1890 – 1900

Findorff’s history dates back to the turn of the 20th century, starting with the Company’s founder, John H. Findorff. Originally from Germany, John entered the construction industry as a young carpenter for J.H. Starck & Co. (Starck), later named Starck Manufacturing Co., where his first project was the Dane County Courthouse. Although still employed with Starck, John’s passion for producing quality craftsmanship led him to take work under his own name starting in 1890, marking the year of our Company’s founding.

Among his early efforts, John continued to work on notable landmarks throughout Madison. In the fall of 1892, construction began on the University of Wisconsin Armory and Gymnasium, known today as the Red Gym. Although the facility was originally intended for athletic and student activities, its construction paralleled a time of civic uprisings throughout the United States including the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. Such circumstances led to the need of local armories to house military personnel and equipment, and thus the dual purpose of the Red Gym.

John and his crew played a significant role in the building’s development, as they were responsible for the on-site fabrication of all woodwork and carpentry for not only the building’s gymnasium, but also its running track, assembly hall, artillery drill room, and military offices. The Red Gym’s quality craftsmanship has stood the test of time and is registered as a National Historical Landmark. Ultimately the building began a long tradition of many projects Findorff would complete for the University.

As the decade of Findorff’s beginnings progressed, John continued to take on architecturally important projects in the Madison area. Situated on the lakeside grounds of what is today’s Olin Park was once the Madison Chautauqua Pavilion. Not only was its size impressive with a diameter of 160 feet, but also the circular facility was an engineering marvel at the time. To create open views for its guests, the building was constructed without any interior pillars or posts. Through much admiration, John and his team were recruited to construct an identical building. The Pavilion’s twin was the Waterloo Chautauqua and Bible Institute in Iowa, which also received rave reviews and was the Company’s first out-of-state contract.

Approaching the end of the decade, John became a major stockholder of Starck, where his position evolved into Vice President and then President upon the passing of Starck’s owner. John continued to work under the Starck name into the next century. Marking the next chapter of Findorff’s legacy, this time period would not only be accompanied by much growth and success, but also by a disaster testing the Company’s strength at infancy.


Notable Projects

  • Dane County Courthouse
  • The Red Gym at the UW – Madison
  • Madison Chautauqua Pavilion
  • Waterloo Chautauqua and Bible Institute