1910 – 1920

The second decade of the 19th century would not only be marked by the progressive surge carried over from past years to fuel Findorff’s recovery, but also by notable milestones experienced both by the Company and Madison.

At the time, Madison was transforming itself with increased standards in health, safety, welfare, and government. Such advancing efforts corresponded with the ‘Wisconsin Idea,’ emphasizing the advancement of growth in an increasingly industrial world. Such reform paralleled Findorff’s progress after the tragic fire of its planing mill in 1909. Barely a year later, with generous support of the community, Findorff continued to recreate the substantial interior woodwork for Wisconsin’s fifth Capitol. From the cherry wood walls and elaborate moldings of the Executive Chambers to the railings around the dome’s interior, the carpentry work performed by Findorff was successfully installed and almost all remains intact to this day.

However, the Company’s work on the Capitol did not just end with the building’s interior millwork. A few short years later, John H. Findorff himself supervised the installation of a very iconic piece to the Capitol, and in turn Madison’s skyline. In 1914, John and his tradesmen hoisted a three-ton statue nearly 290 feet to sit atop the Capitol’s dome. Named Wisconsin, the statue is of a woman boldly overlooking Lake Monona at a height of 15 feet, 5 inches (even without heels, ladies and gents) covered in gold-gilded bronze. Accompanied with the statue was the State’s motto of Forward to characterize the spirit of Wisconsin’s progress.

It is a bit serendipitous that such a symbolic project to the State was completed by Findorff at the time. Although the new capitol truly epitomized Wisconsin’s will and maturity as a State, it could be said that it also exemplified Findorff’s simultaneous dedication to grow out of hardship. Through the Company’s perseverance, Findorff progressed forward from misfortune into one of the area’s leading contractors.

Outside of the office, John maintained a true commitment to the community. In 1913, he became a charter member of the City’s first and greatest service organization, The Rotary Club of Madison. The Club’s local chapter is a diverse collection of civic-minded business and community leaders, very fitting to the character of John himself. Now in its 101st year, the Club has seen its fair share of John’s legacy, one of which is humbling considering he started the path for Madison’s future leaders to follow. Today, Findorff’s CFO, Tim Stadelman is the Club’s President. Other current members include Findorff’s Chairman, Rich Lynch and Vice President, Jeff Tubbs. Former Findorff Presidents, Gerd Zoller and Curt Hastings were also members of the Club.

As time passed, Findorff strived to stay competitive as the construction industry evolved with the introduction of new technology and building techniques. Nevertheless, business continued to prosper. The Company’s planing mill grew to a staff of 75 men by 1915 and soon afterward, a new generation of leadership ushered into Findorff. Milton, John’s son, was a recent graduate of UW-Madison’s School of Commerce. He joined his father immediately upon earning his degree and in 1917 this father-son team made history. Together they secured the bid for all construction services on the new downtown YMCA facility. This accomplishment not only exemplified the diversity of Findorff’s work, but it also made Findorff the first large-job general contractor in Madison.

As the decade came to a close, America joined the First World War and John returned to involving himself with civic efforts. Despite his German roots and the anti-Semitism resulting from the War, John showcased his patriotism selling Liberty Loan Bonds to his fellow contractors. Additionally, John began to assume statewide responsibilities. In 1918, he served as the sole construction representative on the state Board of Appeals, along with such notables as State Architect Arthur Peabody.

It is with certainty that Findorff not only withstood hardship, but also progressed forward with the rest of the Nation during the early 1900s. Through such perseverance, the Company created a foundation to successfully build upon with the Roaring Twenties right around the corner.

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Notable Projects

  • 119 E. Washington Office Building (interior carpentry)
  • Cantwell Building
  • Eleanor Apartments
  • Fair Oaks Elementary School
  • Federal Post Office
  • Madison YMCA
  • Potter Building
  • Tenney Locks
  • Vocational School at N. Carroll Street and W. Dayton Street
  • Wisconsin State Capitol