LIMA — Annually in February The Lima News published a special section to take stock of local industry, not to mention sell a few ads during a slow time of year.
Although the stories nearly always predicted more growth, more jobs, more prosperity — coming as they often did barely filtered from public relations departments — there was no denying the future was looking rosy in the mid-1960s.
Under the headline “Industry Aggressive, Booming; Jobs Plentiful,” the News wrote on Feb. 27, 1966, that “Lima’s ‘dynamic decade’ has seen a growth of industry — backbone of the area’s economy — which is expected to carry into the future.”
As proof, the newspaper cited the Ford Motor Co. Lima Engine Plant adding space, the sight of a complex of Sohio chemical plants on what had once been a golf course, rising employment at Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton and expanded production at Ohio Steel. Westinghouse, Randall Bearings, Ex-Cell-O, Superior Coach, Lima Electric, Neon Products, DWG Cigar also had bright futures, the newspaper reported.
Also receiving special mention was the Lima Register Co., a division of Lennox Industries. Iowa-based Lennox had arrived in Lima in 1942 when it purchased the Steiner Brothers machine shop, which was founded by seven brothers from Bluffton in 1915.
In August 1947, the Lima Register Co., a division of Lennox, began manufacturing registers, grilles and diffusers, at the Lennox plant at Baxter and Haller streets in Lima.
“Lightning struck the busy Lima plant in July 1949, burning out all transformers in the welders and putting the plant out of production for over three weeks,” the News wrote. A year later, in July 1950, a tornado hit Lima, blowing out windows and peeling back part of the roof at the plant while workers dove for cover under benches “as the storm swept over them,” the News reported July 21, 1950, the day after the storm.
“An addition of 8,800 square feet of production space, making a total of 35,200 square feet, was started — and disaster struck a third time in three years. On Nov. 5, 1951, fire hit the plant, burning up nearly 25,000 finished registers and causing serious production delays,” the News noted.
Despite the setbacks, by the end of 1954 Lima Register was one of the top register manufacturers in the country, and in need of more space. The space was found on the east side of North Cable Road between the Pennsylvania Railroad and Allentown Road.
There, amid farm fields, the new Lima Register plant opened in late August 1956. The News was impressed. “The new, modern plant on North Cable is in keeping with the ‘new look’ in industry and is an establishment of which we can all be proud. We wish the best of luck and success to Lima Register and hope that it will continue to be a leader in its field,” the newspaper wrote.
Although Lima Register had a new plant, new product lines and had been part of the community for years, company officials often joked that the community didn’t know much about it. “I’ve got a startling revelation for about 88 percent of you, the Lima Register Co. doesn’t make cash registers — never did, and I don’t think we ever will,” Joseph Irvin, an assistant sales manager told the Optimist Club on Sept. 30, 1965.
Lima Register did sell a lot of registers as well as grilles and diffusers for heating and air conditioning products. And it continued to add products and space, expanding the Cable Road plant in 1960, 1965 and 1969. By 1984 the plant covered about 200,000 square feet.
Unlike the “dynamic decade” of the 1960s, the following decades were a challenge as recessions repeatedly ravaged the local economy. By the 1990s, Lima had lost more than 8,000 jobs.
With a business tied to the health of the housing market, Lima Register, too, suffered. Employment dipped in the mid-1970s and early 1980s before rebounding in the mid-1980s to a high of 220.
In January 1990, Lima Register was bought by Milcor Inc. The Milcor division of Milwaukee-based Inryco Inc., itself a division of Inland Steel, opened in Lima in 1972. St. In 1986, Milcor Inc. formed in Lima and bought the Milcor products division from Inryco. Milcor manufactured doors, smoke vents, roof hatches and telescoping doors.
“Milcor’s purchase of Lima Register, 1150 N. Cable Road, is to take effect Tuesday. Milcor is to shut down production at its plant at 1101 E. Kibby St. and move its entire operation and 99 employees to the Lima Register plant,” the News reported Jan. 9, 1990. “Milcor will have to hire additional employees to complete consolidation of the two operations and has said it will conduct an open hiring process for those jobs.”
That didn’t sit well with Lima Register employees, who had had problems with Lima Register management over the years. “Prior to 1983, Lima Register workers went on strike four times in 25 years,” the News wrote in a March 2, 2003, history of Milcor/Lima Register. “When Milcor took over Lima Register in 1990, Lima Register workers revolted when they were fired and replaced by Milcor workers. Some Lima Register employees were hired back, but about 100 jobs were still lost,” the News noted.
Despite the rocky beginning, Milcor thrived. In February 1995, Milcor bought Michigan-based Leigh Products, which operated a plant where bath cabinets, mailboxes and ventilators were produced. The company also produced grilles, registers and diffusers in competition with Milcor, and those lines were moved to Lima.
The following January, Milcor purchased Triangle Home Products of Chicago and transferred its bath cabinet production to the Michigan plant. Milcor now employed about 500 people with more than 320 of those employees in Lima.
“In 2000, Milcor ended its 14-year era of local ownership when it was bought by Gibraltar Steel Corp., of Buffalo, New York,” the News noted in the 2003 story on the company’s history in Lima. That history was about to end.
In January 2005, Hart & Cooley Inc., based in Holland, Michigan, bought Milcor from Gibraltar. Then, On Oct. 8, 2005, the News reported that employees were told by officials from Hart & Coley the plant would be closed. “They were told the factory would be closed by March with economics as the only reason given, two employees said.”
In May 2006, some of those employees joined other people in picking over the remnants of the closed plant. “Everett Frazier looked around the building he worked in for 22 years with more than a little sadness,” the News wrote May 24, 2006. “The remaining contents of Milcor were being auctioned off, and Frazier said he came to look at the wares. But that certainly wasn’t all; it was also a chance to see a few people again.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.