Highland News Leader

A look at Basler Electric’s begnnings

An aerial view of Basler Electric in Highland.
An aerial view of Basler Electric in Highland. Provided

Basler Electric Co. of Highland is embedded in Highland and Pierron history.

Floyd Basler, brother of Carl Basler, the founder of Basler Electric, gave an account to the Highland Chamber of Commerce in 1967 in honor of the company’s 25th anniversary. Floyd’s account follows.

“When one talks about the history of Basler Electric Company, at least in the early days, one is talking about the work, dreams and achievements of one man, namely Carl Basler. As far back as my childhood memories take me, I can remember a very small room in my father Emil Basler’s carpenter shop, that my father had built at our Pierron home.

“I can remember Carl borrowing some money from my father, and with that money, Carl went to the local garage and bought all of the junked and scrapper generator armatures from old Model T Ford automobiles. Carl would spend hours tearing these armatures apart. Then, using the money he had borrowed from Dad, he would buy a few pounds of copper wire and some insulating paper. Carl would completely rewind the old armature, replace and resell it back to the garage.”

Floyd continued: “As soon as I was old enough to lend a hand, I was assigned the task of dismantling the old generators and removing the armatures. Then came 1927. We moved from Pierron to Highland — more garages, more armatures to rewind. Once again, a shed was erected, as Dad was a carpenter, at the former Mannhard home, at the northeast corner of Broadway and Olive. (Today, it’s where the TheBANK of Edwardsville’s ATM is located.)

“Now we were in the ‘Big Town,’ and there were more fields to conquer. Carl graduated to the rewinding and rebuilding of small motors and wiring houses. It wasn’t long before we were rewiring larger motors and contracting the wiring of larger industrial buildings.”

(I have a copy of an early wiring job for a grain elevator Carl designed and installed on Jan. 5, 1941, even before he started the company. It was a 14-panel box for the grinder, corn cutter, aspirator, dry mix, freight elevator, molasses mixer, molasses bagger and feeder, molasses pump, large pellet motor, fan, crumbler and drag motor, small pellet motor, new mixer, grinder and sub feed for the storage elevator.)

Floyd also remembered: “Most of my time in the shop was after high school classes and summers. Carl did not have the opportunity of finishing his four years of high school, and his technical education consisted primarily of reading every technical book available, plus a natural aptitude towards all things mechanical and electrical.”

From 1940 to 1946, World War II, kept Floyd removed from the evolution of Basler Electric Co., so his intimate knowledge of that period was limited.

“However,” he said. “I do know that, during the war, Carl rented a portion of the old Highland Embroidery Works building on Pine Street.

“Carl secured a contract to make rheostats and other small electrical parts. He also purchased some screw machinery equipment and was making small screw machine parts. The screw machine portion of the business was eventually sold to Claud Miles and has since developed into the Highland Machine and Screw Products Co.”

(Highland Machine later added Cletus “Clete” Zimmermann, and still later, Edwin Frisse. Today, Frisse’s son-in-law, Bill Sullivan and his group and dedicated employees run the business at their 5th Street headquarters.)

“Towards the end of the war, Carl had secured a contract with Wagner Electric Co. of St. Louis to wind fractional horse power motors for them,” Floyd continued. “With the end of the war, the Wagner contract had evaporated.

“By that time, Carl had purchased the old Spengel Funeral Home on Main and Olive streets. It was a two-story, brick building and Carl secured contracts for the winding of sewing machine field coils and armatures.

“When I returned in 1946,” Floyd said. “… we decided to secure orders for the manufacture of transformers. Carl and I traveled to our first potential customer. The reception scared me off, but not Carl. And fortunately for all of us, after several more trips, Carl came back with a small order for transformers. Now that he had an order, we really had problems. Money was borrowed, a few pieces of equipment and a used winding machine was purchased. We were on our way. I had never seen a multiple winding machine in my life. With much trial and error, a few successful transformers were made … It wasn’t too long before we were producing a sizable quantity of quite good transformers. These transformers were for the control of heating equipment, and until then, it was still a substantial portion of our business.”

At that point in time, the entire organization consisted of Carl Basler, Floyd, one combination office girl-bookkeeper and about 10 production employees, some girls using the winding machines, on the second floor. One order after another for transformers came, in and in a very short time, the limited facilities at this location became inadequate.

“In 1948, we rented the old bowling alley building across from the Lory Theater,” Floyd said. (This building later became Dressell Electric Co. and today Royal Office Products Inc.)

“From this period on, Carl began to surround himself with the most competent people he could find and afford. First an engineer, and then a sales manager, then production supervision was increased. We had expanded into the manufacture of larger transformers and to manufacture electronic assemblies. They were quite simple at first, but very shortly, became very complicated and intricate electronic equipment. We needed more space, as we took over the Power Supply Division of the Mallory Co. of Indiana, a whole new field.

“By 1952 we had rented the Klaus Shoe building on 5th Street, just north of Highland Machine & Screw Co. Then we out grew our space, and Carl’s life-long dream was about to materialize. We purchased 10 acres on the north edge of town, on Route 143 and erected a new office, 10,000 square feet, and manufacturing of 20,000 square feet. Our warehouse was still at Main and Olive, but with the expansion of the St. Paul School system, it became apparent that we should release the warehouse to facilitate St. Paul Grade School expansion.

“In less than 10 years, we had added another 40,000 square feet, and in 1964, purchased the military division of Stancor Electric of Chicago … Much of the machinery, equipment and inventory were moved to Highland.

“Then, in 1965, we built another plant in Corning, Ark. As you can see, the growth of Basler Electric Co. has far exceeded the wildest dreams and expectations of our founder, Carl Basler. Floyd said. “The company has had a major contribution to the well-being of the community, as the dozens of qualified executives, engineers, technicians and local employees, who have moved to Highland and the surrounding area. They have taken an active interest in community affairs and have contributed much to the growth of our area.”

(I have my special award to give to the Baslers. My “Tip of the Hat” award goes to Carl Basler and to his brother, Floyd Basler. We do appreciate all they have done for Highland. Next week, we will cover Basler Electric’s 75th anniversary in Highland.)