1900 – 1910

As the early 1900s represented a new era of progressive efforts with the modernization of businesses and political reform of the middle class, this time period represents an exciting yet somewhat tumultuous snapshot in Findorff’s history. At the start of the 20th century, Findorff truly epitomized the phoenix of its time. As the Company continued to grow and shape Madison, it also suffered from disaster where Findorff emerged from the ashes.

By 1901, John acquired the remaining shares to Starck Manufacturing Co. (Starck), where he originally launched his construction career. Three years later, John bought Starck and introduced the Company’s new name as J.H. Findorff Contractor and Builder. Soon afterward, the Company moved its offices just across the street from its current headquarters on South Bedford Street. The Capital City Flour Mill building and property was purchased from Dow & Sons and converted to also house Findorff’s planing mill and lumberyard.

As Findorff’s success in the private sector continued, the Company’s commitment to public service began. In 1904, John was elected to the Madison Common Council to support legislative efforts in economic and community development. However, his role as a local contractor proved a conflict of interest. Rather than risk his Company’s future, John resigned for the allowance of public contracts and later accepted the contract to construct the new Sixth Ward School on Williamson Street. Nevertheless, John’s loyalty to Madison and its people stayed true to his heart and legacy as his Company matured over the years.

As the century’s first decade came to a close, another public project that heavily involved Findorff had a particular impact on Madison’s skyline. The Company was awarded the contract to produce significant millwork for Wisconsin’s new State Capitol. However, with such success also came tragedy. In May of 1909, an intense fire swept through Findorff’s planing mill and everything was lost, including the nearly-completed millwork for the Capitol’s east wing and heating plant.

The Company’s accountant at the time showed the loss at $100,000, which today would be over $2.6 million. Despite such a terrifying scene and gloom heavily sitting in the hearts of all Findorff employees, the Company did not have to close its doors. Much of Madison recognized Findorff’s roots and value in the community, and Findorff was born again.

Upon the last glow of the fire’s embers, Frederickson Lumber Co. opened its doors for Findorff to share its plant facilities. The State of Wisconsin developed a new construction schedule. Unlimited credit, backed solely by a handshake, was extended to Findorff by German-American Bank.

Through such upheaval, Findorff proved it could stand the test of time. According to the period publication, Madison Democrat, “Ambition, courage, hope, and determination have not gone up in smoke…The Findorff spirit, which has accomplished much, is not gone…” With the confidence in place by the people of Madison and new horizons in view, Findorff constructed a new two-story planing mill and office while managing ongoing contracts.

The time from 1900 to 1910 definitely tested Findorff’s will. However, it provided a strong foundation to build upon in future decades, which John and his company looked to with much excitement and hope.

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Notable Projects

  • Findorff's First office with Lumberyard and Planing Mill
  • Sixth Ward School
  • Wisconsin’s State Capitol
  • Cantwell Building