The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website

Rockford Industries Gallery 1

Some of Rockford's Early Industries. Addresses are accurate on the ones I could locate. The City of Rockford changed the street numbering system in 1893 to standardize addresses in Rockford. Any address prior to 1893 should include the possibility that the structure was known by a different numeric, or street, address. City Directories and other materials were used for accuracy. Included on this page is some information on the businesses we found history on, others are shown for the purpose of showing you what once existed in the City of Rockford.

Rockford Cornice Works

CCourtesy of Bob Anderson

Rockford Cornice Works, 312 - 314 Market Street. Alfred Martin having gained a wide experience in the sheet metal trade decided to go into the business for himself. Martin came to Rockford in 1892 and seeing a good opening for a cornice business, as there was no business of the kind here at that time. He established the Rockford Cornice Works at the corner of South Third and East State Streets in 1892. They outgrew this plant and had a new building erected for the company in 1902 at 312-14 Market Street. The factory was one of the largest and best equipped of its kind in northern Illinois. They manufactured and contracted for sheet metal fronts and cornices, skylights, ventilators, steel ceilings, eaves-troughs, conductor pipes, rain water filters, and metal, slate and tile roofing, etc. This company  has furnished the work in their line for many important buildings in this city and vicinity, among which is Turner School, Blake School, Rockford High  School, Rockford Brewery, Memorial Hall, Rockford Library building, Trinity  Church, and many other large buildings in different parts of Illinois and  Wisconsin, too numerous to mention. They would remain in this location until 1967 when the building was demolished for a nearby church. In this Bob Anderson photo taken in 1944 work of the trade is seen in the windows and there is advertising in upper windows for a July 18 event.

Rockford Pickle Works

Hiram Snow, a Chicago native moved to the Rockford area in 1881 and purchased a 160 acre tract of land just north of the Ransom Sanitarium, or resort house as it was sometimes called. He would build a residence, ice house and barn and a central warehouse at 4700 North Second Street, where the cucumbers were put through the pickling process. His company was named Spring Garden Pickle Works, where he planted acre after acre of cucumbers on his farm, and would hire boys in the fall to harvest the cucumbers. He produced sweet and dill pickles out of the cucumbers in 600 bushel vats, and when cured he would pack the pickles into barrels and ship them by horse and wagon, and later the Rockford and Interurban Railway, who's tracks can be seen in the foreground of the picture above. Hiram would later change the name of his company to the Rockford Pickle Works as the pickles became quite popular, and business boomed for many years.

In April 1903, Hiram Snow long suffering from an illness would turn the company over to his son Junius, one of ten children of Hiram and Naomi Snow. Hiram Snow passed away just four weeks later on May 17, 1903. During World War 1 sugar became difficult to obtain due to war rationing of sugar and after the war ended sugar prices skyrocketed forcing closure of the pickle company in 1922. After dissolving the pickle works, Junius Snow formed a real estate project at the family homestead on North Second street road, calling it Snow's Arlington subdivision. Many streets in that area still reflect what was there at one time, such as Snow Avenue, Junius Street, Arlington Street and Ransom Place, among others. The Rockford Pickle Works plant burned to the ground on October 26, 1933. The area once known as Snow's Crossing, a name given to the area during the interurban era, looks much different these days, the place where the Snow residence once stood at 4722 North Second Street is where Chen's Cantonese Chef Restaurant stands today. The acres of land where the cucumber fields and other buildings once stood is now a mix of businesses and residential.

In 1939, a brother-in-law of Junius, Sam Yates was given the rights to use the Rockford Pickle Works name by Junius and started making pickles again, when Sam passed away in 1954, the ownership of the new pickle works was transferred to his son Roy. The company located at 4839 Lexington Boulevard would cease operations in 1965.

Rockford Oatmeal Company

The A. M. Johnston Oat Meal Company, said to have been the first oatmeal mill west of the state of Ohio, was located in Rockford in the 1870's. This firm later became the Rockford Oatmeal Company, and eventually the American Cereal Company, which was the forerunner of the Quaker Oats Company. George H. Cormack left Scotland in 1871 and came to Canada. He stayed in Canada a short time before he came to Rockford, where he joined forces with Andrew M. Johnston, a wholesale grocer from Buffalo, and built an oatmeal plant under the name A. M. Johnston Oatmeal company. George H. Cormack was the man who first made oatmeal west of Chicago and the inventor of rolled oats and the equipment and process for their manufacture. Cormack's Nudavene Flakes was the first brand of that kind of breakfast food.

In 1882 it was incorporated with a capital stock of $75,000, which was increased to $120,000. The following were the officers of the company, Hon. Robert H. Tinker, President; George H. Cormack vice president and superintendent; Frank C. King, secretary and treasurer. In 1882 a stock company was organized with Robert H. Tinker as president, and G. H. Cormack as secretary. After it became a stock company, Andrew M. Johnston left Rockford and went to pursue other interests in California. Cormack's Nudavene Flakes were the first rolled oats to appear on the market and were placed before the public at the New Orleans exposition of 1884 - 1885 and was awarded a gold medal.

On November 1, 1886 the A. M. Johnston oat meal mill was destroyed by fire, the winds out of the south blowing flames and ashes for blocks to the north, also caught several other buildings on fire. When the oat meal mill was rebuilt, it was enlarged and the name changed to the Rockford Oatmeal Company. The Rockford Oatmeal Mills, located at 608 - 616 Cedar Street. The mill was an immense brick and stone structure, four stories and basement and 112 X 70 feet in dimension, besides several large warehouses with a storage capacity for 100,000 bushels of grain. The capacity of the mills was 300 barrels of oat meal a day, which consumed 4,000 bushels of oats, while their shipments amounted to five rail cars daily. The annual output was around 70,000 barrels, consuming about a million bushels of oats, making the annual cash business of the mill close to $750,000. The massive plant had 80 employees. They were the first oat meal company to make the transition from selling the product in bulk barrels to offering smaller, individual packages to the consumers marked with brand names. They began to sell their oatmeal and other grain products in 2-lb boxes.

The specialties of the company were Cormack's Celebrated Oat Meal and Nudavene Flakes, and their products were known worldwide. The name Nudavene means naked oats. The company sent out many trade cards, which were the forerunner to post cards to help sell their products.

Seven oatmeal millers, all located east of the Rocky Mountains, merged together in January 1891 to form the American Cereal Company. The merged firms are listed below and consisted of the following;


Rockford Oatmeal Co. (A. M. Johnston) - Rockford, Illinois

Quaker Mill Co. - Ravenna, Ohio

Douglas and Stuart (Cereal Milling Company) - Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hower & Co. - Akron, Ohio

Newell Bros. Co. - Cleveland, Ohio

Oatmeal Co. of Iowa City - Iowa City, Iowa

F. Schumacher Milling Co. - Akron, Ohio


Again on September 29 1891 the mill was destroyed by fire, but was not rebuilt, as prior to that date the company had become a member of the American Cereal company, a consolidation of a number of oatmeal mills due to excess production at many mills. In 1901 the Quaker Oats company was founded as a holding company and took over the larger part of stock of the American Cereal company.  In 1906 Quaker Oats took over all assets of the American Cereal Company and became an operating corporation. George H. Cormack who had many patents covering the equipment and processes used in making oatmeal, was hired by the Quaker Oats company, and until his death in December, 1911, he remained as designer and engineer in the employ of the Quaker Oats company.

Barrett Brothers Cough Drops

The name Barrett had been known in Northern Illinois since 1882. In 1885 from a small beginning Joseph H. and Patrick H. Barrett started their ice cream and confectionery business known as the Barrett Brothers at 409 West State Street across the street from the courthouse. Later on Michael F. Barrett became a member of the firm, and a few years later Joseph H. Barrett severed his connections from the business. The two brothers were progressive and enterprising young men. They started to manufacture cough drops at their store around 1888, sold under the Barrett Brothers name. Each drop was manufactured with a raised BB imprinted on every drop and it became an almost instant success. The brothers traveled around the Midwest looking for new markets and distributors to handle the medicine. The brothers were selling several thousand pounds of the cough drops a week as more and more pharmacies started to carry the cough drops in their stores. With the success of their cough drop business and popular store, the brothers were getting well known and wealthy, and they had hopes of taking the product nationwide.

Things turned for the worse in 1893 when the first cough drop manufacturer in business since 1847, the Smith Brothers, Andrew and William, took the Barrett's to court after learning of the Barrett's drops. The Smiths claim was that the Barrett's were riding their backs into the cough drop business, right down to the raised initials on the drops, a hallmark of the Smith Brothers' drops and packaging.

Shown here is the similarity of the packaging used by the Barrett Brothers and Smith Brothers

The Barrett's were found guilty of patent infringement. The judge ordered the Barrett's to stop making their illicit product. He granted the Barrett's request to allow them to sell whatever product they had in stock, directing them to put the drops in bags and not to sell over 1,000 pounds of the drops.

In 1893 the Barrett Brothers turned their efforts to selling a hair restoration product that they had developed. That lasted about a year.

They would return to running their store where by now they were better known as Mike and Pat to the thousands of people they served at their establishment. Many people would frequent this establishment for a refreshing soda, some ice cream or some candy, and many times after church or a play at the nearby Grand Opera House it was packed. Many stopped just to take a break from the horse and carriage ride to take refuge from the dusty streets of Rockford. Until 1914 the confectionery and ice cream business was conducted as one, but at that time the growth of the latter department was such that Joseph C. Barrett, a son of P. H. Barrett, together with his wife took over the management of the ice cream factory. There is more on the Spatz - Barrett Ice Cream Company in our Iscream section of the website.

In 1925 the Barrett Brothers store was sold to M. H. Reidmiller who remodeled the space and it could easily seat over 100 people at a time He also changed the name on the marquee to Reidmiller Confectionery.

Rockford Paint Manufacturing Company

The Rockford Paint Manufacturing Company was incorporated on August 6, 1886 by Aaron Lawson, Andrew Anderson and John A. Inmanson. The plant located on Woodruff Avenue just east of 9th Street, turned out all kinds of mixed paints and colors. The company also made wood filler. They continued in business into the early 1900's when the company ceased production. The building still is in existence. In the 1930's another Rockford Paint Manufacturing Company existed in Rockford, but had no connection to this one.

Rockford Lathe & Drill Company

Rockford Lathe and Drill Company, 1827 Fourteenth Avenue. Organized on September 3, 1907 by August. P. Floberg, President; August Norberg, Vice President and K. L. Swenson Secretary and Treasurer.  The original factory consisted of 2,000 square feet of floor space but due to brisk business the company added additions in 1909 and 1918 bringing the total floor space to 38,000 square feet. The company manufactured high grade Economy Lathes that were extremely accurate for tool room work. The company would sell its patents and processes for manufacturing their lathes to the Rockford Machine Tool Company, Kishwaukee Street and Twenty-Third Avenue in 1926 and quit business.

Cotta Transmission Company

The need for a four-wheel drive vehicle became apparent when the first motor vehicle got stuck on some muddy rural road. Barely drivable dirt roads were the norm at the turn of the century, most rutted from horse drawn carriage and wagon wheels. At the dawn of the motorized era driving a motor car could become quite the adventure.

Charles E. Cotta was born in 1871 on a rural farm four miles east of Lanark, Illinois. Cotta filed his patent for a chain driven four wheel drive vehicle in January 1900, he used a simple and thoroughly practical device using chains by which the power of the motor was applied equally and individually to each of the four wheels, making each wheel a traction wheel. He followed this by another patent in October of that year, for a four wheel steering design. Not too many people realized at the time that this invention would someday revolutionize the automobile industry.

Cotta built his first steam-powered automobile in 1901, had four more built in 1902, and then organized the Cotta Automobile Company in Rockford, Illinois in 1903. It was a thoroughly reliable vehicle in all seasons and conditions of weather, a feature not found on any other vehicle on the market. The motive power of the machine was steam, doing away with all the objectionable noise that was so common with the gasoline powered and electric vehicles of the time. The Cotta Steamer also had independent springing of each wheel and a special transmission with non-clashing gears. It's uncertain how many Cotta Steamers were built.

Charles Cotta in his Cotta Steam powered car, circa 1903

The latest model of the Cotta transmission is shown above. It has three forward speeds and one reverse. It is reliable in action, strong, durable and easy to make speed changes. As with former Cotta transmissions, the speed change gears are all in mesh and are therefore never worn by clashing together while making speed changes. An excerpt from a 1910 magazine article. Charles Cotta, whose constant mesh design is still used in nearly all shifting transmissions today.

Cotta Transmission Company, 814-18 South Main Street. January 1916. This division was responsible for producing automobile transmissions.

Cotta Gear Company, 720-730 South Sixth Street. October 1915. This division manufactured clutches and transmissions for trucks.

Due to rapid growth in supplying the emerging automobile and truck industries with main transmissions, Cotta Transmission Company would relocate to the above building at 2340 Eleventh Street by 1916. Cotta Gear relocated to 117-127 Morgan Street by 1920.

Cotta Transmission Company advertisement 1920

In 1938 Cotta Gear and Cotta Transmission Companies would consolidate together at the newly expanded Eleventh Street location. In the 1920's the company expanded with a separate division of the parent company called the Econocol Stoker Division of Cotta. They manufactured a comprehensive line of coal stokers for use in homes, businesses and industries. As the life of any stoker depended on the lasting qualities of the transmission, so Cotta was well positioned to build automatic coal burning devices which would perform efficiently and last long.

In the 1940's Cotta turned his attention to the industrial products market and they produced heavy duty transmissions for fire trucks, street sweepers, buses, and construction and off-highway vehicles. They also made transmissions for drilling rigs in the oil fields, mine sweepers for the military, locomotive cranes and switching locomotives for the railroads, etcetera. During World War Two they produced exclusively for the War Department. Charles Cotta died on July 26, 1945 at the age of seventy-three. His company would live without the inventor of four wheel drive transmissions. In the mid 1960's, Cotta added a line of high speed gearboxes which were widely accepted by the industry.

Over the years, Cotta has continued to diversify its product line: today the company designs and produces custom speed reducers/increasers, transfer cases, gear drives, heavy duty pump drives and transfer cases for a variety of markets, including industrial, aerospace, defense and off-highway.  After many additions and remodeling of the facility Cotta outgrew its Rockford location and in 1999 began examining expansion and relocation options for its single location manufacturing and office facility in the Rockford area. The late Ken Hendricks of Beloit and owner of ABC Supply Company, along with many incentives from the State of Wisconsin and City of Beloit convinced Cotta to leave Rockford and move to one of Hendricks 63,000-square-foot renovated facilities in Beloit. The 90 year old Rockford company moved to Beloit in December 2000 where the company still operates.

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