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Feature Article on Monarch Machine. Topic: INDUSTRY & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in July, 1997


Original Monarch factory, built in 1909.

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The recent announcements about the future of Monarch have stirred much discussion about the company, its future, and the efforts of community leaders to keep the core of Monarch business in this city. It appears that the final chapter in the history of this once mighty enterprise is being written. Perhaps it is appropriate to pause now and consider the Monarch story at this time. It is as fine an example of a mutually beneficial relationship between a company and a community as there is. Success stories such as Monarch do not happen by accident. Commitment to a common purpose and sacrifice by all of the members of the 'Monarch family', as it was called for many decades, made it all possible. This is the story of the Monarch men and women, and what they were able to achieve.

The editor of the Sidney Journal thought enough of the story to give it front page coverage. "A New Factory Is Secured 'for Our City By The Untiring Efforts Of Our Leading Citizens," the headline in the June 25, 1909 edition read. Joining I. H. Thedieck, Sidney's leading retailer, in establishing the enterprise were many of the major players in the Sidney business community at the time: L. M. Studevant, A. C. Getz, A. J. Hess, J. O. Amos, E. J. Griffis and W. H. Wagner. The leadership and original idea came from Thedieck, however. As the Journal editor noted: "The credit for this new factory belongs to Mr. Thedieck who has had numerous offers from other cities but his desire to see Sidney grow larger and greater would not permit him to consider a deal from outsiders, hence the locating it here."

Monarch was to truly be a product of the community. Thedieck arranged for a driver and wagon to circle the courtsquare for the purpose of offering stock in the new venture to residents of the town. Within a few weeks, all the stock had been subscribed, and the company was ready to begin the challenges of an uncertain future.

Thedieck, who was married to Ida Wagner, had loaned funds earlier to Ida's cousin, A. P. Wagner, for the operation of A. P. Wagner Tool Works in Detroit. When Wagner failed to pay him, and the business failed, Thedieck foreclosed on Ida's cousin, claimed the machinery of the business, and exchanged it for $25,000 in Monarch stock. The Commercial Club, the forerunner of today's Chamber of Commerce, arranged for a building site, and within a few months, production began. The business started with 15 employees, who were paid between 5 cents and 35 cents per hour for a 55 hour week. The company concentrated on the production of engine lathes. Business was slow, and Thedieck often had to make personal loans to meet payroll. Perhaps the most important decision in Monarch's history was made in the spring of 1912, when Thedieck hired his son in law, Wendell Whipp, to serve as general manager.

With no prior knowledge about machine tools, Whipp learned on the job. He became a persuasive and aggressive salesman. Long before his retirement from Monarch in April of 1947, Whipp became the personification of Monarch and its approach to quality products and the treatment of employees as 'family.' He insisted on quality work, for which he paid top wages.

By 1915, under Whipp's leadership, Monarch began to prosper. He instituted a profit sharing plan that year for all employees. Within a year, top factory workers were receiving ten percent of their base pay in a bonus - an unheard of generosity for the time. By 1917, Whipp had in place the first group life insurance for employees in Ohio.

Whipp believed deeply in both personal and corporate support for community activities. After the local Red Cross chapter was organized in 1917, an initial fund drive was held. Monarch contributed $500. The next largest corporate donation was $25. The biggest nemesis of the machine tool industry in this country has been the boom and bust cycle associated with economic periods of growth and decline. This problem was to be greatly accentuated by huge government purchases during times of war, and the dumping of excess machines on the market by the government afterwards. Monarch first faced this problem during World War I. Employment increased from 55 to 258, with a resulting increase in business, but by 1924, only 118 workers remained. Whipp sought to smooth out the up and down cycles of the business by constantly working on the research and development of new products for the domestic market.

Whipp also saw the wisdom in securing foreign orders whenever possible in order to diversify the company's customer base. Large shipments of lathes to the French and British governments before the entrance of the U. S. into World War I played an important role in the subsequent Allied victory. From the beginning, Whipp imbued a sense of civic responsibility in all Monarch employees. During World War I, all 258 employees subscribed to war bonds, and raised more money than any other Sidney business. To set a proper example, Whipp and Thedieck each purchased over $1,600 worth of bonds. Whipp and the others were also involved in numerous community activities. Fred Dull, one of the most beloved of all Monarch managers, labored constantly on behalf of Kiwanis, the Sidney Civic Association, parks and recreation projects, and his church.

Whipp concentrmonarchmachinelionlogo.gif (36579 bytes)ated on making sure every employee felt a part of the 'Monarch Family.' He initiated a program in 1918 so that employees could borrow money to purchase homes. The first of many Monarch family picnics was held in 1919. To assure good attendance, Whipp paid employees a half day's pay for bringing their families to the Saturday affair. On occasion, Whipp would hire a train to transport Monarch employees and family members.

However, the key to fostering the atmosphere of teamwork that Whipp wanted was his personal touch. He always knew the latest news about each employee, and he constantly reminded them that their contribution was critical to Monarch's success. One retiree remembered: "He was one of the best guys I ever knowed. That guy would do anything for you." Such management loyalty resulted in many employees working at Monarch for over forty years. Typical of these were Al Sherman and Jerome Raterman. Both started with Monarch during the war and worked there for over four decades, with Sherman becoming vice-president and Raterman president.

The feeling of unity that Wendell Whipp generated among his troops stood the company in good stead during the inevitable bad economic times that always seemed just around the corner. Following World War I, employment held steady until 1921, when a vicious recession hit. In one week, the workforce at Monarch was reduced from 187 to 24 people. Many of those laid off worked elsewhere only until the call came from Monarch that they were needed again.

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Wendell Whipp, President, 1931-1947

Even in the bad times, Whipp and the others looked to the future. Spending on research continued even in the 1920's when no new orders were coming in the door. Faithful and talented employees were at the center of every Monarch product innovation. Pete Bickel and Fred Dickas produced the first helical-geared lather headstock in America in 1924. "Bam" Albers developed many innovations. In an effort to make his own machine work more easily, Albers designed a series of levers. Whipp walked by his station one day, and after Albers explained how they worked, Whipp exclaimed, "My God, Bam, you've got it!" Another Monarch innovation had been born.

Such in-house creativity resulted in Monarch being a leader at the national machine tool show each year. For example, at the 1929 show, Monarch displayed a lathe that could operate quietly at three times the speed of competitors' lathes. One company employee would later recall: "We had the crowd. The industry couldn't believe it."

Whipp and his management team did not stop with product development. Monarch was a leader in the field of machine tool advertising, developing its first product film in 1927. Monarch management, at Whipp's insistence, decided early on to develop and maintain the highest standard of quality in the industry. To the amazement of its competitors, the Monarch product guarantee was simple and complete. Every lathe was guaranteed "to the complete satisfaction'" of the purchaser. To one customer, Whipp suggested that if he wanted a stronger guarantee, "Write it yourself. Ten to one we will accept it, and bind ourselves to it absolutely."

As a result of its growing reputation for quality products, Monarch began to develop a customer base in the automotive and other key industries. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler purchased dozens of lathes. Electrical giants such as General Electric and Westinghouse also used Monarch products. The 1920's and 30's saw significant labor unrest grip the nation. Largely because of Wendell Whipp's personal relationship with his employees, Monarch continued to prosper, without labor problems and without a union. To Whipp, leadership meant leading by personal example. When the Great Depression descended over the land beginning with the stock market crash in October of 1929, Monarch's business began to evaporate along with everyone else's. At Whipp's suggestion, top management took pay cuts in order to help keep the doors open for business. He accepted 33% less pay, the largest cut of any employee.

Naturally, the price of Monarch's stock dropped after the market crashed. A number of employees had purchased stock in the company, only to see it decline substantially in value. To ease their personal financial hardship, Wendell Whipp and Fred Dull purchased some of the stock back for far more than its market value.

The Depression years strained even the solid foundation Monarch had built since 1909. Although employee hours per week were cut from 55 in the late 20's to a low of 14 by the summer of 1932, large layoffs were an economic necessity. The Monarch Family dwindled to 16 employees. Once again, however, Whipp had the foresight to continue with product development to the extent possible with the existing cash reserves, while his competitors concentrated on keeping the doors open for business. As a result, when business conditions improved in the mid 1930's, Monarch was ready to hit the deck running with ten new product designs.

Even the Monarch Keller lathe, the world's first contour turning lathe, and the 'Shapemaster" were two of the most important new products. Other Monarch innovations throughout the 1930's helped forge a market leadership position for the company. The 'EE' lathe, which would prove to be the best selling lathe in the history of the company, made its debut in 1939.

By 1937, 500 employees were back home at Monarch. With its recent product developments, the company was poised to write its greatest chapter. As a prelude to the industrial expansion at the outset of World War II, Monarch sought and obtained huge foreign orders for its machines. Russia and many European continent countries purchased hundreds of lathes. By 1939, foreign sales exceeded domestic sales for the first time in Monarch's history.

Whipp prepared for Monarch's participation in the war he knew that his country could not avoid. In June of 1939, the company dedicated another building addition. This one housed the employee's cafeteria, an auditorium, and classrooms for instructional purposes. The open house attracted 8,500 people, and again demonstrated the commitment the people of Sidney had for Monarch and its employees.

The relationship between Monarch and the community was inseparable. Many young Sidney boys got their first job at 'the Monarch'. Louis F. 'Bud" Kreitzer began there as a high school co-op student in 1929, and eventually became vice-president in a career that spanned 45 years. The increase in business that Whipp had expected, and for which he planned, began in early 1940, but it dwarfed anything about which he had ever dreamed. President Roosevelt announced plans in early 1940 for a two billion dollar defense budget, but by the end of the year, he had increased that figure to 10.5 billion. The orders from the government increased from a trickle to a torrent.

With young men going off to war, and every factory hiring, Monarch soon faced a critical shortage of workers. Whipp saw the problem developing, and turned to an untapped resource: housewives. In an experiment which other industry leaders around Ohio and elsewhere watched closely, Whipp successfully trained and employed over 500 women in virtually every aspect of factory work. Led by Virginia Oldham, Monarch's first female shop worker, the females soon demonstrated that they could work side by side with their male counterparts.

By the end of 1942, the Monarch family had grown to 2,700 employees and their families. In most cases, the family took a back seat out of necessity. For a year and a half during this time, every employee got only one day off every three weeks. Not one worker took a vacation. Monarch's payroll was three times as large as the payroll of all Sidney businesses combined during the boom year of 1929 prior to the Depression. Orders of Monarch products totaled $147,000 in 1932, and by the end of the next decade, sales had risen to nearly $30,000,000. As usual, Whipp decided to share the fruits of the employees' hard work with them. Bonuses for 1942 ranged up to ten percent of the yearly wages.

The efforts of Monarch's employees received national recognition. In October of 1941, the company received its first coveted 'E' pennant from the U. S. Navy for outstanding contributions to the defense program. Senior employees Charlie Buehler and Philber Abe accepted the pennant for the company. By the end of the war, its pennant contained five stars - a record unmatched by any other Ohio machine tool company.

Wendell Whipp also recognized that seven day work weeks created additional problems, so he redoubled his efforts to solidify the bond between his employees and Monarch. Sports teams, funded by Monarch, flourished. Twelve softball teams competed in their own league, Other organized sports included bowling, fencing, casting, golf, horseshoes and archery. The Monarch Glee Club entertained at social events around the community.

The Monarch Family was larger and operated as a more cohesive unit than ever before. When the employees got behind a community effort, it was bound to succeed. Led by Whipp's example, virtually every employee car pooled to save tires and gas. When management distributed a booklet on planting a 'Victory Garden', to help conserve food supplies, Monarch employees led the way.

Whipp continually praised his employees. In a Christmas letter delivered to the employees at the end of 1942 he stated: "You men and women of Monarch were quick to meet the challenge to freedom. You learned to do without many things. But most important of all, you have worked...Monarch will meet Washington's quota on lathes -- thanks to the team-work of Monarch men and women. To all of you...I offer my deepest appreciation."

During the war, Monarch employees worked on numerous projects that were critical in the effort to win the war. The 40 millimeter Bofors anti-aircraft gun, which helped turn the tide against the dive-bombing Japanese zeroes in the Pacific, contained important parts manufactured here. Monarch also manufactured the power take off units for the aircraft engine used in the British Lancaster and Halifax bombers. Several contracts involved making lathes that were shipped to a mysterious 'Little Brown Jug' address. Only after the war did company officials find out that the lathes went to the Manhattan project- which resulted in the production of our first atomic bomb.

Government orders dropped substantially in the latter part of 1943, and Monarch officials feared that once again the company was headed for the 'bust' end of the boom and bust cycle so typical for the machine tool industry.

Besides dealing with the painful conversion to a peacetime economy, and a market flooded with excess machine tools, Monarch and Whipp had to grapple with a new problem. Wage and price controls imposed during the war irritated millions of American workers. A tide of unionism swept the country. Whipp countered with wage increases that totaled 30 percent over two years, and the establishment of an incentive pay program. It would not be enough. Despite his best efforts, company employees followed the union trend. On June 8, 1944, the employees voted for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America to become their bargaining representative. As an inevitable result of the loss of the direct relationship with his workers, Whipp's 'family' would never be the same.

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Although Monarch was to have its share of difficulties with the union and several work stoppages here, similar problems with its customers and suppliers in the 1940's and 50's created more problems. In 1946, for example, the workforce was cut from 1,000 to 750 because the company could not get the raw materials it needed for production.

The Korean War gave rise to another jump in Monarch orders. By the end of 1952, over 1,400 workers once again reported to work at the Oak Street facility. During this era, Jerome Raterman shaped the fortunes of Monarch. He replaced Whipp as president in 1947, but Whipp continued to act in as advisory capacity. Raterman served until Kermit Kuck succeeded him in 1961.

It would be impossible to overestimate the impact Monarch had on our community through the first half century of its existence. Jobs created, taxes paid, and charitable activities supported are but a few of the more tangible measures. Wendell Whipp, Fred Dull and Jerome Raterman had a more enduring legacy in mind when they formed The Monarch Machine Tool Company Foundation in 1952. Over the last 45 years, this foundation has supported virtually every major community project, including expansions programs associated with Wilson Memorial Hospital, the YMCA, Sidney Schools, Lehman High School, Dorothy Love, and the Amos Memorial Public Library. In the last 5 years alone, foundation gifts have exceeded one million dollars.

In the decade that followed the end of the Korean War, change was a constant at Monarch. Everyone connected with Monarch mourned the loss of Wendell Whipp in a 1957 boating accident. When Fred Dull passed away the next year, Monarch had lost its two most revered leaders.

Meanwhile, new president Kermit Kuck believed deeply that the future of the company depended on diversification and modernization. By 1978, Monarch under his direction had moved from manufacturer of lathes to a producer of a variety of items, including numerically controlled turning machines and machining centers. His drive to diversify resulted in three U. S. manufacturing facilities and four foreign subsidiaries. Annual sales soared from $10,000,000 to $80,000,000. The company's net worth increased over 400 per cent.

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Kermit Kuck

However, despite Kuck's brilliant record, nagging problems with its unions continued to hound Monarch. The 1970's were particularly bitter times for the company and the union. The decade that followed meant new challenges in the form of foreign competition. However, there had been tough years many times before. Each time, Monarch and its loyal employees, with the help of a supportive community, had persevered. Monarch was again equal to the task. Sales climbed to $140 million in 1981, and the manufacturing area was increased to nearly 500,000 square feet.

With Kuck at the reins of the Monarch Foundation, scores of needy organizations and individuals received a quiet helping hand. Kuck was particularly proud of the funding the foundation provided to help launch the Friday evening Sidney Civic Band concerts on the courtsquare.

The business success of the early 1980's proved to be short lived. In the years that followed, increasing foreign competition took its toll. The sad story of the gradual loss of business and the resulting reduction in employees that has developed since then is well known. However, the special bond that existed between Monarch and our community continued. Kermit Kuck spoke for Wendell Whipp and so many others when he described that relationship on the occasion of Monarch's 75th anniversary. He stated: "The company and the community have grown together. Monarch has contributed with its people and its financial support...We are proud of our heritage, proud of our people and proud of our home. Monarch has always had a deep sense of community and we will continue with our support.."

As Monarch faces its darkest hour, an anxious citizenry waits. Final decisions are often made by people in far away places who understandably attach more significance to money than memories. This grateful community, however, will never forget.

Update on Monarch

This information is excerpted from an article that appeared in The Sidney Daily News on May 15, 1999

Monarch machine, located at 615 Oak Avenue, was founded in Sidney in June, 1909. The company was sold in July of 1997 and the remaining Busch Division will relocate to Milwaukee. Karl Frydryk, Monarch Vice President, said the relocation of the Busch Division to Milwaukee will probably be finalized by the end of June or July, 1999.


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