1940 – 1950

Although the Great Depression was over and many thought significant hardships were left behind, international affairs profoundly took hold of peoples’ livelihoods. The start of the 1940s was marked by the attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor that pushed the Nation to join World War II efforts in support of America’s allies overseas.

At first, the sudden shift to a war economy significantly impacted the Company’s work. Private projects came to a halt, requiring almost all available resources be devoted to military projects. One such development unfortunately put on hold was Madison’s famous Edgewater Hotel, settled on the shores of Lake Mendota. Despite Findorff having already commenced excavation efforts, the War Production Board, established by Franklin D. Roosevelt, required the project to cease and as a result a large hole resided for years along the lakefront.

Although the Nation’s efforts were redirected from peacetime work to that of war production, Findorff continued to persevere. The decade began with a small project that brought Madison a mainstay of the modern age: the parking meter. Findorff did not produce this new device, but when Dual Parking Meter Co. of Oklahoma City got the contract to provide the meters in 1941, it called on Findorff to do the actual installation.

As time progressed, Findorff proved proficient in adapting for one of its first defense projects. The Company was selected as the contractor for a 50,000-square-foot addition to Gisholt Northern Works. This machine company had an urgent need to manufacture turret lathes in large numbers, making time of extreme essence. It was Director Harold Hastings, Title at Findorff who devised a way to use materials already on hand. By using standard industrial steel sash with plenty of glass, a structural steel frame from the company’s Milwaukee supplier and walls of Chicago common brick, the addition took just 28 days from groundbreaking to completion.

Findorff’s next contribution to the war effort was even more impressive. In 1942, the Company helped build the sprawling Badger Ordnance Plant amongst the cornfields nestled at the base of Baraboo’s bluffs. The project started with a contract to pour foundations for 85 buildings and continued on with Findorff building superstructures for four large warehouses, installing sheathing, and more. “Make every minute count,” a large sign at the plant declared. Findorff did just that. Staff worked around the clock, six days a week, with as many as 900 men on the payroll. “Again a Madison firm demonstrated that the Middle West can keep up in the war effort,” the Wisconsin State Journal said in celebrating Findorff’s efforts.

A small war-time investment also proved invaluable. A used, portable ready-mix concrete plant was purchased by Findorff from Indiana and became a vital resource for three decades. Starting with just a few 1.5 cubic yard trucks, Findorff later had 14, 10-cubic-yard mixers in operation when the plant closed in the mid-1970s.

After three-and-a-half years of American involvement in WWII, Allied forces finally prevailed in the summer of 1945. However, major changes were afoot, both for the construction industry and for Findorff.

Shortly after the First World War, the Company had operated as the partnership of J.H. Findorff & Son. However, as we took on larger projects in a rapidly changing world and as the Second World War concluded, a partnership with personal liabilities no longer seemed appropriate. As a result, in June 1946, the Company’s partnership dissolved and officially incorporated as J. H. Findorff & Son, Inc. In the process, accountant A.V. Gruendler joined the father-and-son team as an additional stockholder and officer for Findorff. A Board of Directors was also created along with a profit-sharing trust.

As post-war shortages eased toward the end of the decade and the economy accelerated, Findorff took on several other important projects, ranging from finishing the iconic Edgewater Hotel to Truax Field Apartments, Madison’s first public housing development. Industrial work also still carried on with the construction of the Wisconsin Telephone Co. building and high-pressure boiler house additions for MG&E. Additionally, Findorff diversified its services as a franchisee to sell prefabricated enameled steel for Lustron homes.

Although the 1940s were coming to an end, a terribly unexpected happening took place marking an end to a particular chapter at Findorff. During the last week of October in 1948, John Findorff was at the Company’s office and managing business as usual. Although in apparent good health, he required surgery for a minor procedure. Tragically, Findorff’s esteemed founder suffered a heart attack and did not survive. Upon his passing, sadness once again hung heavy in the hearts of his Company’s staff and family. Six long-term superintendents carried him to his rest at Forest Hills cemetery.

Despite such a momentous loss, John’s son, Milton, persevered. He assumed presidency of his father’s corporation and led the Company into a very strong position with significant support of Harold Hastings. In 1948, the workforce grew to 310 people and Findorff had approximately $6 million in contracts. The following year, a 50 percent increase in work brought revenue to nearly $9 million. Today, this would amount to over $57 million and $86 million, respectively. Such a positive trend and persistence to succeed would continue in the decades to come.

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Notable Projects

  • Badger Ordnance Plant
  • Dual Parking Meter Co. Installation
  • Edgewater Hotel
  • Gisholt Northern Works
  • Madison U.S.O. Club
  • MG&E High-pressure Boiler House Additions
  • Wisconsin Telephone Co. Building