In 1854, when the Johann and Anna Maria Klauer family left Germany and settled in Iowa, their son Peter was but 11 years old and had “not a second dime in his immigrant clothes.” In Dubuque, he received little formal education, but the boy was industrious, learning English as well as the copper and tin trades.
In 1870, when he was in his 28th year, Peter Klauer opened his own hardware store and tin shop on Iowa Street in Dubuque. Such was the beginning of today’s Klauer Manufacturing Company, one of the few U.S. businesses to have existed for 150 years and – rarer still – operated under family leadership every minute of its history, now in the fifth generation. The company specializes in sheet metal goods but has offered many other and varied products throughout its first century and a half.
A Dubuque newspaper described Peter as a businessman who “knew no limits to the day’s work,” noting that he “toiled until he fell asleep upon his work bench and then made the bench his couch.” However, Peter was not content to simply succeed as a retailer and tinsmith. He became prominent in other local enterprises, including banking, and, with his oldest son William H. as an equal partner, he rapidly and boldly expanded their Dubuque-based business into Klauer Manufacturing, serving customers across the United States and in several other nations. Following William H., presidents of the company have been the founder’s two grandsons, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson – and no one else.
A rope is stronger than the sum of its individual strands, and Klauer Manufacturing: A Family Enterprise’s First 150 Years makes no attempt to unravel the corporate history from the family biography. One cannot fully consider the company without the family, and one cannot know and appreciate the family without understanding their business. They are intertwined, inseparable. Their story is flavored with a dash of business intrigue, noteworthy arts patronage, and outstanding philanthropy.
This book is a celebration of Klauer Manufacturing’s many successes over its first 150 years, but it ignores neither the lean times of the past nor its major challenges of today and the future. Today’s leaders of Klauer Manufacturing might not fall asleep at their desks – at least not often! – but readers of Klauer Manufacturing: A Family Enterprise’s First 150 Years will see why Peter Klauer would be proud of what his descendants, complemented by an incredibly dedicated workforce, have been able to make of his enterprise.