The Baker Office Building
Researched and Written by Ruth Ann Montgomery
Development of the Company
The Baker Manufacturing Company was organized by six prominent Evansville men in 1873 and is the oldest
industrial company operating in Evansville. Engines, windmills and water and pumping equipment
manufactured by Baker’s have been sold throughout the United States and many foreign countries. This
industrial base has provided Evansville with a strong economy and dramatically influenced the development
of the community.
Although the company was originally formed to manufacture an engine developed by Allen Baker, the
windmills, also designed by Baker, became the product most often associated with Baker Manufacturing from
the 1800s to the mid 1900s. Water pumps, feed mills, saws, and other accessories were also manufactured
and sold from the company offices in Evansville.
In 1890, the company opened its first branch office in Fort Dodge, Iowa. By 1898 the company's advertising
listed branches in Atchinson, Kansas; Fort Worth, Texas; Fredricksburg, Iowa; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The company also had an agent in Alexander, Virginia and an export agent in New York for their international
Even as the company was planning for expansion in Evansville and additions were being made to the plant
buildings, Allen Baker received a call to go to Waukegan, Illinois. There were people in Waukegan who
wanted the Baker Manufacturing plant to move to their city.
The inducements offered to Mr. Baker included the lower freight rates charged by the railroad if goods were
shipped from Waukegan. Although high railroad tariffs cut into the profits of the windmill manufacturer, Allen
Baker decided it was best if the company remained in Evansville.
When the annual meeting was held in January 1893, the company officers squelched rumors that were still
circulating around Evansville that the company was going to move to Waukegan. At that meeting, Almeron
Eager was elected President of the organization. L. M. Mygatt was vice-president; M. V. Pratt, secretary and
Allen S. Baker remained superintendent of the manufacturing plant and the treasurer of the company. After
twenty years, the company had lost only two of its original investors, Levi Shaw, who had sold his shares and
William S. Smith, who died in 1892.
National Recognition of the Company’s Products
The officers made plans for launching one of the biggest advertising campaigns in the company’s history in
1893. For many years the company had been exhibiting and demonstrating their products at state and local
fairs. Allen Baker was most often the company's representative at the fair booth.
In 1893, plans were underway for an international fair that would bring people from throughout the world to
Chicago. The Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition opened in 1893. Thousands of
people were drawn to the fair and Baker Manufacturing took advantage of the opportunity to display its
products. An elaborate exhibit was built on the grounds.
A Mr. Stoddard, from Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, was hired to set up and manage the exhibit of four windmills,
including two of the new steel mills and two of the wood mills. He arrived at the Baker shops in March 1893 to
begin the work of assembling the four windmills. The exhibit also included a variety of machines that could be
operated by the Baker windmills, including pumps and power and feed grinders.
World’s Fair officials were very impressed with the Baker exhibition and the windmills. They awarded the
company a gold medal for efficiency of design. They also received praise from a magazine that was popular
with farmers in the 1890s.
"A Splendid Show of Wind Mills", the Farm Implement News of June 1893, called the Baker display. Although
there were fifteen other windmill companies exhibiting at the fair, the Farm Implement News, gave the Baker
exhibit special notice. The exhibit was described as "the most striking and attractive display of wind mills,
towers, and mill buildings that has ever been made, and any farmer or dealer who may fail to see it will have
missed one of the most interesting and instructive features of the agricultural department of the exposition."
The magazine article described the elaborate exhibit: "It consists of a handsome four-gabled, two story
building, rising like the trunk of a pyramid, with the slanting posts of the great tower for its corners. The base,
or lower story, is partially open, but the floor is railed in and upon it stands the machinery to be operated by
the mill on the lofty tower above, viz., a corn sheller, feed grinder, wood saw and pump with fixtures. A
staircase leads from this floor to the story above, which is enclosed and makes a neat and commodious
office. The deck or roof is surrounding by a handsome balustrade and bears a tank in the center. The four
corner posts extend on upward until their ends meet and form the tower that supports a fourteen-foot geared
Monitor mill. The whole is tastefully ornamented and painted."
West of the building was an eight-foot steel Monitor wheel. South of the building, were two more mills on short
towers. One was a fourteen-foot wheel, made of wood and the other was an eight-foot steel wheel.
The company officials were so proud of the exhibit that they wanted their employees to be able to see the
Baker display and the other interesting sights at the Fair. In August 1893, the company gave their employees
several days of vacation so that they could go to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition.
For several years after the World’s Fair, Baker Manufacturing Company’s catalogues carried a picture of
both sides of the gold medal received at the fair. The award noted that the design of the windmill displayed
"the efficiency and ingenuity of method for obtaining uniform motion in all changes of the wind through
centrifugal force of the wind wheel sections, the balance weight opposite the wind wheel dispensing with the
use of a vane and a system of swiveled or balanced gearing which diverts the reaction of the upright shaft
from the turn table of the fixed tower."
Throughout the 1890s, the company produced catalogs that included illustration of the vaneless pumping
mills, steel mills, swivel geared power mills, Baker pumps, grinders, wood saws, tanks, and other items.
The products were constantly improved. In November 1893, Allen Baker received another patent, this time for
a skeleton tower for the windmills. In April 1894, Baker received more orders for their windmills than they
had ever had before. They announced at the same time that the company had added a new water tank
design to its products. The men were now working ten-hour days to keep up with the increased business.
By 1895, the company had its largest gain in net sales in the history of the company. The company
manufactured an average of eight windmills each day and in 1895, made 2,505 windmills, with net sales of
Company Expansion and a new office
In the next few years, Bakers bought more land to expand their operation. Another building was added in
1895. The company announced in September 1895, that they had purchased another tract of land and were
making arrangements to build a large warehouse.
In September 1896, the company purchased land on the north side of Church Street for $300. Baker’s
planned to build a new office building. The white painted-brick building, for the new Baker Manufacturing
Company office, was built in 1897 and was used by the company until 1943. The office was prominently
located on the north side of East Church Street, with the front door and windows facing the four large
buildings that housed the company’s foundry, and manufacturing buildings. This allowed the company
officers and engineers easy access to the other buildings and salesmen or visitors would be safely away from
the manufacturing processes.
Although the building is very small scale, it has elements of the Greek Revival style with a triangle shaped
pediment over the entry way and the cornices have elements of the Greek Revival period. The rough
stonework of the original base was a popular Richardsonian Romanesque feature prevalent in the Chicago
area at the turn of the century.
The 1897 office building was the third location for the company’s office. The original office and Baker’s
manufacturing buildings were constructed in the early 1870s and burned in a disastrous fire in 1884. After
the buildings were rebuilt, the company office was located in the stone building on the south side of Church
The office building was one of four new facilities constructed for the windmill manufacturer. The new
buildings included a punch room valued at $3,000; a galvanizing room, valued at $2,500; a pattern building
valued at $1,000; and the new office building valued at $1,500. The company’s two and three-story industrial
buildings dwarfed the one-story office.
All were made of brick and stone as company president, Allen Baker had vowed after the 1884 fire that he
would never again build a wood frame building. The company’s managers equipped the buildings with the
latest machinery for making steel windmills.
Construction of the new office building began in January 1897 and by June, the building was nearly ready for
occupancy. A local newspaper reported that a Mr. Wall was “pushing” the construction work. The new office
building include space for the engineering and drafting departments, as well as the company’s officers and
John Baker and the Profit Sharing Plan
John Baker, son of Allen S. Baker, one of the founders of the company was the resident manager of Baker
Manufacturing in the early 1900s. John had joined the company in the early 1890s, shortly after an eye
injury prevented him from completing his engineering studies at the University of Wisconsin.
John had read about profit sharing plans that were being proposed as a way to encourage more productivity
and prevent the organized labor unions from recruiting in the company shops. His father, and other company
officers, at first resisted the idea, but John was persuasive and by 1899, Baker Manufacturing introduced the
profit sharing plan for its workers. The plan was so successful that the company received national
recognition from Ida Tarbell and other social reformers.
However, at the January 1908 annual meeting the company, received a severe challenge to its management
and profit sharing plan. There were so many people attending the meeting that the company had arranged
to hold the session in the City Hall council chambers. John Baker produced evidence from a study that he
had conducted, comparing Baker’s wages with those of other manufacturers.
The average wage paid to U.S. windmill factory workers for a year was $503.81, according to a federal
department of commerce and labor bulletin. According to John Baker, the average wage earner at the
Evansville factory made $561.68. The average administrative workers made $1,013.53 according to the
labor bulletin, while Baker’s average administrative salary was $970.
It seemed proof enough that the administration costs were low and the laborers wages were high compared
to the average U.S. worker. Not only were wages higher at Bakers, but the workers were more productive.
The average windmill factory worker in the U. S. produced $2,500 in goods, while the output per man at
Bakers was $3,400, nearly 40 per cent higher that the U.S. average. John Baker believed this was because
the profit sharing plan motivated the company workers to be better workers.
The statistics had convinced the shareholders to defeat those who wanted to disband the profit sharing.
However, they did make changes to the way that stock given to employees could be sold. The stockholders
voted to distribute the dividends, but the company would hold the stock and Baker’s would have the first
option to purchase the stock, if the employee wanted to sell.
International Sales and Company Growth
Export sales began to expand. In 1909, several carloads of windmills were shipped to Australia and a branch
office opened in New York City to improve the export business to Europe and South America, Mexico and the
West Indies where there were also shipments of Baker windmills and other products. The company listed its
manufactured goods in a promotional brochure, including a “full line of steel windmills, steel towers, vaneless
wooden mills, feed grinders, wood saws, iron pumps and gasoline engines.”
Although Allen and John Baker were responsible for designing the company’s windmills and engines, they
also hired engineers help develop products. Throughout the early part of 20th century, the Baker Company
continued to expand its business. By 1910 there were 160 employees in the Baker shops. In addition the
company had salesmen in branch offices scattered throughout the Midwest.
By 1913, the Baker Company had 25 salesmen in the field and they were invited to visit the manufacturing
shops. Eighteen representatives from the company’s branch offices in Fort Dodge, Omaha, Cedar Rapids,
Kansas City and Wisconsin had a chance to visit the home office and factory to learn more about the
products from the Evansville staff and from each other. The sales meeting became an annual event and the
City of Evansville welcomed the visitors as they represented the local company’s importance in the national
marketing of windmill and engine products.
Although John Baker had taken over management of the Baker Companies, Allen S. Baker remained active
as President of the company until his death in 1916. The stockholders then voted for John to serve as
President of the company and they continued to support his management until his death in the 1930s. John
continued to expand the company’s products, by increasing the power of the gasoline engines, and improving
the windmills. He also worked on a farm tractor design, although it did not become one of the company’s
Enduring Despite Problems
The location of the Baker buildings in the flood plain of Allen’s Creek occasionally resulted in office building
being in the path of rising waters. Such an event occurred in March 1929 when melting ice and snow created
flood conditions. The Baker Company employees had to walk on elevated planks in order to reach their
office. If the basement flooded, employees avoided going into the basement of the building, afraid that they
would encounter snakes deposited there by the floodwaters.
By 1931 there were 120 employees in the company, the Depression had dramatically reduced the hours of
the men who were used to working ten-hour days. Though sales were slow, the company tried to keep the
workforce employed. The company began operating four days a week with 7-hour days through the early
years of the depression. It was not until 1937 that the company resumed a six-day work week, with
employees working 48 hours per week.
John Baker died in 1938. The management of the company was passed on to the third generation of the
Baker family and John’s son, Cleland Baker, became the president. Cleland had been working for the
company as a sales manager. The following year, the stockholders re-elected Cleland as President,
treasurer and general manager of the plant. Cleland Baker’s brother, J. Gordon Baker, was named Vice
In 1938, the company again needed additional office space and the design of the 1897 office, made it difficult
to expand. The building was too small to house the extensive office and engineering staff of the company.
The drafting, time keeping, purchasing departments and the office of the superintendent were moved to the
factory building on the south side of the street.
Temporary offices for the accounting department were set up in the old stone building on the south side of
Church Street. Because of poor ventilation and lighting in this building, the accounting department the
employees complained about the poor working conditions.
In January 1940, the company’s salesmen from all of the branch offices were invited to Evansville. Forty-one
salesmen came to Evansville to be educated and entertained at the three-day conference. The local
newspaper published a picture of the salesmen taken in front of the old office building. It was probably the
last official photograph taken of the building, as a Baker Manufacturing office.
Shortly after the photograph appeared in the newspaper, the company announced plans to construct a new
building that would house the entire office staff in one area. Baker officials hired the Madison architectural
firm of Law, Law and Potter to design the building on Enterprise Street. The new offices were opened in
December and a reception was held to allow the community to inspect the building.
Adaptive Reuse of the Baker Office Building
The old office building was converted into a retail sales and service store. Earl B. Knappenberger was the
manager of the new retail division and Carroll Bly, was his assistant. The building was open from 8 to 5 every
day except Sunday, to accommodate the farmers who needed to purchase or repair machinery.
The new store included a display room for the Baker products and another room was used to store
replacement parts for the service department. Most of the repair work was also done in the old office building
until 1943 when the sales and service office was moved to 17 East Main Street. Kanppenberg and Bly also
staffed the company’s new service store.
After the Baker service store moved out, a new church congregation rented the old Baker Manufacturing
Company office and held worship services where the company officers and engineers had once worked. The
Full Gospel church opened for their first service in the old Baker office building in September 1941. The
building was renovated and repaired for the new occupants.
When the congregation moved out, the building was rented to a local family for a residence. Donald and
Harriet Persons and their children, lived in the old office building for a number of years.
In 1953, the building was sold to H. Fred Brunsell and was used for storage for his feed mill products. It was
later sold to the Union Cooperative and continued to be used for storage of grain. When the Co-op decided
to move its retail business to its County Highway M site, the building was sold to Roger Berg and Robert
The building was in drastic need of repair. The roof leaked and some of the structural masonry walls were in
need of repair. The interior had been allowed to deteriorate and was also in need of renovation.
In 1999, the building was donated to the Evansville Grove Society by Roger Berg and Robert Petterson.
After a major fund raising effort, in 2001, the building was moved approximately nine blocks to Evansville’s
City Park. The cost of the move was approximately $35,000.
The Evansville Grove Society has restored the building for use as a visitor center and museum. The work
near was completed in 2009.
Interviews: Peter Sears, President of Baker Manufacturing
Present and former employees of the Baker Manufacturing Company: Geraldine Knapp, Ruth Morrison
Gollmar, Ruby Conners, Tom Conners, Neil Lien,
Resources at the Rock County Historical Society archives, Janesville, Wisconsin including Baker
Manufacturing Company catalogs, patent drawings, company histories.
“Baker: The First One Hundred Years”, Ground Water Age, August 1973, pp. 35-37.
Baker Manufacturing Company: The First One Hundred Years, 1873-1973. 100th anniversary.
Evansville: Glimpses of the Grove, by Ruth Ann Montgomery, Evansville, Wisconsin, c. 1989.
The Evansville Post, Inc., Evansville, Wisconsin, October 25, 1973
The Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin. 1873-1998
The Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, November 13, 1973.
“A splendid show of windmills” Farm Implement News of June 1893
July 21, 1909, Enterprise, p. 1, col. 2, Evansville, Wisconsin
July 21, 1938, Evansville Review
November 21, 1940, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
November 21, 1940, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
December 19, 1940, Evansville Review, p. 1, col. 1, Evansville, Wisconsin
December 19, 1940, Evansville Review, p. 1, col. 1, Evansville, Wisconsin
December 26, 1940, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
March 20, 1941, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
April 10, 1941, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
February 19, 1942, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
March 5, 1942, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
April 1, 1943, Evansville Review, p. 1, col. 4, Evansville, Wisconsin
January 20, 1944, Evansville Review, p. 1, col. 6, Evansville, Wisconsin
March 30, 1944, Evansville Review, p. 7, col. 6, Evansville, Wisconsin
April 23, 1998, Evansville Citizen, p. 1, Evansville, Wisconsin
April 29, 1998, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin