Up Front

Five Faves - Local Products

Museum director spotlights locally made products people loved
Encore-Magazine-upfront-design-ware-november-2019
Beach Products/DesignWare

We all take a special pride in products in made in Kalamazoo, and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum is one of the best places to learn about these. Of the more than 60,000 artifacts in the museum collection, many represent the histories of the companies that manufactured popular products locally, including these companies:

Beach Products/DesignWare

Richard Beach established Beach Products Inc., in Kalamazoo in the early 1940s. The company, which made greeting cards and paper party supplies such as tablecloths, napkins, wrapping tissue, plates and cups, began in a small warehouse at 1801 Factory St. and moved to 2001 Fulford St. in the 1960s. Over time, Beach Products was incorporated into many other companies, including American Greetings Corp. in 1999. The production plant, then located at 3825 Emerald Drive, was renamed DesignWare. The unopened party kit pictured here was produced by DesignWare in the early 2000s and features the popular Nickelodeon animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. In the spring of 2010, American Greetings closed the doors of the Kalamazoo plant.

Globe Casket Manufacturing Co.

Oscar Allen, William Clarke and Jeremiah Woodbury established the Globe Casket Manufacturing Co. in 1870 in a building on the corner of Burdick and Water streets. By 1874, Allen had assumed sole control of the business. Globe Casket produced funeral furniture so efficiently designed that many competitors fell by the wayside. Their innovative casket design included a cloth-lined interior, one of the first of its kind in the country. A new company warehouse was constructed in the early 1900s on Water Street, between Pitcher and Edwards, and production continued there until the company closed in the early 1950s. Today the building houses office spaces and a local tap house, the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. The cabinet card pictured here, from 1876, advertises the company’s patented sliding glass, giving “instant access to the interior of the casket at all times, and for all purposes, without taking off the whole cover."

Kool-Aid Bottling Works

The brick building that once stood at 1011 Douglas Ave. housed the former Kool-Aid Bottling Works factory, owned by Florence and Virgil Nicklin. In 1947 and 1948, Kool-Aid syrup was shipped to the factory, where carbonation was added, the liquid was bottled, and the bottles were capped. This bottle advertises that “Kool-Aid comes to you as an outstanding quality in carbonated beverages. Made only from the purest ingredients under ideal sanitary conditions.” In the early 1950s, after the popular powdered form of Kool-Aid became more readily available, the company was renamed Nicklin Bottling Co., and it remained in business until 1968, bottling Double Cola, Squirt, Mason’s Root Beer and O-So Flavors.

Kalamazoo Sled Co.

The Kalamazoo Sled Co. was founded in 1894 by Hale P. Kauffer. Its first big enterprise was making wooden handles for feather dusters, but after a few years children’s sleds became its major product. By 1905, the company was the largest manufacturer of children’s sleds in the world. The sled pictured here is an early example of the more ornately decorated sleds the company produced, generally meant for young girls. The company continued to be successful through the early 20th century, but post-World War II production ceased to reach pre-war heights. By 1968, the Gladding Corp. of New York bought out the company and made it a subsidiary. Within four years, Gladding consolidated all of its operations, leaving the Kalamazoo warehouse on Crosstown Parkway abandoned. In April 1974, an arsonist torched the empty building and it burned to the ground.

Be-Mo Potato Chip Co.

The father and son-in-law partnership of Charles H. Mott and David Beshgetoor established the Be-Mo Potato Chip Co. in Kalamazoo in 1930. The unusual name of the firm came from combining the first two letters of the owners’ last names. The factory was located at the corner of Cobb and North streets, in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood. While wax paper potato chip bags were invented in 1926 by California chip factory owner Laura Scudder to keep chips fresh and crunchy, potato chips and sticks were often hermetically sealed in cans. The cans prevented the chips from being crushed during distribution. In October 1984, after 54 years of operations, the local chip-making company was forced out of business by high potato prices, declining profits and mounting debts.

To learn more about products made in Kalamazoo and other items connected to the history of our community and the surrounding Southwest Michigan region, visit the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s Searchable Collection Database, available online 24/7 by visiting kalamazoomuseum.org/collections.

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About the Author

Bill McElhone, the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum since 2010, has worked in the museum and archives field for nearly 40 years. His philosophy is that history is all about “the story,” and to that end he serves as the editor of the museum’s museON magazine. He also wrote the “History Happenstances” column in the Birmingham Eccentric newspaper for eight years and has had articles published in several journals and magazines.