History of the Wolverine Shoe & Tanning Corporation
Back at the turn of the century, Mr. G. A. Krause, who was a shoe wholesaler in Grand Rapids, began to think in terms of small villages as ideal locations for industrial concerns. In fact the germ of an idea in the back of his head began to develop to the point where he envisioned a shoe factory in one of the several small towns adjacent to the Grand Rapids area.
The town of Rockford, located about thirteen miles north, appealed to him. It nestled snugly between the hills. Rogue River meandered through the green valley and near by was plenty of land where shoemakers might settle with enough space for a cow, a few pigs, a flock of chickens and a big vegetable garden. The river was a potential source of water power, and the land offered a measure of security and satisfaction to industrial men and women, so Rockford was seriously considered for the proposed new shoe factory. The location seemed to be the right location. The town had natural advantages. It was small and friendly, and, too, it was located in the small lake region where recreational advantages were close at hand.
Shortly after the beginning of the present century the decision was reached which meant that the new shoe industry would take form and shape on the banks of Rogue River within the corporate limits of Rockford.
In 1903, with a staff of less than two dozen men and women the production of work shoes began. Leather for the shoes was purchased on the open market, but when the year 1909 came along a brand new unit was erected. This marked the beginning of the tanning industry for in that year the firm began to produce shoe leather that was used in its own shoes.
Through the method of trial and error, and by ceaseless experimenting in the art and science of tanning, the Wolverine Corporation developed its own Shell Horsehide Leather used exclusively in Wolverine Shoes.
In 1920 the Wolverine Shoe and Tanning Corporation purchased a glove factory in the city of Greenville, and in 1923 took another forward step by housing the organization in a modern new building. This unit of the corporation produces high grade work gloves from the horsehide shanks.
Expansion again came in 1935 when Rockford saw the opening of the unit known as Factory "B" where 50 young men and women produce a supplementary line of shoes from horsehide. It is located a half mile north of the main group of buildings.
From the foregoing brief statement of Wolverine history, it may be gleaned that the growth and development of the company has not been of the mushroom type. The concern has forged ahead on all fronts, not by spectacular production drives or dramatic selling campaigns, but all observers as well as those who know the temper of the firm intimately, agree that Wolverine's growth has been by one firm step at a time - by mastering the daily situation.
This does not mean that the local organization is conservative and stodgy. The Wolverine Company has long been recognized as an industrial enterprise with a forward looking policy and progressive viewpoints. Wolverine, for example, is one of the pioneers in the profit-sharing or bonus plan in the United States.
Absentee ownership is an unheard of thing, so far as Wolverine is concerned. The management of the concern is entirely local. Practically all of the stockholders live in the towns of Rockford, Cedar Springs and Greenville. 90% of the stockholders are employees of the corporation. No directors meetings have been held in bank offices on Wall Street or Fifth Avenue.
By industrial and sociological standards, resident ownership and resident management of industry are rated as positive community factors on the right side of the ledger. The firm rigidly adheres to the policies which have weathered the acid test of time and hard headed experience.
Transient and fleeting fads have never taken a foothold, yet, traditions as such, are not maintained as relics of hallowed history. The entire group of about 900 men and women who comprise the Wolverine organization are thoroughly convinced of the value of cooperative effort. These three factors are frequently pointed out as three very important factors in the progress and viewpoint of the corporation and at the same time form the background of the pattern which will help in guiding the future activities and development.
Rockford's population growth has been almost insignificant. After 100 years we have perhaps 1800 people within the corporate limits. This is a very low ratio compared with Grand Rapids and Muskegon which were founded at about the same time. But, there's no complaint!
Rockford is a town where the local industry has fifty paydays every year, even during the darkest days of a black depression. Rockford is a community of home owners and the surrounding section is an area of farm owners. We enjoy good health, friends and leisure. Our lawns and gardens are well kept. Our churches and schools are alert and progressive. The physical improvement of our city property and city service is much beyond the average town of 1800 population. In Rockford we are better circumstanced than shoe-makers in St. Louis, or tanners in Boston. We take pride in our interest in the well being of youth. We believe we are forward looking and optimistic and we are thoroughly convinced that the common good is the good of all. In Rockford we have as many minutes in an hour and as many days in a week as they have in the big overgrown population centers. We have hills, woods, lakes and streams. We have ribbons of concrete that wind over the hills and twist through the valleys to the land of heart's desire. Wolverine's history is nothing more or less than the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the men and women who make up the present day organization. They do not go out to clear the land or build bridges, but their interest in health and security and the welfare of their children is as strong, and perhaps stronger than that of the first band of white settlers 100 years ago. True, they do not go out to borrow a basin of hominy from a neighbor or sit up all night with a sick friend, as in pioneer days, but their neighborly feeling and their sympathy and good wishes are just as genuine. Men and women in industry have not lost the human touch. They are generous and friendly; they are honest and sincere. Satisfaction may be gained by living and working in Rockford. The essential history of the Wolverine Corporation is revealed in this simple, yet, all-inclusive test.
Transcriber: Jennifer Godwin
Created: 5 February 2000