Highland News Leader

Highland Embroidery Works started in 1881 and ran steady until the Great Depression

Employees of Highland Embroidery Works gather outside the building 1917. Lorna (wife of Roland) Harris’ great uncle, William Buettner, one of the stitchers, is second from the left in the photo in front row, and her great aunt, Lena Buettner, her brother’s “Bobbin’ girl,” is on the top porch, sixth from right.
Employees of Highland Embroidery Works gather outside the building 1917. Lorna (wife of Roland) Harris’ great uncle, William Buettner, one of the stitchers, is second from the left in the photo in front row, and her great aunt, Lena Buettner, her brother’s “Bobbin’ girl,” is on the top porch, sixth from right.

“Highland Embroidery Works, later called ‘Highland Embroidery Co.’ was started in Highland in 1881 by Johann Rusch. Rusch was trained in Switzerland, on a ‘Heilman’ embroidery machine that had been invented in 1838. He emigrated to Highland, rented a building from Dr. Gallus Rutz, set up his embroidery machine, and went to work. He had no additional capital, could not lay in much stock, and had no sales organization.

“In 1883, he succeeded in getting two young men of Highland, John Wildi and John J. Spindler Jr., to invest some money and work with the new embroidery company. Wildi had been in partnership with the merchandising firm of Ammann & Wildi. Spindler had worked for his father, John J. Spindler Sr., in his large store, and he knew merchandising. Spindler became president, plus he was the main salesman. Wildi the was the secretary and treasurer. Rusch was the plant superintendent.

“In 1885, John Wildi went with the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. and became its secretary and treasurer. John Wildi sold his interest to his brother, Alfred Wildi, and L.J. Ruhr, a nephew of Spindler.

“On Sept. 4, 1883, the Highland Embroidery Works was incorporated and purchased the large lot in block No. 65 in Joseph Suppiger’s addition, which was at the corner of Lindenthal and Pine, going half the way to Washington Street. Here, they built their first building and later added three addition buildings, plus an office. (Only the office building, now turned into a home, remains.)

“In 1883, they ordered new embroidery machines from Switzerland. (They were ‘Schiffley’ machines, six-point, capable of making six rows of stitching at a time.) They purchased an ample stock of raw materials and went to work in earnest. The company began with just a few employees. At its peak, there were over 100 employees. (See the 1917 photo with today’s column.) The sales force was also enlarged until the products of the factory were to be found in all of the best stores in the big cities of the U.S. and also marketed in Europe.

“After the death of John J. Spindler Jr. in 1916, the embroidery works continued to prosper under the management of his son, Julius Spindler, and his associates. During the ‘Great Depression,’ the demand for embroidered dress goods fell off, and the plant was shut down in 1933.

“The plant remained idle until 1937, when George Glassmaker bought the embroidery works from the Spindler family and restarted Highland Embroidery Co. (Three samples of their work are on display in Art Hall of the Highland Home Museum.) The factory started as a family business, but at its peak, had 21 employees. Embroidered yard goods for ladies’ dresses was its main product. Then, embroidered mattress siding was started in 1941, selling the siding material to mattress companies. In 1947, they bought the buildings and rented the north buildings to C.J. Hug for his ‘Imperial Clock Co.’ In 1950, embroidery for baby shoe material was started and continued until 1966. In 1960, the emblems on sports caps and work caps for the advertising industry became part of the business. In 1966, the Glassmaker family sold the embroidery machines to a New Jersey firm, and they moved the machines to Los Angeles (then to Japan).

“The buildings were leased to ‘Jet Lite’ of John Kutz Sr. for a few years. Then Highland Supply rented the buildings for storage. In 1976, the property was sold to Jim and Pearl Houseman, and the four buildings were razed. The Housemans built an apartment complex, then sold the units as condos. It’s now called ‘Parkview Condos.’”

(Quotes from the Centennial History of Highland, plus the Sesquicentennial book, my columns. Also, my thanks to the Glassmaker family.)

Correction

Peter Voegele’s correction of last week’s column has to be made this week to correct the two errors that I made by Roland in haste. Peter Voegele was not the editor of the “der Highland Bote,” but was the owner, and he didn’t die on Aug. 17, 1862. That is the death date of Heinrich Stiefel, who was the editor of the Highland Bote when he died on Aug. 17, 1862. To correct this, I had to revisit the Highland Cemetery and take a picture of Peter Voegele’s tombstone. (It is included with this column.)

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