Made in Saginaw • Castle Museum Showcases the Ingenuity of Diversification

    icon Aug 26, 2021
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With their newly renovated second-floor exhibit Made In Saginaw, the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History has assembled a fascinating and immersive journey into the history of Saginaw’s past manufacturers who created an impressive and varied array of products that made a national impact through their skill and ingenuity as Saginaw attempted to diversify its industry after the Lumbering era.

According to Exhibits Coordinator Geoff Pelkey, “We decided to replace our current second floor exhibition with objects that were made, manufactured, or produced within the city of Saginaw and have assembled over 100 pieces for display, splitting the products into manufacturing categories that range from furniture to glass to musical instruments, and of course the world-famous Saginaw Brick Company.”

Younger generations have little sense of the diversity and quality of products that emanated from Saginaw from the years of 1875 - 1975.  While businesses such as The Saginaw Manufacturing Company produced items such as ironing boards, pulleys, bean clippers, and washtubs, which were popular in homes until no longer needed, you also had companies such as Lufkin Rule, which initially was a manufacturer of boards for measuring timber and moved to steel measuring tapes.   In 1985 Lufkin adopted their name and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Saginaw and by 1903 was the largest manufacturer of steel measuring tapes in the United States.

Another famous company was Saginaw Glass Company, which created plate glass windows for cars and also left over several collectable byproducts from their manufacturing process. “I grew up by the Saginaw Glass Company, which was located by the airfield on West Michigan and you would find these large solid glass objects sitting around that were leftovers at the bottom of the production vats that would have to be chipped out when cleaning them.  Some people would use them for door stops.”

In addition to piano manufacturing, Saginaw also was home to the Waldo Mandolin Company, which was located on the corner of Tuscola & N. Franklin streets, and relocated to Saginaw through its association the city’s J.F. Barrows Music Company and produced a beautifully crafted line of string instruments including guitars, banjos & mandolins.  While produced for only a decade from 1895 until 1905, the company represents one of the transitional industries that helped Saginaw become an industrial center.

“The luthier who made these mandolins,  J.F. Barrows, began working for Waldo Co. in 1901, then went out of business sometime between 1905 -1908,” explains Geoff. “Victor Kraske, who developed the first Gibson banjos, worked at  Barrows as well as a Foreman in charge of building Waldo Banjos between 1897 and 1901.”

Other musical products manufactured in Saginaw include the Sonora Victrola, which was an early generation company producing record players for 78-RPM recordings. “They were based on West Michigan down on the southwest side and were very popular,” explains Geoff. “Herzog Manufacturing had a big factory down there that helped produce them.”

The Saginaw Manufacturing Company began business as the Saginaw Barrel factory in 1872 and employed 150 men. After a the factory burned in 1882 and suspended operations for several months, the new factory was erected in 1883 at the same site and began business shortly thereafter under their new name.  Inventors in their stable included Newell Barnard, Ammi Wright, Thomas Merrill, and Charles H. Davis.

The company eventually achieved annual production valued at one million dollars and the sawmill on the premises produced over 6,000,000 feet of lumber per year to be used on products such as grease boxes, basket rims, washboards, window shade rollers, and wooden pulleys.

The company continued until 1949 when supplies were cut by the Korean War. The company was forced to sell its washboard interests to the National Washboard Co. and closed its doors in 1953.

Finally, the Saginaw Paving Brick Company started as Saginaw Clay Manufacturing in 1894 at Jefferson & Rust Avenues. The company made paving and building bricks for a large majority of the city’s projects, including providing bricks for many local buildings.

Clay for the bricks came from pits in Flushing shipped via rail directly to the plant.

A strike by Grand Trunk Railroad employees in 1910 shut down the business as the supply of clay had been cut off, but the company survived the strike only to shut down for good in 1917 due to being deemed ‘non-essential’ during World War I. The coal used to fire the kilos to make the brick was used for other purposes involving the war.

These are just a few of the highlights on display at this impressive exhibition that is guaranteed to stimulate your sense of place along with one’s sense of ingenuity as our city and region strive to re-define itself once again in the wake of globalization an monopolization that has thus far defined the 21st Century.

The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History is open 7 days a week and is located at 500 Federal Ave. in downtown Saginaw. Hours are Monday through Wednesday & Friday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4:30 PM; Thursday from 10 AM to 7 PM and Sunday 1 PM to 4:30 PM.  You can reach them by phoning 989-752-2861 or visiting


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