Ben Clark is the archivist for the Marathon County Historical Society. While studying history at UW Eau Claire he focused in part on the transatlantic history of jazz musicians. Today he is just as happy to talk about his work researching more local stories like fur coats and paper companies.

By This Author:

Color photograph of a audiometer, which looks a bit like a box with knobs and wires coming out of it.

OBJECT HISTORY: Employers Mutual Audiometer

This particular audiometer was used in the mid-to-late 1960s by Helen Onyett, an Occupational Health Consultant based at a small branch office in Indianapolis, Indiana. She took this audiometer to workplaces across the Midwest to test the hearing of employees hired by Employers Mutual policyholders.

Poster showing a man missing part of a leg that reads "keep your body whole, heath and happiness depend on it!"

Promoting Workplace Safety

For an insurance company like Employers Mutual, it made sense to try to promote safety in the workplace. Employers Mutual was also very adept at translating its expertise into prevention through education, and the company developed an active publishing wing to help distribute safety information to their policyholders’ employees.

A black and white image of the shop floor of a factory showing workers posing with machines

The 1911 Workman's Compensation Act and the Birth of an Industry

The 1911 Workmen’s Compensation Law provided a legal path to establishing a new worker’s compensation insurance system. But by taking out insurance policies to guard against dangers to their employees, employers also had to acknowledge that they could be held accountable for injury or death of people on their payroll. And so the Wisconsin law also created a legal precedent for the right to a safe workplace for all employees.

A black and white image of three people testing an audiometer, one man has headphones on his ears while a woman looks on and another man is testing a read-out from the machine.

Preventing Hearing Loss

In 1953, Wisconsin added occupational hearing loss to the list of claimable conditions under workers compensation. Employers Mutual of Wausau quickly created a program that would make the company an industry leader in hearing loss prevention.

Fur Coat

OBJECT HISTORY: Fromm Fox Fur Coat

This coat was made from the fur of foxes raised on the Fromm Fur Farm in Hamburg, Wisconsin.

The history of fur and fashion runs deep in North America. October 1953 issue of Vogue.

Fashion and Fur

The development of fur farms at the close of the 19th century was perhaps the most revolutionary change in North America’s fur industry, and fashion played a significant role in that change.

An advertisement for Fromm furs using their “bright with silver” slogan and printed on metallic silver paper, Women’s Wear Daily, March 11, 1936.

The Fromm Brand and the Hamburg Fur Auction

The Fromm brothers had long complained alongside other fur farmers, about the unfair tradition of holding fur auctions in centers of trade like Leipzig, London, Paris, St. Louis, and New York—all far from the place where furs were raised. And so the Fromms decided to change things by inviting the fur buyers directly to their Hamburg, Wisconsin, farm to bid on Fromm furs directly.

The Fromm Fur Farm

The land that became the Fromm Fur Farm was first settled by Joachim Nieman, a forester who came to Wisconsin as part of the mass immigration from Germany after 1848. He gave his daughter Alwina a quarter section of undeveloped wilderness near present-day Hamburg, Wisconsin.

Fromm Labs Thiensville

Canine Distemper and the Fromm Vaccine

One of the most formidable problems that fur farmers faced in in the early twentieth century were the epidemic diseases that would strike their herds each year. After searching widely for solutions, the Fromm brothers eventually invested in a scientific study that would find them playing a central role in the creation of a vaccine for canine distemper.