BY JIM MERCIER
It’s kind of refreshing to write about something once made in the Belle City that was meant for people like us…the actual consumer. Many products made here in the past were geared to the industrial, agricultural or other “non-consumer” markets. This month’s article has to do with Racine’s shirt production, which was part of our vast garment industry.
Did you know that our factories once manufactured a wide variety of apparel goods, including hats and caps, overalls, raincoats, shawls, socks and hosiery, women’s dresses and skirts, as well as men’s shirts? These products helped to spread the “Made in Racine, Wisconsin” label throughout the entire nation as well as the world. So, please read on, and learn a little bit more about Racine’s shirt-making industry. Who knows…you may even be able to impress your friends with your new-found knowledge!
Among Racine’s earliest and largest clothing manufacturers were the Charles Alshuler Manufacturing Co., the Hilker-Wiechers Manufacturing Co., and the Badger Shirt Co.
The Charles Alshuler Manufacturing Co. started in 1884, and was located at 1500 Clark St. This company’s claim to fame was their “Racine Shirt,” which was advertised as the “all-purpose soft shirt” for dress, work and sports. They also made a line of men’s flannel shirts that bore the “Racine” logo. An interesting advertisement states that, “The purpose of ‘Racine’ work shirts for every man in the home means a true economy, a greater degree of comfort to the man who wears the shirt, and a freedom from mending and patching, which no one but the woman of the home can fully appreciate”. How times have changed!
The Hilker-Wiechers Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1898 and was located at 1232 Mound Ave. They manufactured shirts, overalls and coats primarily for men employed by the railroads. Their brand name was “Signal,” with the catchphrase, “Don’t go ahead until you get the SIGNAL”. The company later changed its name to the Signal Shirt Co. It’s interesting to note that John Wiechers, who helped organize the company, worked for Charles Alshuler at one time, In fact, it was with Alshuler’s blessing that the new company was started. After the Signal Shirt Co. closed, the building was purchased by Western Printing.
Another clothing manufacturer that called Racine home was the Badger Shirt Co. (later, Badger Uniform). This company was launched in 1932 by former principals of the Signal Shirt Co., which had previously left Racine. Badger Shirt was located at the corner of West Sixth and Marquette Streets. The firm supplied shirts, trousers and headwear for police and fire departments, postal workers, band members and other uniformed professionals throughout the nation. Although Badger moved to Milwaukee in the 1990s, the massive four-story brick factory building is still standing, and has found new life as a condo development.
And that, my friends, is your history lesson for the month.
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia. Some of his collection is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit. You can contact him at email@example.com.