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.
The scientific industry in America was finally gaining ground after WWI, and Kewaunee Manufacturing Group expanded to a second location in Adrian, Michigan in 1926, but Kewaunee would soon face a new challenge – the Great Depression.
As the years of the Great Depression passed by, the Adrian plant maintained a decent standing, but labor and facility issues continued to plague the Company’s Kewaunee, Wisconsin location. Kewaunee’s Wisconsin buildings were outdated three and four-story frame structures. The location and layout of these buildings were inefficient and less than ideal for production, which solidified the Company’s decision to enlarge the Adrian Plant and consolidate the entire operation by moving wood production from Kewaunee to Adrian. This move was made in January 1941, less than a year before the entry of the United States into World War II.
Our country’s entry into World War II at the end of 1941 posed many challenges for Kewaunee’s newly consolidated Company, which at that time was producing a gross volume of about $2.5 million per year of wood and metal laboratory furniture sales.
Kewaunee’s factories were not readily equipped to manufacture any wide variety of war materials, but the Company adapted and persevered. By 1943, Kewaunee was manufacturing products for every branch of the armed services.
Kewaunee equipped Allied chemical warfare laboratories both at home and abroad, produced emergency hospital equipment for the Army and Navy, and manufactured repair and maintenance equipment for the Air Force. Additional activities ranged from special projects for the Signal Corps to participating in the infamous Manhattan Project, which resulted in the development of the atom bomb.
Kewaunee’s participation in the Manhattan Project was top secret, and no one in the Company knew the nature of what they were working on at the time. It was only known that Kewaunee was responsible for making and delivering a certain type of metal enclosure to a specified destination by a certain date. It was quite a surprise and thrill when those involved learned of the magnitude of the undertaking they helped to achieve.
Following the end of World War II, the volume of work for the Company picked up appreciably due to large demands for educational buildings, industrial and medical laboratories, and hospitals. In 1946, Kewaunee began to expand its manufacturing facilities and intensify its sales efforts in all of these fields. This resulted in a growth in annual volume that continued for many years.