This post was written by Kelly Smith, Corporate Communications Manager at Kewaunee, through research collected and recorded by Peggy Lambert, Executive Assistant to the President from 1969-2016.
Kewaunee has a rich, longstanding history that now reaches back more than 115 years. We’ve led the industry in innovation and resilience since the founding, serving our nation through two World Wars and the technological revolution that would follow.
Kewaunee began its existence in 1903 as the Kewaunee Casket and Manufacturing Company in the city of Kewaunee, Wisconsin. After a period of evaluation and reorganization, a new company began to take shape in 1906 and the first recorded Board of Directors Meeting of Kewaunee Manufacturing Company was held on December 2, 1907.
Kewaunee Manufacturing Company shifted its focus to manufacture and distribute scientific laboratory furniture and custom casework for use in educational, industrial, and medical laboratories. The company’s first decade was not highly profitable and much concern centered on making timely payments against notes payable to the State Bank of Kewaunee.
At the time, there were relatively few science laboratories in industry, and laboratories at the college and university level were far less numerous, specialized, and technically advanced as they are today. Laboratory furniture was usually very simple equipment designed by staff and built on site, or by local cabinet shops and lumber mills.
The United States depended on Germany and England for the bulk of its scientific apparatus, laboratory glassware, and many of its more sophisticated types of chemical compounds. This dependence also extended to scientific education. Scientists desiring advanced education in chemistry and physics studied largely in Germany or in England.
The United States’ entry into World War I found our country distressingly deficient in scientific equipment of all kinds, and this lack of American-built precision laboratory instruments, apparatus, and optics posed significant difficulties in the war effort.
The U.S. government determined to make our country scientifically independent of Europe in both equipment and education. As a result, a tremendous importance was given to scientific and technological advancement and industry. Beginning in 1919, tariff barriers were set up to protect the new industry and laboratories grew space in secondary schools, colleges and universities, and in industry and government.
Kewaunee Manufacturing Company had an uphill fight to achieve recognition for the better design, quality, and longer life inherent in properly engineered and factory-built specialized laboratory furniture and equipment.
In 1920 C. G. Campbell was elected a Director and became the General Manager of Kewaunee Manufacturing Company. His first course of action was to immediately set in motion a campaign to organize dealers and distributors throughout the United States, and followed this with the first voluminous and comprehensive catalog ever issued in the industry.
This increased activity on Kewaunee’s part, coming at a time when the country had been made aware of its scientific deficiencies by the war, allowed a substantial growth.
Since then, Kewaunee has made its home in Statesville North Carolina and continues to manufacture proudly in the U.S.
Look out for more Kewaunee history in upcoming Kewaunee blog posts (link to Kewaunee Great War post).