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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
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Plant c. 1911Image courtesy: Center for Dubuque History, Loras College and http://www.cityofdubuque.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2926
Brunswick Recreation Building. Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ykygu
Brunswick Recreation Building. Upper left-Girls' Main Rest Room; lower left-Cafe and Assembly Hall; upper right-Billiard Room; lower right-Free Dispensary for Employees. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey

BRUNSWICK-BALKE-COLLENDER COMPANY. By 1884, Brunswick a Chicago-based company, joined with rivals to become “The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company,” the largest billiard equipment operation in the world, larger than all its competitors combined. Expansion of the product line included elaborate and ornate front and back bars made of rich woods, flawless mirrors, and stained glass.

Originally offered as special order items, these items developed such demand that in 1911 a new factory was built in Dubuque, Iowa. Work began in June and when completed the plant encompassed 35 acres. The property was conveyed by the CHICAGO GREAT WESTERN RAILROAD from land which had been used for division terminals in the city. Brunswick agreed to construct a building costing at least $150,000 of which &75,000 was to be given by the DUBUQUE INDUSTRIAL CORPORATION. The company also agreed to hire five hundred male employees the first year. (1) Brunswick insisted that those employed belong to the union affiliated with the line of work for which they were hired. By January 1913 the company hoped to have 1,000 workers. (2)

In 1912 the first shipment of new machinery and supplies arrived on 25 railroad cars. (3) People on the north-end of the city soon became accustomed to the plant whistle that sounded the beginning of the workday, noon break and 30 minutes later to signal back to work, and the end of the day. (4)

Located at Jackson Street and 32nd Street, Brunswick manufactured and shipped bar equipment around the world. Billed as the "Largest Bar Fixture Factory in the World," the company employed five hundred people. (5) The bars won design awards at international exhibitions and were used in popular bars and restaurants around the country.

In 1914 a contract was received from the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph Company. The company's East Orange, New Jersey plant could not keep up with demand for cabinet work needed for their phonographs. The company began the production of radio cabinets in the 1920s. Employment soared to 1,650 people. (6)

Brunswick Recreation Building. Image courtesy: Joe Jacobsmeier

The story ran under the title "Recreation Building for the Emloyes(sic) of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Plant Sets a New Standard for Dubuque Factory Welfare Enterprise." The formal dedication of the recreation center took place on February 28, 1920. Construction of the building under the supervision of designer Fridolin HEER began in 1919 on a slight knoll at the south end of the company's location in an area called "Brunswick Park." (7)

The two-story building measured 65' x 150' and was constructed of Artcraft hollow tile and Italian stucco. The second story formed a pyramid to obtain the maximum sunlight and ventilation. An open-air veranda was completed on the north end of the building to overlook the park. The main entrance on the west of the building led to a large foyer. From there entry to the men's recreation quarters on the south side and the ladies' portion on the north side could be achieved. Two large stairways on either side of the foyer led to the cafe and assembly hall on the second floor. To the right of the main entrance was the employees' store. This opened into the men's main recreation room measuring 40' x 125'. Equipment included four bowling alleys, six billiard tables, and space for card tables. Adjoining the main recreation room were lockers, show/bath rooms, and a store room. The "girls'" area included a lobby, cafeteria which opened on to the veranda, a kitchenette and dressing rooms. The rooms were supplied with davenports, rockers, library tables, draperies, a piano and a phonograph. (8)

The assembly hall on the second floor was 40' x 100' and was free of any pillars. Within the assembly hall was the cafe which daily fed more than five hundred people. The 20' x 20' kitchen was located at the east end of the second floor and opened to the cafe through a colonnade entrance. Food was prepared with gas, steam and electricity. A dish-washing machine and automatic rinsers and driers handled all the utensils. A modern apartment with living room, library, bedroom and bath for the custodian adjoined the kitchen. Directly over the main entrance was the location of the operator's quarters and motion picture equipment. The stage and cinema screen were located at the east end of the assembly hall. (9)

The entire building was heated with steam and constructed with plans for future expansion. In 1920 the company employed nearly 1,300. (10) The building was soon made available to the community. In 1922 the Boy Scouts used the site for their annual banquet. Dances were common with local musicians performing. For those unable to reach the downtown library, a station was established in 1943 in the building on Mondays between noon and 1:00 p.m.

On April 1-4, 1930 the plant closed for inventory and was purchased by Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. on April 10th. It was announced that three thousand workers would be employed after expansion. (11) The new company, called Brunswick Radio Corporation, manufactured radios, phonographs and loudspeakers. Employment averaged between 400-500 people. As the GREAT DEPRESSION, continued fewer and fewer people could afford the machines.

The plant closed in December 1931. (12)

The factory remained empty for several years before Warner Brothers refurbished the grounds with the intent to lease it. The factory was eventually the property of FLEXSTEEL INDUSTRIES, INC.

A bar produced by the company.
A talcum powder dispenser for pool halls. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Craftsmen near their work. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Located on the corner of 32nd and Jackson, the Brunswick Recreation Building offered a bowling alley, gymnasium, and restaurant. Illustration by Norman Zepeski.
This bar background was constructed in the 1880s for the Louisville Inn located in Louisville, Colorado. Built to fit, this enormous piece has no nails used in its construction.
Pool rack produced by the company.
Trade token-face
Trade token-back
Beautiful wooden cabinets were produced by the Brunswick-Balke-Colender Company. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Salesman's sample bar display.
Employee picture, December 11, 1922. Photo courtesy: Marleen Tulas. Photo editing: John Pregler



1. "Brown Tells of Contract Terms," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, February 26, 1911, p. 15

2. "Cabinet Makers Needed," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, August 20, 1912, p. 3

3. Kruse, Len. "Memories of Brunswick," Over 49 News & Views," December, 1991, p. 3

4. Ibid.

5. "Way Back When," Telegraph Herald, Undated article. Courtesy: Diane Harris

6. "Turning Points, Telegraph Herald, September 25, 1983, p. 28

7. "Recreation Building for the Emloyes(sic) of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Plant Sets a New Standard for Dubuque Factory Welfare Enterprise," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 29, 1920, p. 13

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "Dubuque Will Be Main Distributing Point For Concern," Telegraph-Herald, April 4, 1930, p. 1

12. Kruse