On September 27, 1911, a group of businessmen headed by Bernhard Carl Ziegler founded the West Bend Aluminum Company. Ziegler was the director and president until his death in 1946. As one of the most influential people in the community, he was also president of the First National Bank, chairman of Gehl Brothers Manufacturing Company, president of the West Bend Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and director of the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association.
For the company’s first location, Ziegler rented a former button factory along the Milwaukee River for $8.50 a month. Within three years, the company expanded to a new facility, and Sears, Roebuck and Company became its most important customer, accounting for between 40 and 50 percent of West Bend’s sales through 1919.
New products such as the Waterless Cooker, a small appliance in which an entire meal could be prepared, became one of the company’s best sellers, and by 1941 sales reached over six million. The Waterless Cooker’s popularity led to the development of a complete line of waterless heavy-gauge cookware called Flavo-Seal. Sales were so successful that a new three-story addition was added to the factory in 1937 to handle increased demand. Over the years, Ziegler expanded the business into one of the largest of its kind in the nation, and its holdings soon included a wide variety of products from cookware to outboard motors.Cut-away view of the Waterless Cooker, circa 1922. Image from Washington County’s Aluminum Industry, p. 15.
Following World War II, West Bend worked hard to meet the new modern family’s demand for home appliances and cookware. To satisfy new families and new brides, West Bend created a line of Teflon-coated pans, and items such as the Penguin Hot and Cold Server and the Party Perk automatic coffee percolator flew off the shelves. Furthermore, nationwide-marketing campaigns told consumers that to entertain one needed to have aesthetically-pleasing and high-performance products, thus coinciding with the popularity of dinner and cocktail parties and backyard recreation in the 1950s.
Written by Ann Glasscock, August 2014.
Mollet-Van Beckum, Janean. Washington County’s Aluminum Industry. Charleston: Arcadia Pub., 2009.
Rock, James M. “A Growth Industry: The Wisconsin Aluminum Cookware Industry, 1893-1920.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 55 (1971-1972): 86-99.