Highland News Leader

From shell casings to hair dryers, a look at the history of Highland Machine

Roland Harris
Roland Harris

This week, we’ll look at the history of another great Highland manufacturer, Highland Machine.

Highland Machine & Screw Products Co. came into being in 1944 when the late Claude Miles purchased the machine shop portion of the then Basler Electric and Manufacturing Co. from the late Carl Basler.

Miles moved the operation into the building at the corner of 6th and Cypress streets. Cletus J. Zimmermann, who had been associated with Wicks Organ Co., resigned his position in late 1944 and joined Miles as a partner in Highland Machine.

In 1945, the company purchased 4-plus acres of land on what was then known as Geisler’s Hill from Louis Klaus.

C.J. Hug helped design and was the contractor on a 6,000-square-foot building, which was completed in August 1946. Louis Jacober Sr. was the lead carpenter and supervisor on the job. Eddie Kamm was the electrical contractor. In September 1946, the company moved to the new plant located on the west end of Fifth Street, which is the present location of the plant and office.

At that time, the company employed about 16 people, including office and management. Of those 16 employees, two are still associated with the firm. They are Harry R. Wise and Edwin M. Frisse. Both had joined the company in 1946.

During World War II, Highland Machine did subcontract for the defense effort making shell casings and other machined parts for the military. After the war and at the time of moving, the company was doing sub contract, such as making parts for the appliance industry and parts for equipment used in the hair dressing industry.

The company remained a partnership until 1948. At that time, it was incorporated, with Miles and Zimmermann, being the only stockholders. Miles, the original owner, passed away suddenly in 1951. At that time, Zimmermann purchased the interests of Miles and became the sole owner.

In 1956, Zimco Metalfab Inc. (now as Zimco Enterprises) was formed and purchased the metal fabrication equipment of Master Manufacturing Co. was located in Litchfield, Illinois. Master Manufacturing was a supplier of metal fabricated parts for Basler Electric Co. After the purchase, Zimco became the supplier of these parts for Basler. Zimco and Highland Machine were operated from the same facilities with the same management.

Edwin M. Frisse, who had joined the company in August 1946, was made vice president in 1951 and became involved in the management of the company, as well as later serving as an officer and working with Zimmermann at Zimco.

In 1963, Zimmermann decided to reduce his investment in the company and sold an interest to Frisse. At that time, Zimco’s manufacturing assets were sold to Highland Machine, with Zimco retaining real estate and certain other assets.

Zimco Metalfab became known as Zimco Enterprises and expanded into sub-division development and other areas. In later years, Zimmermann disposed of the balance of his holdings in the company.

In 1981, Terry Riffel became a stockholder, and in 1983, the Frisse family became the major stockholders in the company with Riffel, serving as president, having an interest.

Highland Machine is the leading manufacturer in the United States of hydraulic lifts and commercial hair dryers used in the hair dressing industry. In addition to the product lines, the company does contract work in machining and metal fabrication. The company has broad capabilities in the metal field in that it has its own automatic screw machine department, drills, mills, machining centers, and sheet metal fabrication equipment for shearing, punching, forming and welding. In 1994, the latest state of the art metal finishing powder coat paint system was installed.

Hair dryers

During World War II, Highland Machine did subcontract work for Koken Companies in St. Louis, as well as other companies. Highland made shell casings and other parts on automatic screw machines. After the war ended, Koken Companies sent back into their original business of manufacturing and selling a complete line of equipment and used in barber and beauty shops.

Highland continued doing some for them in this industry. In 1948, Koken closed their production machine shop, and Highland became a major source of machined parts for them. Some of the equipment required to machine the barber chair castings was moved to Highland. At that time, Koken furnished the castings, and Highland did the machining.

In 1962, some major changes were taking place in the hair dressing industry, especially in the equipment field. At that time, Highland began designing and experimenting with a sealed hydraulic unit for the industry. In late 1962, the unit — designed by Vincent Koppers, production manager at that time, and Harry Wise — was presented to the trade and was well accepted. Since that time, there have been many improvements, but the basic concepts of these units are still used. Today, Highland Machine is producing and selling four basic hydraulic units used in the hair dressing industry and is the leading manufacturer of these units in the U.S.

In 1967, Highland Machine started manufacturing commercial forced-air hair dryers.

Koken Companies purchased the tooling, manufacturing rights and inventory from the Lee Watlington Manufacturing Co. in Bloomington, Illinois. Koken subcontracted the fabrication and assembly of the hair dryer to Highland. Later, Highland purchased the tooling and inventory from Koken. Since that time, Highland Machine developed other style of dryers and is the major supplier of these dryers in the U.S. All of the dryers are built under private labels and sold to and distributed by other manufacturers.