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W. Shanhouse & Sons

William Shanhouse & Sons 230 South Church Street circa 1912

In October 1905 the Rockford Clothing Company sold the overall part of its clothing manufacturing business, which was located at 230 South Church Street at the corner with Chestnut Street, to William Shanhouse & Sons. Shanhouse and Sons was founded in 1898 in Chicago, Illinois by William Shanhouse and two sons, Charles Shanhouse and Harry Shanhouse. At the time the Shanhouse company had their factory and offices on Van Buren Street in Chicago, but decided to move their clothing manufacturing operation and machinery to Rockford. The company occupied the south part of the Rockford Clothing Company's brick building and Rockford Clothing Company occupied the north part of the plant. The factory started operations here in January 1906 where they manufactured shirts and leather wear including high quality leather jackets. A few months later the Shanhouse Company bought out the remaining assets of the Rockford Clothing Company except for the building which they continued to lease.

In 1906 W. Shanhouse and Sons was one of the first shops in Rockford to be completely organized, the Shanhouse firm had recognized United Garment Workers as the bargaining agency for its employees. In 1908 in order to take care of increasing business, W. Shanhouse and sons, manufacturers of work shirts and overalls, added 22 new sewing machines to their factory on South Church Street. At this time the company was doing retail trade in Illinois Wisconsin Iowa and Minnesota. In February 1910 with over 150 people employed at the factory, the Shanhouse family started considering a move and building a new factory at Cedar and South Church Streets. The place in view for the new building was conveniently situated, being nearer to shipping centers than the present location. The building now occupied is suitable for the business, but all of the room is used and any business enlarging plans could not be carried out without building to the old plant. The plant was never built, but the search for the right location continued.

The search for a new location ended in June 1915 when the Shanhouse Company purchased a parcel of land at South Main and Kent Streets, the former estate of once prominent Rockford dry goods merchant, S. C. Withrow. The Shanhouse Company planned to erect a new three story fireproof factory building of their own. The Shanhouse Company had been renting space in the brick building at Church and Chestnut Streets, their lease was set to expire in December 1915. In July 1916 W. Shanhouse and Sons completed the move into their new sanitary up to date building at 923 South Main Street. The building covered the entire lot being 110 feet by 150 feet in size; the two upper floors were dedicated to the factory portion. The offices, warehouse and entrance were on the ground floor, along with a retail shop. Their new location was four times as large as the old space they had occupied and well equipped to carry on the manufacture of the company's various products which comprise work clothing of all kinds. "Rockford Brand Overalls", work shirts, khaki pants, khaki motor suits, riding breeches, flannel shirts, shop coats and other apparel.

The Shanhouse company would continue to prosper during the rise of the automobile industry and they created clothing that became job specific. One of the new lines added in 1914 was that of the Shanhouse Motor Suit. It was a garment that could easily slip over suits or other clothes to keep them from getting dirt on them. This proved handy in the early days of the automobile considering the crude state of early roadways and the frequency of automobile breakdowns. The Motor Suit would also become one of the most famous articles of clothing the Shanhouse Company made.

In April of 1917 W. Shanhouse and Sons launched an overall line geared toward women. The company named their garment the "American Lady Overall'. It was made in fine blue Chambray, stripped and khaki goods. The overall idea originated in England when two girls, employed in a munition factory, appeared for work in them one morning. Thousands of women at once adopted the idea. The Rockford firm predicted that the time is not far off when overall for women will be the only working garment for house and outdoor work, certainly for factory work. There were many factories in the East in which the women employees were required to wear them and the W. Shanhouse Company received many orders for the new garment line.

Louis, another of William's sons, first went into law after he received a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and passed the bar examination in October 1916. Attorney Shanhouse opened an office in the Rockford Trust Building. In January 1920 Louis decided to leave his law practice, selling his law library and office to Attorney L. C. Miller, and joined his father and brothers in the family business. The W. Shanhouse Company was incorporated in 1921 with a capital of $500,000. The company would change the name of the corporation from W. Shanhouse and Sons to W. Shanhouse Sons, Incorporated at this time. Employees at that time numbered about 175 people. The officers of the company were Charles Shanhouse as president; William Shanhouse, vice president; Harry Shanhouse, treasurer and Louis Shanhouse, secretary.

In July 1922, the Rockford Morning Star ran an article about the L. Shanhouse Company discontinuing a branch office and factory located in Marengo, Illinois moving the business to Rockford to consolidate it with its current operations. Eight months later in March 1923, a three story addition was added to the South Main Street factory, making sure that the new three story addition conformed to the existing three story plant. Increased business, consolidation and the need of more production space necessitated the new building.

The Shanhouse family believed in helping the community and its employees and held annual picnics to show their appreciation. The following article is from the July 27, 1928 edition of the Rockford Morning Star newspaper of just one such example; "Over 350 officials and employees of the W Shanhouse sons company and their families guests will be entertained by an extensive program of sports and other events when the annual outing of the organization is held tomorrow at Blackhawk Park. The picnic is scheduled to last all day, the first buses leaving the plant at 9:15 A. M. and the dancing after the day's program lasting well into the evening. Events for the outing include many games and races, among them boys and girls from 6 to 10 years old, 50 yard races, hundred yard dashes for boys and girls from 11 to 15 years of age, fat women's races, thin women's races, and a free-for-all race for the men. Three-legged races ensure race for the women will also be among the contests, and morning’s entertainment will close with a tug-of-war between the married men and women of the plant and the single men and women. A picture of the picnic group will be taken at 1 o'clock. Prominent among the day’s events and will be the feature - a ballgame between the Shanhouse team and the Emerson Brantingham nine early in the afternoon. Community singing and special entertainment for the smaller children also occur during the latter part of the day. The Shanhouse orchestra will furnish music for the dancing, which was start early in the evening. There will be favors for the children given out all day".

In early 1930 the entire factory of the Rosenblatt Manufacturing Company of Beloit, a subsidiary of the W Shanhouse Sons, Inc. was moved to Rockford. Shanhouse had acquired control of the Wisconsin firm early in 1929. The Rosenblatt Company, which made overalls and leather wearing apparel, was housed in part of the old Emerson Brantingham Company building on South Main Street, opposite the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific passenger depot. Transfer of the Rosenblatt subsidiary to Rockford was made so that all manufacturing units of the Shanhouse Corporation were centralized and operated from the company's main offices here. The Rosenblatt firm had around 150 people working for it and most were retained, however the Rosenblatt name was dropped. The Shanhouse Corporation was one of the largest manufacturers of overalls, jumper suits, shirts, coats and workmen's clothing in the Middle West. They had contractors supplying their products to large companies, operating chains of retail department stores throughout the country.

William Shanhouse who founded the W. Shanhouse and Sons, which grew from a humble beginning to a place of prominence in the city's life, passed away at the age of 78 at his home at 1931 Douglas Street, on January 20, 1934. Mr. Shanhouse retired in 1919 leaving active direction of the industry he created to his sons. Following the death of William Shanhouse, D. H. Goldman became vice president of the company. Six years later his son Charles passed away at age 61 of a heart ailment following an extended illness. He was president of the company at the time and one of three founders of the company. At the time of his passing the firm now employed more than 500 persons at its South Main Street plant and a second factory located in the old Emerson Brantingham factory located at 606 South Main Street.

An opportunity to combine all of the company's operations under one roof came along in July 1941, when the Shanhouse firm signed a long term lease to take over the four-story Landstrom Furniture Corporation plant at 1916 11th Street. The building had been unoccupied since the Landstrom firm suspended business in 1940 following its purchase by the new owners of the Free Sewing Machine Company. The former Landstrom plant was a modern brick building constructed in the early 1920's, and had 180,000 feet of floor space and was 162 feet wide and 360 feet deep. There was also a railroad siding next to the building, which helped them expedite shipment of merchandise. Overcrowded conditions of the main plant and a sub-plant of the Shanhouse firm at 606 South Main Street prompted the company to lease the four-story Landstrom building from the Free Sewing Machine Company. In December 1941 the Free Sewing Machine Company moved their offices out of the Landstrom Building and granted the rights to use the Landstrom Furniture name to the Onli-Wa Fixture Company, who occupied another building on the Landstrom site for a while. The Shanhouse Company would buy the old Landstrom plant from the Free Sewing Machine Company in January 1942. The man responsible for this deal, Louis J. Shanhouse, president of W. Shanhouse and Sons, Inc. since 1940, died on September 20, 1945. Leonard Shanhouse would become company president at this time.

A plant was built by the Shanhouse Company in Hope, Arkansas, which was opened in June 1947. The plant, covering 25,000 feet of floor space, contained 250 machines. With manufacturing starting on the spring line of sportswear and outer apparel the Shanhouse company reported the company will enlarge its operation both here and in Arkansas. In November 1948, Leonard Shanhouse, vigorously refuting an apparently widespread rumor that the 51 year old concern would withdraw from Rockford, flatly denied today that the clothing firm would move away from the city. "I can't imagine where such a story would have originated. Instead we're planning to hire more people for production of our spring line." Shanhouse answered a query by a Register-Republic reporter on the plant withdrawal rumor. "The story is entirely without foundation" the company president said.

A defense contract totaling $120,000 was awarded by the New York quartermaster procurement agency to W. Shanhouse Sons, Inc. on January 5, 1951. The army requisition called for 40,000 field jackets without liners for $2 each. Another $15,000 army contract for 7,000 pile lined jackets, both contracts were made in the firm’s branch plant in Hope, Arkansas. On December 5, 1951 the Driclad Corporation purchased the plastics division of W. Shanhouse Sons, Inc. The Driclad Corporation took over the manufacture of plastic waders, storm parkas, air mattresses, and storm jackets in the Shanhouse plant on 11th Street. Later in 1951 a third plant of the Shanhouse Company was opened in Magnolia, Arkansas.

W. Shanhouse Sons Incorporated, one of Rockford leading industrial firms for 45 years, closed its Rockford manufacturing plant December 31, 1951 and moved its operations to its two plants in Arkansas, in part because in recent years about 75% of the firm’s production has come from the Arkansas plants. A dwindling labor supply and high production costs forced the company to move to the two new plants. Just after World War Two the firm employed 600 persons in Rockford; the firm had 85 employees here at the time the decision was made to relocate. The home office would remain in Rockford until 1957 when that too was closed and shifted south to Arkansas.

The building which once housed the Rockford Shanhouse operations at 1916 Eleventh Street was destroyed in an early morning January 6, 2015 fire.

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