Highland News Leader

A Thought to Remember: Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. awarded Greenville a plant in 1898

This picture shows workers at the PET Milk plant in Greenville. Carl Hediger, third from left (man with mustache facing left), invented a can labeling machine. The machine is also pictured just to Hediger’s left. Photo was a gift from Eldon and Marilyn Neumann of Mulberry Grove.
This picture shows workers at the PET Milk plant in Greenville. Carl Hediger, third from left (man with mustache facing left), invented a can labeling machine. The machine is also pictured just to Hediger’s left. Photo was a gift from Eldon and Marilyn Neumann of Mulberry Grove. Roland Harris Collection

The Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. awarded Greenville a new plant that it was going to build in this area.

A headline in the Dec. 29, 1898, Highland Journal read: “Greenville Secures the Plum.”

The story goes on: “The Milk Co., after having carefully investigated the area towns, for their branch establishment, has given its decision in favor of Greenville.

“The main inducement was the large, unfailing water supply that the city of Greenville has, however the new plant will not be started until practical tests will be made at the building site to provide their own water supply. (After) these practical tests, these wells will be drilled to see if the same volume of water was available, as does the city waterworks at Greenville.

“While we sincerely regret that the Milk Co. was compelled to increase its facilities outside of Highland, we can clearly see the necessity and believe that as long as this locality does not furnish the required amount of water and milk, the branch factory will enable the company to hold its steady increasing trade and the large government contracts, because of the Spanish & American War. Without this increased production, customers could be dwindling away, if the company were not in a position to fill all orders, with satisfactory promptness.”

On this same page, three additional articles give an insight to what was happening in Highland just before the turn of the new century.

Article No. 2, tells about the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.’s need for more water for the Highland plant.

“Tunneling at the old coal shaft (in the 400 block of Broadway) has been discontinued, after having gone another 75 feet.” It is claimed that the supply of water had been increased fully 100 percent.

Article No. 3 said: “Louis Blattner and Fred Stocker will shortly go to Greenville to the new site of the future Greenville Milk Plant, with their drilling outfit, to drill for water on the proposed new site of the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.’s branch establishment.

Article No. 4, also on the same page tells about: “An acetylene gas light plant that A. P. Mosimann, the plumber, has installed at the Albert Rieder Saloon in Troy. Three such light plants are now in Highland and will add much to the general appearance of things at night, as it will in deed be a convenience and a valuable addition.”

The Greenville Helvetia Milk condensing plant was put in operation in 1899 and as the business grew, by 1903, they needed to enlarge and build a new plant in Highland, along the Pennsylvania Railroad, on Zschokke to 6th Street and three blocks east. This new Highland Plant was finished in 1905. The same size plant was also built in 1905 in Delta, Ohio. Then came the Wellsboro, Pa., plant in 1907; Hudson, Mich., in 1909; Mulvane, Kan., and New Glarus, Wis., both in 1910; and Westfield, Pa. in 1911.

“More plants were built in the west and north, but then came Highland’s dreaded day of Sept. 23, 1920, when the Highland plant was closed due to a milk strike and was never reopened.

“The milk strike was called by a newly formed organization, an affiliated branch of the Southern Illinois Milk Producers Association. They could not come to an agreement, and the Highland plant was closed.

“The head office of Helvetia Milk was at 6th and Zschokke and the business of the company was conducted here in Highland for a few months after the strike. Then, the offices were moved to St. Louis and quartered on the 15th and 16th floors of the Arcade Building. The name of the company was changed to the PET Milk Co. in 1923.

“Although the offices were moved to St. Louis, Louis Latzer (1848-1924), the President, continued to maintain an office and laboratory here until his untimely death. New plants followed, adding other states of Maryland, Michigan, Tennessee, Colorado and Mississippi.

“The original brand, ‘Highland Brand’ had been supplemented by a number of other labels, namely ‘Our Pet,’ which later was reduced to simply ‘PET’ and became their principal brand and name.

“The machinery in the Highland Plant was dismantled and shipped to other plants. The main factory building was first leased to the St. Louis Dairy Co., and afterwards, was sold to them.

“The front office building and the old can-making building was sold to the Hug Truck Co. It was here that Hug Truck Co. made their second truck (their first truck was made at the Leutwiler Machine Shop in Highland), and they continued making heavy-duty trucks until the start of World War II.

“The loss of the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. in Highland, then their office, took from our city quite a number of very desirable families, also an industry that brought in a lot of outside money and distributes much of that at home. Thus, Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. passed out of the life of Highland, which at that time, was the biggest and most profitable industry in Highland.

“In the 35 years that Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. operated here, the original capital stock of $15,000 grew to $50,000 and then to a value of at least $10 million. Meantime, vast dividends were paid to the remaining stockholders.”

(Quotes from the 1898 Highland Journal, 1912 Centennial History of Madison County, Leutwiler Machine Shop history, 1937 Centennial History of Highland, Highland News Leader in October and November 1934 and my column of Aug. 23, 1973.)

Work day planned at Anderson Cemetery

A work day is planned for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10 at Anderson Cemetery near St. Jacob. Lunch will be served. See more information on Page 8A. Call Roland Harris at 654-5005 if you are able to come.