Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, January 31, 2002, pg. 11, 12
The loss of local factory ownerships and nationwide company mergers have certainly affected communities across the country, including Albion. The announcement about Harvard Industries filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Lebanon, New Jersey (with their registered charter in the state of Delaware) is having a direct impact upon the factory here in Albion, Michigan. What would Albion be like without Harvard Industries? I hope we don’t have to find out.
The local plant on N. Albion St. is forever etched in the minds of many Albion residents as the Albion Malleable Iron Company--a vibrant locally owned and controlled factory which was in existence from 1888 until 1967. The Malleable was the major economic factor in Albion’s history in the early 20th century which brought hundreds of residents to our town and formed the basis of Albion’s diverse population.
The founder of the Malleable was Warren Scott Kessler (1845-1933), who had formerly been a salesman for several eastern iron mills in the Chicago area. Kessler was a native of Albion (of all places), New York. One of his business acquaintances was H. Kirke White, owner of the Gale Manufacturing Company here in Albion. White invited Kessler to Albion to attend the wedding of his daughter in the late 1880s. During the social conversation at the wedding reception, Mr. White pointed out that as a result of the increase in business at the Gale, it needed malleable iron castings for its farm implements it produced. Why not come to Albion and begin a malleable iron castings plant in the old Gale headquarters on the corner of Cass and Superior Streets? Mr. Kessler took Mr. White up on the suggestion, and founded the Albion Malleable Iron Company in 1888 with the help of 20 original stockholders. The company outgrew its original location, and ten years later moved to the 601 N. Albion St. site.
Assisting Kessler in the new company was his 18-year-old step-son, Harry B. Parker (1871-1936) who quickly learned all phases of the business. At the age of 21 in 1892, Parker was named a director of the company and became its vice-president. Kessler’s original title was secretary-treasurer, but he became president of the company in 1896. He served in that position until his death in 1933. Kessler served on the Albion City Council, and was a director at two Albion banks. He also donated the “City Comfort Station” (public bathrooms) in 1924 on the site where the “Molder Statue Park” now sits.
Parker assumed the role of assistant general manager in 1899, and later became general manager of the firm. Parker served as the company president from 1933 to 1936. The duo built the Malleable into the second-largest malleable iron factory in the State of Michigan, and into one of the largest malleable iron concerns in the country. This was spurred on by the age of the automobile which brought a tremendous increase in business to the company.
With the success of the company going strong, the Malleable needed more workers desperately, especially in the first two decades of the 20th century. It actively recruited men from Eastern and Southern Europe, particularly White Russia (now Belarus), Poland, the Ukraine, and Italy to come to America to work at the Malleable. During World War I still more workers were needed, and the company recruited African-American laborers in Pensacola, Florida and neighboring communities in Alabama. As these workers came to Albion with their families, they were placed in company housing on the west end of town in the vicinity of the plant.
The founders of the Malleable believed that the company had a responsibility to its workers and to the Albion community. The duo erected the Parker-Kessler block on the corner of Superior and Cass Sts. on the original Malleable location, and Mr. Parker donated the adjacent land for the erection of our City Hall. Mr. Parker especially as general manager, gave of his time and money to promote and strengthen Albion. He was a driving force for the opening of Albion’s first city hospital in 1909, and was active for many years on the Sheldon Memorial Hospital board. He was active in the Boosters and Knockers club, helped develop the Duck Lake Country Club, and help lead the drive for a new community hotel. It was named the Parker Inn in his honor.
Through Mr. Parker, funds were given to purchase land and erect “ethnic” churches on the west end of town, and many “small, unrecognized” projects were funded by Parker which helped enrich the lives of the workers at the Malleable and their families. The Albion Recorder observed in his 1936 obituary, “Mr. Parker naturally was called upon frequently to give financial support to every kind, of civic projects. He responded generously to such appeals and many worthy Albion projects undoubtedly would not have been successfully concluded without his generous response. Possessing a modest dislike of undue publicity for any act of philanthropy, only his intimates knew of the many private acts of charity he performed and the aid he renedered in a long list of cases. He had in innate sense of civic duty which impelled him to assist many of the less fortunate members of the commmunity.”
The sense of civic duty as one of the responsibilities of the local factory continued at the Malleable long after the deaths of the founders. It continued into the leadership era of Collins Carter and Thomas T. Lloyd (1912-1978) through the 1960s, who saw to it that the Malleable was vitally involved in the Albion community. The Malleable sponsored sports teams (bowling, softball), held fishing contests, held retiree banquets, and even gave a check of $100 to each church in Albion at Christmastime, among other things. Company officials and workers served on local boards, committees, supported scout activities, and volunteered their time and support of community events.
The winds of economic change were becoming evident by the late 1960s, and the Albion Malleable Iron Company was merged with Hayes Industries in Jackson on August 11, 1967 to form the Hayes-Albion Corporation. Anticipating a loss of local control and less community participation and funding, company vice-president Thomas T. Lloyd wisely founded the Albion Civic Foundation (now called the Albion Community Foundation) in 1968. This organization was originally funded from funds earned at the Albion Malleable Iron Company, for the betterment of the Albion community. This Foundation has since funded numerous civic, educational, and worthwhile projects and groups, long after the locally owned and controlled Malleable ceased to be in 1967.
From the Archives this week we present photographs of the founders of the Albion Malleable Iron Company: Warren Scott Kessler (1845-1933) and Harry B. Parker (1871-1936).
Warren Scott Kessler
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic