Close this search box.

‘Lost’ Products

Corset made by The Kalamazoo Corset Co. which operated in Kalamazoo from 1891–1957.Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
Forgotten products that were once made in Kalamazoo

For years, Kalamazoo produced a variety of products that made the city famous around the state, around the country and around the world. Some of these even gave our community nicknames such as “The Paper City.” Even today, many people outside of Kalamazoo know our community from the taxicabs, fishing rods, buggies, stoves and musical instruments — just to mention a few products — that came out of the factories here. Of the products no longer made in Kalamazoo — lost products, as I call them — here are five of my favorites, some of which might surprise you.


For many years before and after the Civil War, the primary industry of Michigan and many other states was agriculture. Several companies in Kalamazoo produced many types of agricultural implements, including windmills, which were first made here in 1867. Twenty years later, five local companies, employing a total of 200 workers, were manufacturing more than 4,000 windmills a year. At one time Kalamazoo produced 80 percent of all windmills in the world. Kalamazoo-made windmills could be found in Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The image shown here is a wooden model from around 1880 made by B.S. Williams and Co., which later made silos. The Phelps and Bigelow Co. continued to make windmills here until the late 1940s.


For many years, corsets were a part of everyday life for women, and one of the largest manufacturers of women’s undergarments was in Kalamazoo. The Kalamazoo Corset Co., which moved here from Three Oaks in 1891, was located on the northeast corner of North Church and Eleanor streets and used turkey feathers rather than whalebone to stiffen the garments. Although it was not the only corset company in the city, it was the largest. It employed more than 800 workers, mostly women, and by 1906 produced 1.5 million corsets a year in more than a hundred styles. A three-month strike in 1912 led to the company’s bankruptcy and reorganization. It was renamed the Grace Corset Co. and remained open, although it was much smaller, until 1957.

Regalia and Uniforms

Frank Henderson, known now more for his house than his business, started out making saddles and harnesses in the 1860s but later abandoned that enterprise and instead manufactured trunks and travel bags, along with regalia and uniforms for the Knights Templar part of the Masons. By 1873, he chose to concentrate not only on equipment and clothing for lodges and fraternal organizations, but also on uniforms and other supplies for the military, bands, civic organizations and fire departments. The Henderson Co. merged with the Ames Co. in 1893, becoming the Henderson-Ames Co. and expanding its offerings to decorative swords. By 1924, the company notched more than $1 million in annual sales. A merger with the Lilley Co. in 1933 led to the company’s departure to Ohio.


While two Kalamazoo companies made playing cards in the 1890s and early 1900s, bookkeeper Arthur Patterson, who worked at a local book and stationery store in the city, decided to do something different, creating a unique card game called Flinch that caught on across the United States. The game, created in 1901, involves 150 numbered cards and is played by anywhere from two to eight people. The object of the game is to get rid of your cards in the proper sequence. Within two years, Patterson sold 1 million copies of Flinch, and by 1930 it was one of America’s most popular games. After selling more than 7 million sets, Patterson sold Flinch to Parker Brothers. The game continues to be available.


In 1894, two Kalamazoo companies merged to make a product highly popular during the winter months — sleds. The Kalamazoo Sled Co., located on Third Street, eventually produced 80 styles of sleds, ranging in price from 20 cents to $3.50. By 1906, the company made more sleds than any other company in the United States. Very early on, the Kalamazoo Sled Co. diversified, also making folding chairs for ferries and circuses, along with lawn furniture and educational toys. It produced arctic sleds during World War II. The company was known for the Champion line of sleds and began to manufacture the plastic Champion Flying Disc in the 1950s. The Gladding Corp. purchased the company in 1968 and moved all operations to Maine four years later.

The images are from the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s collection. To see more images from the collection, go to

Lynn Houghton

Lynn Houghton is the regional history curator of the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection. She leads the Gazelle Sports Historic Walks, a series of free architectural and historic walks at various locations in Kalamazoo County that happen during summer and fall, and she is the co-author of Kalamazoo Lost and Found, a book on Kalamazoo history and architecture. She also participated in the PBS documentary series 10 That Changed America, about the history of architecture and urban planning. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from WMU and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University.

Leave a Reply

Museum’s director tags his favorite artifacts
Forgotten products that were once made in Kalamazoo
Exhibits showcase invention that rocked music world
Resources for researching the history of your house

Support local journalism by subscribing to Encore

By becoming a subscriber, you can help secure the future of Encore’s local reporting.

One year for
Just $3 a month!

Sign up for our Newsletter

Never miss an issue by getting Encore delivered to your Inbox every month.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by those interviewed and featured in our articles do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Encore Magazine or the official policies, owners or employees of Encore Publications.

Encore Magazine is published 12 times a year. © 2024 Encore Publications. All Rights Reserved.
117 W. Cedar St., Suite A, Kalamazoo, MI 49007 (269) 383-4433