory, pay, child labor, women in the workplace, family relationships, the Depression, the economy, and war. Some interviews focus on the Rubber Mills for only a few pages, while others talk about it for the entire interview.

 

Bill Larkin

Bill Larkin worked as a supervisor for various departments in the Rubber Mills. He worked for the company from 1961 to 1996. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.

Pages 1-10 Mr. Larkin talks a lot about work and his work experience.  In particular, he discusses how he got his job at the mill, and his family and co-workers. (Some of his co-workers are also family.)  On pages 8-9 he mentions women in the factory.

Pages 10-13 cover Larkin’s first day on the job and the smell of rubber. Amazing!

Pages 13-21 Larkin addresses wages and the Mill owners.  The Funk family was one of the Mill’s founders and also one of the wealthiest families in La Crosse.   On pages 14-15, he describes working with rubber.

Pages 21-22 discuss unions.

Pages 22-25 Larkin talks about how World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm affected the Rubber Mills.

Pages 25-31 Larkin reviews the relationship between the company and the community, the company’s name change, and he gives his opinion on why La Crosse Footwear had the success it did.

 

Jerry Larkin

Jerry Larkin worked as a chief engineer at the plant. He worked there from 1933 to 1976. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.

Pages 2-10 hit a wide range of topics, from politics and the Great Depression, to fellow mill workers, wages, and Tuberculosis! These are just a few of the subjects, therefore, for anyone interested in an overview of mill-related topics, these pages may be just the ticket. Also in this section, it is interesting to note that Jerry Larkin talks about his first day on the job.  Bill Larkin’s oral history discusses the same topic, which may make for some enlightening comparisons or connections.

Pages 10-15 talk more about what his job was like, including having to take work home.  In addition, Mr. Larkin discusses what he enjoyed about the job, unions, and how wars affected the company.

Pages 15-20 largely cover the mill’s relationship with La Crosse, the company’s growth, and his brothers’ jobs.  However, on a completely unrelated topic, Larkin also provides insight into college sports!

Pages 20-29 also cover a lot of topics, including Larkin’s boss, Prohibition, changes made at the factory, and the Great Depression.

 

Donna Lemke

Donna Lemke worked on the assembly line and talks about what work was like as a woman. She worked there in the winter of 1947-1948 after graduating high school. Pages 9-16 cover the Rubber Mills.

Pages 9-13 Lemke talks about getting hired and what it was like to work at the mill, including how she dressed.  In particular she discusses some of the dangers related to mill work and her memory of the factory’s smell.  (She specifically notes the smell of the rubber cement.)  Two other topics of note from this section are lay offs and the mill’s production during the wars.

Pages 14-16 discuss workers’ wages and more about getting laid off.

 

Richard Morkwed

Richard Morkwed did not work on the factory floor.  He worked in the billing department, the purchasing department, and later became the Vice President of Distribution. He worked at the company from 1948 to 1992. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.

Page 2-11 cover his history with the factory, including his first day on the job.  Mr. Morkwed explains some of the different work duties related to the factory, and just like in Jerry Larkin’s interview, he talks about taking work home.

Pages 11-15 cover a number of different topics, but most notably, workplace atmosphere, layoffs, and the mill’s transfer to a new owner.

Pages 15-20 cover some very interesting topics, including, unions, the Korean War, buying rubber and cotton, the U.S.’s dependence on synthetic rubber during WWII, and company innovation.  This part of the interview pairs nicely with the “Cauotchouc” booklets because they talk about the history of the La Crosse Rubber Mills where the factory got the rubber for making its shoes.  Just a hint, it didn’t come from Wisconsin!

 

George Schneider

George Schneider bought the company in 1982 and became Chairman of the Board. The entire interview is about the company.

Pages 2-6 discuss how Schneider became involved with the company, product changes that happened during his watch, and his philosophy about the the mill.

Pages 6-11 comment on other factories that competed with the La Crosse factory, and innovative changes made.

On pages 11-15 Mr. Schneider talks about hist relationship with workers.  These pages also discuss strikes.  Remember Schneider was the mill’s owner, so his perspective is important to keep in mind.

Pages 15-20 cover the mill’s role in the community, places Schneider traveled on business trips, and his vision for the company.

 

Herman Tietz

Herman Tietz worked in the factory from 1906 to 1908 making shoes. Only pages 31-38 cover the Rubber Mills.  The rest of the interview is about other topics.

On pages 31-33 Mr. Tietz describes what the Rubber Mills looked like way back in 1903.  He talks about what his job was like, and also his wages.

Pages 33-36 covers how shoes were made, and again, the smell of the rubber is brought up.  (See also Donna Lemke and Bill Larkin.)  Mr. Tietz goes further on this subject and describes the lack of ventilation in the factory.

Pages 36-38 discuss unions, working conditions,and his brother’s fallout with management.

 

Booklets

PLEASE NOTE: “Cauotchouc II” is also available as a digital resource at: http://murphylibrary.uwlax.edu/digital/lacrosse/LaxFootwearCatalog1925/01.htm.

CITATION FOR BOOKLETS

La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1915.

La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1925.

Collection Description

The two booklets “Caoutchouc” (1915) and “Caoutchouc II” (1925) are very similar. Indeed, the second one is just an updated version of the first. Both explain where the factory’s rubber came from, how it was produced, and the products manufactured. Also, both have pictures to go with the text.  Reading these booklets will help establish the context needed to better understand the La Crosse Rubber Mills.

PLEASE NOTE: The Rubber Mills published these booklets for their own purposes, and can be considered corporate propaganda. Think about this while reading the words and looking at the pictures too.

“Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1915) is 31-pages long.

Pages 3-10 go through the history of rubber, where it came from, and how rubber manufacturing was invented. These pages are very interesting because they show that over 100 years ago La Crosse had connections with places you may have never thought possible.

Pages 11-26 discuss rubber manufacturing. These pages also have many photographs of workers in the factory, which along with the text, provides a kind of virtual tour of the rubber mills!

Pages 27-29 tour the administrative offices and give a conclusion to the booklet.

Pages 30-31 has pictures of different shoe styles made by the company.

“Cauotchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1925) is 39-pages long. It is longer than the first one because it has more information and a more complete tour of the factory buildings with additional pictures. Inside the front cover is also a flyer stating the purpose of the publication of this booklet.

Pages 3-5 give a history of rubber and where rubber came from.  (Remember that this booklet is very similar to the first!)

Pages 6-7 explains the “vulcanization” of rubber.

Pages 8-10 discuss where rubber comes from. In particular, this book looks at rubber from wild rubber trees vs. plantations.

Pages 11-26 covers rubber manufacturing and footwear production. There are many photos and it feels like a tour through the factory.

Pages 27-30 give a brief history of the Rubber Mills, its founders, and company growth. There are also pictures of the founders and illustrations showing factory changes over the years.

Pages 31-34 give a description of the administrative offices with photos.

Page 35 shows product distribution throughout the world.

Pages 36-39 has pictures of different styles of shoes made by the company and gives a conclusion to the booklet.

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher

See also

  • A box of photographs
  • Six postcards picturing the early days of the Rubber Mills
  • 100 Years: La Crosse Footwear – An Oral History.
  • A box of catalogues that feature products made by the Rubber Mills and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc.
  •  “A History of the La Crosse Rubber Mill,” 1990 http://murphylibrary.uwlax.edu/digital/lacrosse/About/RubberMillHistory.pdf
  • Sanborn maps from 1910 and 1940 of the area to see the growth of the factory.