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South Bend Range Company

Location: 2001 W Washington St, South Bend

In 1898 Jacob Woolverton and William Kizer, two South Bend real estate agents, established the Malleable Steel Range Manufacturing Company to make coal and wood fired kitchen ranges. Perhaps Woolverton and Kizer originally became involved in the stove business as investors, since their other business ventures had already brought them success. Their early partners, Irving Sibley, a South Bend hardware merchant, and Harry A. Engman, Jr., a 24-year old son of a St. Louis stove manufacturer had the necessary expertise for the business.

 

The company originally operated on E. Tutt Street conveniently located close to Sibley Machine and Foundry, the producer of many cast iron parts needed for the ranges. Sheet metal for the sides and malleable steel for the cooking surfaces comprised the other major components of the ranges. By 1908 Malleable Steel Range had outgrown its Tutt Street location and moved to a large modern factory building of reinforced concrete, steel, and brick on Cherry Street on South Bend’s west side. The new factory was located on a railroad line, so important for shipping at that time.

 

During the early 20th century the company employed about 200 men making 25,000 ranges and other pieces of cooking equipment annually. After parts were selected, sheet metal cut, and cast iron plated and polished, teams of two men a range maker and his helper, assembled the parts into finished ranges. Fitting the tops on the ranges was the most critical part of assembly. This system of putting together stoves differed greatly from the later adopted moving assembly line where each man performed only one operation all day long.

 

The company added hotel and restaurant ranges to its line of products, since special orders and unusual sizes could be easily fabricated using standard parts and specially cut sheet metal. By the early 1930s, these hotel stoves, as well as broilers, steam tables, and other cooking equipment became the company’s primary products. Gas replaced coal and wood as the fuel for the ranges which required changes in design. The company produced enameled gas stoves in different colors which replaced the big black nickel plated ranges for home use during the 1920s. In the late 1930s South Bend Range announced plans to build electric cookstoves for the home market. However, during World War II the company made cooking equipment only for restaurants, hotels, and the armed forces and so probably never returned to domestic stove production after the war.

 

Malleable Steel Range used the trade name “South Bend” from the 1910s and became more familiarly known as South Bend Range early on, although it did not officially take that name until the late 1950s. In 1982 the company’s name changed again to Southbend Escan Corporation after it merged with Escan Metal Canada, Ltd. The Woolverton family, which had bought out the other early investors by 1917, continued to be associated with the company until the 1970s. Harry Engman went on to establish a rival stove manufacturer Engman-Matthews Range which did not survive the 1920s.

 

Southbend Escan has moved all of its production to North Carolina and its executive offices moved from Cherry Street to new quarters in the Airport Industrial Park in 1983.

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