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American Cabinet Hardware Company
Like many American manufacturing companies, what eventually became Amerock began modestly, resulting from the efforts of a few determined people and a pioneering idea. In 1928, two Swedish immigrants named Reuben and Gedor Aldeen left Rockford's formidable National Lock Company to establish the Aldeen Manufacturing Company. Trained as mechanics before they came to America, Reuben Aldeen had served as National Lock's superintendent of tool, machine, and maintenance, and Gedor was the firm's vice-president of engineering. Along with the Aldeens came a select group of other National Lock workers. Together, these ten men comprised what some believe to be the first U.S. manufacturing company to concentrate solely on the production of cabinet hardware. Until that time, the hardware in most American kitchens was relatively basic and highly functional. This new venture rented space in the William Ziock Building on South Main Street owned by knitting company Ziock Industries. They initially rented one-half of the 12th floor of the building. In 1930 the company would change its name to the American Cabinet Hardware Company.
Amerock Building at Christmas 1948
The company's first customers were cabinet manufacturers however hardware dealers soon wanted the company's products to sell at retail. Thus, American Cabinet Hardware's two main market niches were established. In addition to its success through these channels, the manufacturer received its first order from Andersen Windows in 1932. This initial order developed into a strong business relationship that was critical to the company's early growth, helping sales to reach $3 million by the end of the 1930s. By this time, things were going so well that the company purchased 15 acres of land in the southeastern part of the city. Even though plenty of capacity was still available in the Ziock Building, American Cabinet Hardware bought the acreage with future expansion in mind. In 1932 the company introduced “packaged hardware” to the retail industry. In 1940, American Cabinet Hardware combined portions of the words "American" and "Rockford" to create a new brand name called "Amerock". America would enter into World War Two by the end of 1941. The government demanded that companies use most of their resources in war manufacturing, despite these hardships American Cabinet Hardware continued to grow. In 1941, the company obtained a small, 40,000 square-foot manufacturing plant which was located in the old glucose complex on Seminary Street from the Old Colony Furniture Company. By 1942, the manufacturer occupied all 13 floors of the Ziock Building. The company would purchase the entire Ziock Building in 1945 for around $300,000.
Amerock Offices in Ziock Building 1950's
Men at work at Amerock in the Ziock Building 1950's
Women at work at Amerock in the Ziock Building 1950's
Women working in the hinge department at Amerock in the Ziock Building 1950's
The paint line at Amerock in the Ziock Building 1950's
In 1947, American Cabinet Hardware built a one-story warehouse on the Harrison Avenue property it had acquired in the late 1930s. The following year, the company was recognized by the state employment commission for its commitment to employing handicapped people, especially disabled veterans. The award came after the commission reviewed 422 Rockford-area employers. By the end of the 1940s, annual sales had climbed to $7 million, more than doubling in ten years. After establishing a strong foothold during its first two decades of operation, American Cabinet Hardware entered a period of rapid growth and expansion in the 1950s. In March the company announced plans to build a six-story, $400,000 addition to its 13-story plant. At this time, American Cabinet Hardware relied on a number of specialized machines--many of which it designed and manufactured in house to produce a broad offering of cabinet hardware. These machines were part of a highly organized manufacturing process that created beautiful finished hardware from raw material such as steel coils. Also in 1950, American Cabinet Hardware expanded internationally by establishing American Cabinet Hardware Limited. The new Canadian company was based in Medford, Ontario, and employed about 125 workers who produced for the Canadian market the same hardware manufactured in Rockford.
A major development occurred in late 1953 when the Aldeens announced plans to build a new, $3 million plant on Auburn Street. In addition, they revealed that operations at the other two facilities in Rockford (Seminary Street and Harrison Avenue) would be moved to the new facility, and that the Ziock Building would be sold for $500,000 to L. C. Miller and Associates. In 1954, another member of the Aldeen family joined American Cabinet Hardware's executive ranks. Norris G. Aldeen, who joined the company in 1933 as an apprentice toolmaker and gradually assumed positions involving greater responsibility, was named vice-president of manufacturing. Prior to this role, he had served as the company's personnel director. American Cabinet Hardware continued to lease the Ziock Building from its new owners and used it for storage.
In 1956 construction of the new Auburn Street facility was complete. The company's new plant was built on a $44,000 tract of land spanning almost 95 acres. The facility itself included ten acres of floor space, a 300-seat cafeteria, and 1,000 parking spaces for the firm's 1,800 workers. Shortly before the company moved into its new physical plant, another major change took place in 1956 when American Cabinet Hardware Corp. adopted the name of its flagship brand and officially became Amerock Corporation. The change was made because the Amerock name had become more recognizable than the company's name.
The 4000 Auburn Street plant opened in 1956 and was expanded in 1960, 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1973. For decades, the plant was the largest producer of cabinet hardware in the country. At its peak, Amerock employed 1,500 people there.
It was not long before Amerock announced plans to expand its new plant. The need for more manufacturing space led to construction of a 40,000-square-foot addition, built at the cost of $250,000. Construction was to be completed by early 1960. It also was in 1959 that Amerock repurchased the former Ziock building for storage purposes. When the 1960s arrived, the Aldeen family was still very much in control of Amerock. Gedor Aldeen remained chairman and Reuben Aldeen was president. Norris Aldeen had been promoted to administrative vice-president in 1961 and then executive vice-president the following year. By this time, the company's offerings fell into one of three hardware categories: appliance, cabinet, and window. Amerock had developed an excellent reputation within the industry. In 1964, Amerock announced yet another addition to its enormous Auburn Street plant. That September, the company revealed plans to add 98,000 square feet at a cost of $800,000, relieving overcrowding and increasing manufacturing space by roughly 25 percent. Part of the addition, totaling 28,000 square feet, was made to finish off the east end of the plant where two previous additions had been made. Besides this, a two-story structure was planned for the northeast corner of the plant. The upper level was to be used for manufacturing and the bottom for additional storage. At this time, an expansion effort also was underway at Amerock’s Canadian plant. The fourth since 1950, the addition increased that facility's size by almost one-third.
In February 1965, Norris Aldeen became president of Amerock. He was at the company's helm when it announced a $32 million merger with New Britain, Connecticut-based toolmaker Stanley Works. Effective August 1, 1966, Amerock became a subsidiary of Stanley. In addition to his role at Amerock, Norris Aldeen became vice-president of the Stanley Works and a member of its board and executive committee. On April 30, 1968, almost two years after the merger occurred, the Federal Trade Commission "filed a complaint charging the merger violated the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and had the potential for cornering the general hardware and cabinet hardware market," as explained in the November 24, 1969 Rockford Register Republic. Amerock contested the FTC's claim, and the issue was not resolved until the 1970s. Amerock would once again expand its physical plant in the late 1960's. This time, the addition totaled 95,000 square feet and cost $1 million. The project, which involved several phases, increased the company's office space by 15,000 square feet while boosting manufacturing space by 80,000 square feet. Overall, the total size of the Auburn Street facility grew to 650,000 square feet.
Amerock achieved record sales in 1971 thanks to a number of new product introductions, as well as strong housing starts. Employment increased at the manufacturer, reaching levels of about 1,900 workers. Also in 1971 the Federal Trade Commission ordered Stanley to sell Amerock by 1973, and to refrain from acquiring a similar company for a period of ten years. Stanley made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, the high court refused to hear the matter. Thus, a lower court decision that Amerock should be sold remained intact. In 1973 the company expanded again, acquiring a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Winnebago, Illinois, and adding 90,000 square feet of shipping and warehouse space at the Auburn Street plant. By 1974, Norris Aldeen had become Amerock's chairman, and Roger Linderoth was serving as president. In November, Lancaster, Ohio-based Anchor-Hocking Corp.--a manufacturer of kitchenware with sales of $367 million--announced that it had acquired Amerock for $32 million. The change in ownership became effective in October of 1975. The plant continued to prosper during the 1970's but things were about to change.
During the 1980s, Amerock was challenged by an economic recession. A poor housing market between 1979 and 1982 took a heavy toll on the company's profits. Thus, during the early 1980s Amerock began implementing measures to save money, including layoffs. Guiding the manufacturer during these difficult times was Larry E. Gloyd, a long-time Amerock employee who was named president in 1982. In 1983, the housing market began to improve and Amerock diversified its product line to offset dependence on cyclical housing starts. Part of its diversification strategy included the acquisition of Safe Hardware in 1982, as well as a Missouri-based lock manufacturer in 1984. However, despite better profitability, times were still tough. In late 1984, Amerock announced a number of cuts to its compensation program. No cost-of-living increases were given to workers that year, and bonuses for supervisors also ceased. In September 1986, Gloyd left Amerock to become president and chief operating officer of J.L. Clark Co., a Rockford manufacturing company. Don Sell, who had been serving as president of Amerock's Canadian operation, replaced Gloyd. However, even bigger changes took place when, in July 1987, Freeport, Illinois-based Newell Co. (which eventually became Newell Rubbermaid Inc.) acquired Amerock parent Anchor Hocking Corp. for $340 million.
As part of the Newell acquisition, Richard F. Krug replaced Sell as Amerock's president. However, Krug left the organization in October 1989, leaving Newell executive Tom Ferguson in charge. Amerock benefited from its new ownership arrangement, which provided strong financial backing. Amerock achieved sales of $200 million by 1994, a healthy increase over levels of $180 million in 1988. during the 1990s the company also increased the efficiency of its manufacturing processes, further consolidated operations, and received ISO 9001 certification. By 1998, Richard Krause was serving as Amerock's president.
At this time, the company was targeting home improvement retailers such as Lowe's and Menard's with a strategy to cross-sell Amerock cabinet hardware with cabinetry from other manufacturers. As part of the strategy, Amerock began developing special order displays that eliminated inventory requirements for retailers. In September 2002, Robert W. Bailey was named Amerock's president. By this time, the company had changed considerably from the days of the Aldeen brothers. It had weathered numerous challenges and ownership changes. Likewise, Amerock's products--which began with a simple, yet innovative idea--had evolved with the times. The 2001-2002 recession spelled the end of cabinet hardware production in Rockford. In 2002, Newell Rubbermaid cut nearly 250 workers and then kept making smaller cuts. By 2004, the number of workers at the Auburn Street operation was down to 450 when Newell Rubbermaid announced it was moving manufacturing operations to Mexico. In the following years, the company moved the remaining distribution workers to Freeport, and then moved the research department to Atlanta.
American Cabinet Hardware Corporartoin officials outside of the Ziock building 416 South Main Street in earlier times.
Amerock Auburn Street Plant and Offices 1962
The Auburn Street Amerock plant as it appeared during the holidays in 1978. A Kurt Anderson photo.
Amerock Building at night in May 1988
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