Since the 1800s, local and state leaders and companies have worked together to create jobs and improve St. Charles County’s economy. At the turn of the century, the development of the railroad, machine and shoe industries in particular made a tremendous impact on the prosperity of our community. St. Charles County was recognized nationwide for quality, and the demand for products helped keep citizens employed throughout World War I and the Great Depression.
The only substantial industry in St. Charles County before 1890 had been the St. Charles Car Company. The North Missouri Railroad was one of the major employers in St. Charles during the 1860s. After a dispute with the city over where to build the railroad-bridge, the company moved its maintenance plant from St. Charles to Moberly in the fall of 1867. The loss was devastating to the local economy and a Citizens Association was established, under the leadership of Mayor John Mittelberger, to start a new business venture. At one hundred dollars per share, local residents and farmers purchased almost 1,200 shares of stock in the St. Charles Manufacturing Company, which manufactured railroad cars. With Republicans still in control in Jefferson City, public opinion and the law favored tax breaks to encourage economic development. The St. Charles City Council released the company from municipal taxes for 35 years, and the grounds formerly occupied by the North Missouri Railroad shops were chosen as the site for production. The first contract for 50 cars was received from the St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway in 1874, and the car company began to construct a bridge over Dardenne Creek in 1875.
The late 1870s had been difficult years for railroad car manufacturing since railroads could not pay cash because of the economic depression that ensued after the Panic of 1873. Instead, they gave notes to the car manufacturing company that had to be sold to a bank in order to maintain working capital. Stockholders received no dividends, and the value of the St. Charles Manufacturing Company stock plummeted. At that point, Henry Denker, a local merchant and vice president of the company, rescued the business until it began to prosper again in 1879, when T. C. Salveter was hired to run the shop. In his first year on the job, the company’s stock went from five to 25 cents a share. The company reorganized and changed its name to the St. Charles Car Company in 1881 and, under Salveter’s leadership, the company expanded its facilities and workforce.
Missouri voters had approved a new constitution in 1875 that allowed taxpayers to be segregated by agricultural, residential or commercial classifications, but required all taxpayers within such classification to be treated equally. After the excesses of the railroad-building era, the Jacksonian reluctance to fund private development with public funds had returned to Missouri. In 1905, like all the major shoe manufacturers in St. Louis, Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company of St. Louis expected a local subsidy before building a plant in St. Charles. Since the constitution prohibited the city from offering the type of tax forgiveness it had offered the car shops, Representative R.C. Haenssler and others raised private funds to entice the company to St. Charles. After receiving a $25,000 subsidy, and a deed for the city block bounded by Fifth, Jackson, Fourth and Tompkins Streets, valued at another $10,000, the company built a new factory.
Just before 1900, the United States entered a new phase of the industrial revolution, characterized by larger work forces and bureaucratically managed and capital-intensive corporations, which marketed mass-produced items nationally and even internationally. Following the trend, the American Car and Foundry (ACF) Company of New Jersey purchased the St. Charles Car Company in 1899. The company continued to thrive and grow, but decision-making and control shifted to the east. Old buildings were torn down and the present brick structures in downtown St. Charles were built, as the company began constructing steel railroad cars to be sold around the world. With a payroll of over a million dollars annually, ACF extended over almost half of the city and employed 1,800 men by 1906.
While the railroad industry was the first to introduce scientific management and bureaucratic principles of management to serve national markets, the shoe industry was not far behind. When the Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company began production in St. Charles in January 1906, a contemporary commented, “Now four hundred of St. Charles industrious people find steady employment in this factory and turn out medium priced work shoes which are known in every State in the Union. It has been said, ‘the St. Charles shoes wear like her car wheels.'"4 The company became part of International Shoe Company in 1911. Larger corporations, like International Shoe and American Car and Foundry now had their main offices in St. Louis, New Jersey or New York, and branch plants in towns like St. Charles.
The Citizens Association began negotiations in 1913 with St. Mary's Machine Company of St. Mary's, Ohio to relocate in St. Charles. While the Missouri Constitution still prohibited tax breaks for development, it did not prohibit direct municipal subsidies. St. Charles provided a factory at a cost not to exceed $30,000, paid the cost of relocating the company and provided all utilities and access to railroad facilities, financed by a $64,000 bond issue. The company’s plant was located on North Fourth Street, just north of the old railroad-bridge. The Fairbanks Engine Company of New York purchased St. Mary’s Oil Engine Company and improvements were made to the plant. The infusion of capital was beneficial and in 1914, Fairbanks announced that the capacity and equipment in the plant would be enhanced and more men would be put to work as soon as the improvements were completed.
ACF and International Shoe went on to adapt and grow with both the needs of the community and nation during World War I. ACF served as a machine shop, producing parts for military vehicles. International Shoe Company expanded its plant to meet demand during World War I. This work and continued demand kept the war and the Great Depression from having a devastating impact on St. Charles County. As 1930 began, a headline proclaimed “St. Charles in Line for Much Prosperity,” and the paper believed:
The community of St. Charles is exceedingly well positioned for a continuation of prosperity. The car shops, the shoe factory and the St. Mary’s Oil Engine Company report good business that means steady employment for at least the greater portion of their helpers, depending upon the fluctuation of the market of course to some extent. Smaller manufactories here seem equally sure of a continuation of business. On top of this millions of dollars are to be poured into the lap of this city and county from outside sources.
1. Breslow, Small Town, 137; J.C. Holmes, “Early History.” The Board of Managers of the Citizen’s Association was comprised of William W. Edwards, president, John Calhoun, Joseph Alexander, Dr. John Henry Stumberg, Henry Denker, Benjamin Edmmons, Theodore H Charles Hafer and Henry Bloebaum in 1873. Campbell, Gazetteer of Missouri, 490.
2. Bicentennial Celebration Program, 41. See Rosemary Feurer, “Shoe City, Factory Towns: St. Louis Shoe Companies and the Turbulent Drive for Cheap Rural Labor, 1900-1940,” Gateway Heritage, Fall, 1988, 2-3.
3. Licht, Industrializing America, 116, 131, 133-134; Poindexter, “A Right Smart Little Town,” 91-92; Cosmos Monitor, April 19,1950.
4. The St. Charles, Missouri Citizen Improvement Association, 1905-1907, 1. At least part of the block between Pike and Tomkin's Streets contained the old city cemetery and the graves had to be moved. Place Names, Western Manuscript Collection, HSM.
5. In 1906, Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company had its offices and four factories in St. Louis, with additional factories in Washington, Hannibal, Cape Girardeau and St. Charles, Missouri, along with Jerseyville, Illinois. The St. Charles, Missouri Citizen Improvement Association, 1905-1907, back cover.
6. Breslow, Small Town, 138- 139.