Elgin Sweeper Celebrates 100th Anniversary

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ELGIN – Half of all new businesses fail in their first five years, according to Forbes.com. Passing that five-year milestone was a long time ago for Elgin Sweeper, which threw a party Saturday to commemorate a century of manufacturing street sweepers In Elgin. "One hundred is a monumental accomplishment," said Mike Higgins, the company's vice president and general manager."We wanted to celebrate with the employees and their families. It's good for them to see what we do here." World War I hadn't yet begun when Elgin alderman and automobile enthusiast John Murphy brought his design for a mechanized sweeper to American Tower and Tank Co. of Elgin, according to a release. After a couple years of testing, the first unit was sold to the city of Boise, Idaho, in April 1914. A few years later. the growing organization became Elgin Street Sweeper Co., with a facility on the Fox River near the current location of the Grand Victoria Casino along South Grove Avenue. In the mid-1960s, the manufacturer and well-known brand of street sweepers moved to its current location, 1300 W. Bartlett Road, on Elgin's southeast side.

The well-attended 100th anniversary celebration was a chance for former employees to revisit while current workers could show off the organization to family and friends. "We all rode our motorcycles in from Machesney Park," said 27-year-employee Ron Verhagen of Rockford as he showed around members of the Rock River Harley Owners Group. "It's a nice day for a ride," he said. The group gathered around an antique Elgin Sweeper, manufactured in 1931, owned by a history museum in St. Louis that has loaned the unit to the Elgin company in the past. "I've offered to buy it from them," said Higgins, "but they won't sell." The antique sweeper was a highlight of factory tours that had groups criss-crossing through the plant – past the robotic welders, paint bays and sweepers in various stages of completion. "That unit over there is headed to Brazil," said plant manager and tour guide Eric Larson. "We sell all over the world. We can't build units fast enough."

Larson pointed out a space craft-shaped water tank that had "NCC-7701" painted on the side – a tribute to the NCC-1701 registration number of Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. As he led groups through the area – usually off limits to the public – Larson explained changes and environmental improvements the company has implemented to continue growing in the industry. "We're trying to bring more products into this building," he said. Outside, kids climbed on trucks while families and friends waited In line to take a spin around the parking lot on a sweeper. But the day was for the employees who touted the organization as they greeted visitors, helped riders in and out of the sweepers or relayed the company's history. Jim Rothgeb, a 34-year-employee from Gilberts, sported an Egyptian pharaoh hat as he entertained the crowd. "It's a great company to work for," he said.

By Bob Oswald roswald@suntimes.com June 23, 2014 3:08PM, "Elgin company sweeps into the next century of business"