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J. W. Miller Company

J. W. Miller, the son of pioneer farmers, spent his boyhood days in Stephenson County, Illinois. Diligent application to his studies enabled him to pass a teacher's examination at the age of 17 years. For two terms he taught school at a salary of $18 a month. He then realized the need wider education worked his way through two years of mount Carroll Seminary, a girl's school whose head took also a dozen boys each year to chores for their tuition and board. It was the wish of the Miller family that young man becomes a farmer but this was contrary to his own ambitions. So in 1882 he left the firm went to Freeport. There landed in the employee of the Henry Buggy Company at a salary of a dollar a day. Increases brought the salary to a dollar fifty a day and the young man married. Six months later the Henry Buggy Company closed for reorganization and he was urged by the president of the company to wait its reopening and was offered the best job the company could offer. However finances made it necessary that the young husband take employment elsewhere. So he went to work as a salesman for the Commercial Nurseries of Freeport where he stayed for a year and profited $1,100.

J. W. Miller would open his own Freeport nurseries in 1890 and had as many as twenty five salesmen on the road at any given time. It became one of the largest organizations of its kind the state had known Mr. Miller became interested in poultry farming and gradually developed the J. W. Miller Company of Freeport. Miller became interested in the idea of building incubators, through inquiries from friends as to what kind was the best to buy. For five years of experimental work and development of the ideal incubator were strains on Miller's finances, but success lay ahead and perseverance won. Miller started researching a move to Rockford and found financial backers there. The J. W. Miller Company was incorporated on July 25, 1912 with capital stock of $100,000, to do a general manufacturing and jobbing business. The incorporators were J. W. Miller, George D. Roper and A. G. Brown.

The J. W. Miller Incubator Company moved from Freeport to Rockford in the fall of 1913, occupying a building at 710 Race Street on the waterpower, in a structure that was two stories tall, 100 feet long and 50 feet wide giving the company 10,000 square feet of space. The reason for the move in part was the need for a larger manufacturing plant and the fact that Rockford was by then well-known world over as a great manufacturing city and Miller wished to be a part of it. J. W. Miller was president of the company and conducted the business with his four sons, Ray, Ralph, Warren and J. W. Miller Jr.. In this building, along with its other products, the company also manufactured the new Ideal Grain Sprouter as an additional feature of the Miller line. The sprouter was originated for the purpose of giving green feed to chickens during the wintertime. The grain in this machine would sprout in 24 hours and when five days old had a long green shoot over 4 inches long. Only a small amount of water was used and no soil was required in the sprouter. Prior to that time the poultry business had been the main focus of this concern with thousands of chickens raised each year, although they never abandoned it. In August 1921 more than 5000 purebred chickens were sold to the J. W. Miller Company from the poultry farm at Camp Grant. Mr. Miller removed all of the fowl by October and offered them for sale in small numbers.

We have a complete organization which stands ready to serve you. Without organization and a definite plan of operation it would not be possible to handle our big volume of business and take care of the needs of our customers so promptly. Each department head is given full responsibility for his department. It is his duty to see that work proceeds in proper order and that there is no unnecessary delay. This plan of operation enables us to keep our plant at peak production, and to give our customers the most prompt service. Our department heads and most of our skilled workmen have grown up with the business. They know their work, and they also know that a pleased customer is one of the most valuable assets that a firm can have.

Mr. Roy G. Miller is Superintendent of the factory and the Research and Experimental Department. His duties have to do principally with the production end of the business. He sees to it that each part in process of manufacture is carefully inspected after each operation, so our high standards can be maintained.

Mr. Ralph H. Miller is Office Manager. In a big business like this there is a lot of work to be done in the office. Thousands of letters are received from customers. Orders must be filled and shipped out. There are many records to be kept. But our organization and system enables us to handle a big volume of work.

Mr. Warren R. Miller is Manager of the Shipping Department. It's no small job to see that the hundreds of incubators, brooders, etc., which constitute our daily output, are properly crated, labeled and routed so they will reach their destination in perfect condition and with-out delay.

Mr. J. W. Miller, Jr., is Manager of the Receiving Department and Stock Room. We buy great quantities of materials and supplies, and these must all be checked and put in stock where they can be drawn upon when needed. We believe in the old motto, —A place for everything and everything in its place.—

The majority of the poultry line of equipment was usually sold in the fall and winter as farmers laid plans for the next season, and the summer months were slow for sales. This did not stop Miller from keeping his factory open, and the company would sell window screens, windows and doors, along with any special order mill and jobbing work. It also made a line of brightly painted camping equipment in green and Chinese red such as sets of tables and benches in adult children sizes, which would fold up compactly and could be strapped to the running board of an automobile, and other camper related equipment.

Only after much success in incubator manufacture the Miller Company had put on the market a large incubator, Miller's Ideal Mammoth Incubator machine in 1914. The Mammoth Incubators were for use on the big poultry farms, where anywhere from 1000 to 20,000 or even 100,000 chickens, ducks or whatever the specialty may be, are kept and fitted for market. Demand for the poultry specialties has become enormous and the Miller poultry firm began furnishing supplies to the trade that were run on a large scale. This business could only be handled by incubators of a great capacity, as high as 20,000 being hatched at a single process. Providing the specified temperature and moisture in which successful artificial hatching depends. The Rockford incubator business also necessitated the operation of large poultry firms to the supply of eggs for hatching. This interest was underway in Rockford on the Wolf Grove Road, not far from the city limits where thousands of chickens were hatched to keep up with demand.

In 1922 the company once again found the need for a larger space and moved to a location at 2500 Latham Street at Ford Avenue. It was equipped with all modern machinery, much of which was made especially for the J. W. Miller Company. There were ample railway connections at hand for shipment in carload or smaller lots. The company also had warehouses in Kansas City, Missouri; St. Paul, Minnesota; Oakland, California; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Atlanta, Georgia and Fort Worth, Texas. In 1929 two other warehouses were added one in Boston, Massachusetts and the other in Toronto, Canada. A disastrous fire in March 1925 destroyed the plant, but a new brick building was quickly erected replacing older structure. Well lighted and ventilated the building offered 60,000 square feet of floor space.

The new modern factory and labor saving machinery of the J. W. Miller Company made production faster and easier to give the poultry farmers the lowest price possible on the best grade of equipment. In their many years of manufacturing experience it had enabled them not only to build a superior line of poultrvmen's equipment, but also to devise methods of manufacture which made it possible to give the customers the greatest values. The new factory was equipped with specially designed machinery to enable them to make incubators quicker and better. They had cut production costs to the minimum compared to other similar manufacturers. Parts in the process of manufacture moved from one department to another according to a predetermined efficient routing system. There was no lost motion and consequently no excessive labor costs.

Mill Room

Tin Shop

Paint Room

Assembly Room

Crating Department

The J. W. Miller Company described their big 100,000 egg hatchery where 'IDEAL' Incubators are tested in 1926 - This is where we hatch over half a million baby chicks in a single season. We built this big experimental hatchery not only to raise chicks for sale but also to develop and test out practical improvements to add to 'IDEAL' Incubators. We know just what is needed to hatch strong, healthy chicks. We have had our engineers work out every detail of construction and every improvement which would save time for poultry raisers and enable them to get bigger hatches. All improvements are tested out before they are incorporated in our machines. You can appreciate now why "IDEAL" Incubators are so easy to operate, so convenient and so reliable. You will readily see why they produce bigger hatches than other makes and do it with less attention on the part of the operator.

In addition to the regular staff of more than 100 office workers, 25 girls were employed in the mailing rooms during the winter season, mailing catalogs and other information to inquiries. Catalogs from the Miller incubator company listed over 500 poultrymen’s supplies, including incubators, brooders, feeders, fountains, poultry remedies, implements and equipment. Weekly broadcast over the radio had familiarized the company to farmers throughout the country and increased the volume of mail order business greatly. Mr. Miller himself personally has given three minute talks prior to the minstrel show which the company had presented each Thursday night during the winter. Shown here are the 1923, 1926 and 1928 catalogs.

The engineers of the company shown above perfected a feature that put the "IDEAL" Incubator in a class by itself, patented egg turning trays that claimed to be the greatest achievement in the incubator manufacturing business since they turned eggs like mother hen. Turning the eggs prevents the embryo from sticking to the shell, and every time eggs are turned the developing chick is forced to adjust itself to a new position. The mother hen turns the eggs with her body by moving about in the nest. It is Nature's way, and when artificial incubation is used eggs must be turned by hand or some mechanical device for turning must be employed. The invention of Mr. J. W. Miller was worth thousands of dollars to poultry raisers because it saved many hours of time and enabled them to get bigger hatches.

It was not unusual to see one of the big J. W. Miller trucks loaded and ready to travel to the railroad station to ship out its products.

Prospering with the city the company had increased its business from 1000 incubators a year to almost 30,000 with the sale of brooders increasing some four hundred percent. Fifty-two foreign countries sent 319 orders to the J. W. Miller Company in 1927 after advertising was instituted late in 1926. Africa, Chile, China, Finland, Syria and other countries so distant as to be unfamiliar to Americans, each has contributed its quota to swell the incubator total sales past the million mark. The company also conducted a hatchery north of the main building which produced about 100,000 chicks each year, between 15,000 and 20,000 chicks hatching each week during the season. They received national attention when newsreels of this created much interest in the company and its hatchery with a national concern having sent a cameraman here just for that purpose.

Many farmers and poultry raisers were hit hard by the depression of the 1930's and sales at the J. W. Miller Company declined rapidly. Around the end of the year in 1934 the J. W. Miller Company became a victim of the great depression and would close its doors. In early 1936 the H. D. Hudson Manufacturing Company, a large well-financed company that was a producer of small farm devices and accessories had purchased the assets of the J. W. Miller Company and would resume operations at the same location with poultry brooders, feeders and similar devices with products manufactured at the plant on Latham Street. Within a year the company workforce grew to approximately 150 employees and the company would double the plant size with the construction of a large addition. The Hudson company which was established 1906 maintained six other factories at Hastings, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Sioux City, Iowa; Oshkosh and Depere, Wisconsin and Chicago Illinois. In 1963 it added a line of hog feeders and waterers to the line at the Rockford facility. In 1964 the Hudson Company would close it’s De Pere, Wisconsin barn equipment factory, and all production was moved to Rockford. The Hudson Company would remain in operation in Rockford until 1983 when the Rockford plant was consolidated with a new facility in Overland Park, Kansas.

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