Highland News Leader

HIASAA Hall of Fame nominee: Erwin H. Weder, Business

Erwin H. Weder was born in his parents’ farm on Deck’s Prairie, just west of Highland, on Dec. 13, 1904.

In 1908, he entered first grade at the one-room country Case School.

In 1918, he entered high school in Highland.

His father, August Weder, was instrumental in starting the Highland Dairy Farms Co., and Erwin worked in construction of the building of the dairy building on Sixth Street in Highland. This dairy building would later become headquarter offices for the numerous companies Erwin Weder would found, including Highland Supply Corp.

In the early 1920s, he worked at the dairy, weighing milk and learning bookkeeping.

In 1927, he worked at the Fairmont Jockey Club in security and was responsible for driving the lead car to deliver racing proceeds to the bank. During the winter, he would work for the Florida East Hotel Co. as a detective at the famed Florida hotels, the Poinciana and the Breakers.

During the Depression, Weder went to work at the Metal Goods Corp. in St. Louis as a traveling salesman.

In 1937, he founded Highland Supply Corp. with capital of $3,750. The company started as a wholesale floral supply company, but quickly moved to manufacturing.

The first product was the Beauty Corsage Container, which was manufactured in the basement of August Weder’s home and produced on a piece of equipment designed and built by Erwin and his father from parts of a wringer washing machine and a treadle sewing machine.

In his early years working for Metal Goods Corporation, Erwin Weder introduced the use of aluminum foil to decorate potted plants. This proved to be a superior product to any products then on the market for decorating potted plants. Highland Supply began manufacturing Florist Foil and over a period of many years was responsible for every major improvement to the product including introducing a stronger and better product called Plastifoil, which is aluminum foil laminated to film.

Erwin Weder was responsible for bringing embossed patterns and colors to Florist Foil.

In the 1980s, Erwin and his son, Don, developed a preformed plant cover, the Speed Cover. This product revolutionized the decorating of potted plants.

Erwin Weder was an innovator and an inventor. He developed more than 8,000 products that make life brighter and more pleasant for millions of people. He held more than 400 patents. Highland Supply Corp. is recognized as the premier supplier of floral packaging in the floral industry.

During World War II, in addition to trying to grow Highland Supply Corp, Weder was a captain in the Illinois Militia Air Corps, where he served as a flight instructor.

In 1999, Erwin Weder was recognized for his many contributions to the floral industry by the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supplier Association when he was posthumously awarded the Leland T. Kintzele Distinguished Service Award. This award is considered one of the highest and most prestigious awards in the floral industry.

Erwin Weder was also responsible for founding numerous other business entities, including Highland Manufacturing and Sales Co., which became the premier company in the United States producing Easter grass for children’s Easter baskets.

He established a cattle, horse and buffalo ranching entity in Montana that became home to more than 650 head of bison, helping to save bison from extinction.

He founded a 90-acre business park in California where existing buildings are leased to a variety of tenants, and buildings have been built to suit specific tenants.

He also formed a company to farm various rural properties in Illinois.

Today, production and/or warehousing entities resulting from Erwin Weder’s endeavors operate in Illinois, California, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, Canada, and Mexico. Headquarters for the diverse group of companies remains in Highland.

Erwin Weder was also a historic preservationist and an environmentalist long before protecting the environment became vogue. He planted or caused to be planted more than 100,000 trees and preserved thousands of acres of timberland, which provide sanctuary to wildlife and improves the quality of life for humans. He and his wife, Louise, restored the one-room country Giger School and returned it to a replica of what it looked like in the most active years of its operation.

He stopped farming encroachment of the Deck Cemetery and restored it.

In 1987, Erwin Weder founded the Erwin H. Weder Family Deck’s Prairie Historical, Educational and Research Foundation. This foundation established a museum in the historic Schott Brewery Building in Highland, and also maintains the Giger School, which is visited annually by many people.

Erwin Weder’s influence positively impacted people in many communities throughout the country. In Hobart, Okla., a facility housing the Great Plains Youth and Family Services Inc. is named the Erwin H. Weder Building in his honor.

Through the efforts of Erwin Weder and his son, Don, the company pioneered the use of water-based inks, replacing solvent inks. These water-based inks prevented the emission of volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere. For its work in this area, Highland Supply has received numerous awards, including the Illinois Governor’s Award and awards from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Erwin Weder was a pioneer aviator and a member of the OX5 Club of pioneer pilots. He was on “Who’s Who” lists. Also, he was a founding member of the Highland Manufacturers’ Association, and was active in politics as a member of the Capitol Hill Club and Inner Circle.

Erwin Weder died Nov. 1, 1987, surrounded by his family. He had remained active in the family businesses until the week before he died at the age of 82.