"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
The definitive reference to the Farley and Loetscher Manufacturing Company was written by Carole Loetscher, wife of Richard A. Loetscher.
Advertisement. Photo courtesy: William K. Hammel
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY. Once the largest mill working plants in the world. Farley and Loetscher began humbly on January 1, 1875 when Christian LOETSCHER, a twenty-five-year-old Swiss immigrant, opened a mill working business.

The firm, with only two employees, operated from a 16- by 20-foot second floor space leased from the Key City Mill. (1) In 1876 Loetscher formed a partnership with A. B. Carlin and J. Rickard. The company, renamed Clark, Rickard and Company, bought the KEY CITY PLANING COMPANY and remained a small millwork factory. (2) In February 1877 Farley bought out the interest of Mr. Clark and the business was renamed Farley, Loetscher and Company. (3)

Jesse P. FARLEY became the principal partner in the company in 1879 by investing $85,000 in a three-story building at Eighth and Jackson STREETS. In 1881 the company was incorporated as the Farley and Loetscher Manufacturing Company. Among the offivers were Griffith and Knight,attorneys at law; Henry L. STOUT, vice-president; and A. J. Dougherty, Stout's son-in-law. Farley served as president until his death. (4) In 1894 just before his death, Farley sold Loetscher his stock at a price far below its value. This gave Loetscher 52% ownership. (5) Loetscher was the active head of the company from the beginning. (6) He served as president until 1900 when he was succeeded by J. M. Burch, Sr. who had purchased the interest of A. B. Carlin. Burch died in 1927 and John Loetscher was named president. (7)


One of many expansions of the company occurred in 1882 at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000. The saw mill was removed and that part of the business abandoned. The plans called for the buildings to extend from 8th to 7th streets. The warehouse would be on 7th street and join the business office which was to be moved to the corner of 7th street and an alley. (8) At that time, the company's business had grown to such a degree that local lumberyards could not supply enough lumber. The problem was solved when Farley & Loetscher contracted for one million board feet of lumber from sites in Wisconsin. (9)

In March 1893 the company was beginning the manufacture of screen doors and windows for the summer trade. This year, however, it was benefiting from an invention of Christian Loetscher. The machine automatically started all the nails at even distances apart in the strip that covered the edges of the wire cloth. (10)

Ink Blotter. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Loetscher pioneered the use of west coast white pine lumber in 1900 as the company branched out to markets around St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Des Moines, Iowa. In 1903 capitalization of the company was increased to $400,000 through the sale of bonds. Farley & Loetscher then invested a small amount in McCloud River Lumber Company of California. This company was then contracted for an annual production of ten million board feet of ponderosa lumber. (11)

Experimentation was being done by the millwork companies at this time. As the pine forests of Michigan were depleted, some millworks along the Mississippi experimented with spruce. This was discontinued when large millworks introduced ponderosa pine which was not rot resistant and needed treating. After being kiln dried, it was seasoned. Southern pine was rejected because of its high moisture content. (12)

In 1905 the company announced the construction of a solid block of buildings in Dubuque. The firm asked the city council to vacate the alley running through the block bounded by Jackson, Washington, Seventh and Eighth streets. It also asked for the right to lay track and switch to the right of the proposed new building. (13) Business was slowing by 1908 and Farley & Loetscher only kept the California sawmill crews busy for seven or eight months. Once the lumbermen who owned the trees in California opened their own mills, the Farley & Loetscher mills were sold with most of the employees returning to Dubuque. (14)

In 1910 records indicated that the company annually produced 500,000 windows and 300,000 doors. (15) In addition the company manufactured frames, mouldings, blinds, stairwork and interior finish. Between 1,200 and 1,500 carloads of lumber were used annually. (16) The company owned and operated its own electric light company and maintained a crew of electricians to care for it and the telephone systems used in the plant. (17) Nothing went to waste. Wooden shavings were advertised for those interested in horse bedding. (18)

By 1927, when the company was led by J. A. Loetscher, Christian's son, the firm occupied buildings covering twenty-three acres. The company also maintained subsidiary companies. Loetscher and Burch Manufacturing Company operated in Des Moines. Another subsidiary was Roberts Sash and Door Company of Chicago. (19)

The company in 1930 was an employer of between eight hundred and nine hundred people. (20) The seven company buildings covered five city blocks. Each of the buildings, except for three warehouses, were connected by bridges that crossed over the streets.

One of the structures was the largest building in Dubuque until the development of the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS. In 1904 Christian Loetscher attended the St. Louis Exposition and bought forty huge timbers, each 13 by 11 inches and up to sixty feet in length, when the exhibition buildings were being dismantled. These were shipped back to Dubuque and used in the construction of a building described as "the largest lumber shed in the world." Thirty-two timbers were placed around the perimeter of the cupola while eight were spaced at intervals along the center of the building. In 1930 this building easily stored 6 million feet of lumber. (21)

Years before recycling became known, Farley and Loetscher gathered waste chunks of wood and all the sawdust. This was transported to the roof of one of the buildings to a funnel-shaped named "the hog." There the material was ground to fine dust which was carried to the basement. Specially designed boilers received the dust from a moving track. When burned this dust provided all the heat for the buildings.

The company's electricity was generated by a dynamo within the plant. Unlike some companies of the time, however, there was no commissary so nearby businesses benefited from the purchases of food. (22)

A plastics division was added to the company's line in the early 1930s. This produced laminated plastics for decorative and industrial uses and once occupied three acres of floor space. (23) A newspaper article of 1930 especially praised a new product "Formica" which resisted heat, cold and water.

In 1942 the company qualified for an "Honor Flag." Issued by the Treasury Department, the flag was issued on the basis of a company's employees participating in buying United States War Savings Bonds. More than 1,100 employees were purchasing bonds through payroll deduction according to Dubuque County War Bond Committee representatives. (24)
The end of WORLD WAR II meant that the production of doors, windows, and other supplies that had gone to the military simply shifted to civilian use. There was no need to replace equipment or retrain employees. (25) The only problem was the need in 1944 to hire four hundred more employees due to the demand for products. (26) In addition to new homes, surveys nationwide indicated that 34% of homeowners were planning renovations. FARLITE, a plastic sold to the government for use in signal corps radio equipment and table tops, would be provided for civilian use. (27)

Employment peaked at 1,250 and dropped to five hundred prior to 1960 when Clear Fir Sales Company, a trust headed by W. H. Gonyea of Springfield, Oregon, purchased the company. Unprofitable items and overhead were slashed to improve the company's profitability.

In July 1960, Farley & Loetscher was sold to Clear Fir Sales Company, a Springfield, Oregon trust. (28) On January 12, 1962 the company announced that it would close on or about February 28, 1962. (29) Cited as causes were rapidly increasing wage rates and low prices for millwork. Manufacturing operations were ended the first week of April. (30) The closing meant a loss of employment for about 600 persons, an annual payroll of $4 million, and local tax revenues of $100,000. Workers did not receive severance pay or other general benefits. It was hoped that many would be hired by CARADO where some of Farley and Loetscher's product lines were being transferred. (31)

With the closing of the company in Dubuque, options were signed in May, 1962 by CARADCO and Fischer, Inc. for the purchase of the entire Farley and Loetscher property. Caradco had an optionn to buy the power plant, kilns, the four-story factory building (old plywood plant), and the large lumber shed in the block immediately south of the power plant. Fischer, Inc. headed by Louis PFOHL optioned the rest of the property including the main manufacturing plant and warehouse. (32)

Farley & Loetscher products include the main staircase of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE; display cases for the ROSHEK'S DEPARTMENT STORE; millwork for the U. S. Navy torpedo boat Ericsson and Revenue Cutter Windom; the interior of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and the outer doors of the main chambers of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C. (33)

In addition to being the first millwork in the city to utilize ponderosa pine and recycle byproducts including sawdust, Farley & Loetscher was the first factory in the city to have electric lighting and the first to be equipped with an automatic sprinkling system. Around 1903, the company was the first in the city to install a telephone switchboard. (34)

Farley and Loetscher produced the nationally recognized "Qualitybilt" brand.
Trade Card
Trade Card
Photo courtesy: Bob Johnsen
Letterhead: Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Worker ID: Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures

At the time of its closing, Farley and Loetscher was the third largest employer in Dubuque. (Photo Courtesy: http://www.dubuquepostcards.com)

Sales book showing windows and doors for purchase. Photo courtesy: Larry Hoelscher
Photo courtesy: Larry Hoelscher
Paper weight. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Ink blotters. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Ink blotters.Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Ink blotters.Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Ink blotters.Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Ink blotters.Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Hundredth anniversary token (obverse)
Token (reverse)
The company's safety record was posted for the community.
Ink Blotter. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Business envelope
Company newsletter
Advertising object
Round pocket mirror.
Image courtesy: Jim Massey
Joseph Kasel received a fishing rod at his retirement party. Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Joseph Kasel's retirement letter from the company. Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
The WORLD WAR II draft took many skilled craftsmen from the plant. Joseph Kasel was part of a U.S. government program to quickly re-train new help for the war effort. He also had a needed skill during WORLD WAR I, making wooden ammunition boxes for that war. He was not drafted at that time because of it.
John Kaasel went to extra training in 1911 to draw the artwork of the “shaded drawings”... took about 20 hours each of effort at school. Lots of skill in woodworking, all by hand with all those tools/planes shown in his toolbox.Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Company newsletter
Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Business card. Photo courtesy: Joseph Jacobsmeier
Staircase plans. Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Staircase plans.Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Staircase partially finished.Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Staircase ready for finishing.Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Staircase Department of Farley and Loetscher. Image courtesy" Karl J. Kasel
Joseph Kasel (left) visiting with Frank Berens in the Staircase Department of Farley and Loetscher. Joe Kasel started at Farley and Loetscher at the age of 16, in 1907, and worked 46 yrs. At age 21, he became foreman of the stair department on the 5th floor. His father, John Kasel, also worked there for 46 yrs., starting in 1884, when he arrived from Luxembourg. His son, Joe who was his boss by 1914 got 35 cents per hour, while John only got 27 cents per hour.Image courtesy" Karl J. Kasel
Payroll book from 1914.Image courtesy: Karl J. Kasel
Advertising. Photo courtesy: Joseph Jacobsmeier



1. "Here's Romance of Modern Industry," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, April 30, 1930, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=DbBFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Pb0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=2351,5092211&dq=farley+and+loetscher+manufacturing+company+dubuque&hl=en

2. Reber, Craig D. "A Brief History of Farley and Loetscher," Telegraph Herald, March 22, 2009, p. 3. Online: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=DQ&p_theme=dq&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=127213B765873938&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

3. "Business Change," Dubuque Herald, February 1, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770201&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1894, p. 127. Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=3n4_AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=Farley+and+Loetscher&source=bl&ots=DzImGD6Nnt&sig=6TrIk64PAJfQiJCqBNDxwgP0KYQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XkGFUojNJ8fd2AW0gIGwDQ&ved=0CFAQ6AEwBzgU#v=onepage&q=Farley%20and%20Loetscher&f=false

5. Loetscher, Carole. Wood: The History of Farley & Loetscher Manufacturing Company Once the Largest Millwork Company in the World, 2017, p. 13

6. "Farley and Loetscher to Close," Telegraph Herald, January 12, 1962, p. 2

7. "F. & L. Plans Complete Exhibit," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, March 31, 1929, p. 71

8. "Factory Enlargement," The Daily Herald, May 13, 1882, p. 4

9. Loetscher, p. 6

10. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 1, 1893, p. 4

11. Loetscher, p. 7

12. Loetscher, p. 8

13. "To Expend Much More Money Here," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 5, 1905, p. 3

14. Loetscher, p. 8

15. "Dubuque Covers Dubuque With Its Sash and Door Products," Telegraph Herald, January 2, 1910, p. 1

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 27, 1892, p. 8

19. "Dubuque Man is Named Head of Des Moines Firm," Telegraph Herald, August 7, 1927, p. 40. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mo1FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0rwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6891,6061408&dq=peaslee+and+company+dubuque&hl=en

20. "Here's Romance of Modern Industry."

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. "Farley and Loetscher to Close,"

24. "Honor Flag Raised at Local Lactory," Telegraph Herald, July 17, 1942, p. 16. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=nj9FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=kbsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5323,1674278&dq=farley+and+loetscher+manufacturing+company+dubuque&hl=en

25. "Farley's Ready for Peace Work," Telegraph Herald, October 15, 1944, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=T9JkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wnUNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4629,3680152&dq=farley+and+loetscher+manufacturing+company+dubuque&hl=en

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Loetscher, p. 16

29. "Farley and Loetscher Millworking Operations to End; 600 to Lose Jobs," Wall Street Journal, January 15, 1962.

30. "Farley, Loetscher Buildings Optioned to Pfohl, Caradco," Telegraph Herald, May 17, 1962, p. 1

31. "600 to Lose Jobs at Iowa Plant Closes," Des Moines Register, Undated article

32. Ibid.

33. Loetscher, p. 56

33. Ibid. pgs. 7-71