Column: A water heater with a connection to Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

Products once made in Albert Lea have included a wild array of products ranging from cow stanchions to gas stoves and lanterns to razor blades. Now a lady up in Alexandria has sent an inquiry by e-mail to the Tribune regarding a product with a solid local connection. However, this particular item is rather unusual. Thus, there’s a real challenge to obtain more information for this lady, plus the Tribune readers.

Here’s a part of the message from the lady in Alexandria:

&uot;We recently took a working water heater out of our home near Alexandria and I’m trying to ascertain its age. … I was hoping you can point me in the right direction so that we can get an approximate age (of the water heater). It might make a nice filler story or something (such as another column); certainly the people who worked at the Universal Milking Machine Division should feel good that their product was so long-lasting.

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&uot;The tag I have says: Strauss Electric Water Heater, type 50, serial number 52-1112, upper unit watts 1500, lower unit watts 1000, max volts AC only 240, max amps 6.8, capacity gals. 50 watts. Manufactured by Universal Milking Machine Division, National Cooperatives Inc., Albert Lea, MN. UL Listed.&uot;

If you even have a phone number of someone who might know , that would be great. Our neighbor guy seems to think this was one of

the first water heaters ever made.&uot;

Frankly, I wasn’t aware of an electric water heater being manufactured and sold by Universal Milking Machine Division, also once known locally as UMMD. For over three decades this firm and National Cooperatives were located on South First Avenue across from Streaters. Profit Pro now occupies their former building.

UMMD made many products like milking parlor stalls and other items for dairy farmers. Maybe this electric water heater fit into this particular part of UMMD’s product lines. Also, the water heater could have been made elsewhere for UMMD. I believe they call this private branding.

Hopefully, someone in the area who answer some of the questions raised so far will reply. Then we can pass along the information to the lady in Alexandria, plus our Tribune readers.

As I indicated in the first sentence of this column, there have been many products which once originated in Albert Lea. For example, the cow stanchions were made by Olson Manufacturing Co. This firm made many other products at its plant on South Broadway Avenue between the railroad tracks. These mainly farm-related products included penwork, stalls galore, ventilation equipment, cupolas, barn cleaners and bale forks. Other products once made by the Olson firm included glass washers and those folding picnic tables some folks in the region still use.

Two firms were responsible for this community becoming a major center for the manufacturing of gas lights and stoves and quite an extensive line of camping equipment. In time, American Gas Machine Co. became a part of Queen Stove Works. Then for several decades Queen became a major national source for ice cube making machines.

Another line of products could have made Albert Lea the &uot;corset capital of the country&uot; about a century ago. An excellent exhibit out at the Freeborn County Historical Museum certainly gives some foundation for this claim based on those then supposedly essential undergarments.

Still other local products I’ve featured in past articles and columns have included the Kiel Washing Machine, several brands of ice cream, butter and milk, a product called For-A-Shave (cream), a farm tractor in the 1920s, and certainly tools.

In fact, the tool company named Enderes is still a part of the city’s commercial activities. And this allows me to revive the razor blade topic mentioned in the first sentence. The Enderes firm once made, packaged and sold very sharp double edge razor blades. Years ago someone gave me one of these blades still in its original packaging which I have as a memento of a product once made in Albert Lea.

(Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears each Friday.)