If you live in West Bend or Washington County chances are you have a family member or two that worked for the West Bend Company.
It was one of the largest employers in the community as entire families would be on the lines manufacturing aluminum cookware or electrical appliances. The West Bend Company was a place where men met their wives, where their children worked and their children.
In 2010 the West Bend Co./Regal Ware Museum held an open house as part of a year-long celebration. Mixed in with the pots and pans were murals that traced the timeline and marketing of the cookware along with the changing roles of women.
‘In the 1950s the wife was depicted as the queen of the house but with limited independence. Women were to be devoted to house, husband and family.’
Pictured beneath the short description was a woman, sitting on the floor amidst pots and pans wearing a simple teal blue dress with white piping and pearl earrings.
That woman was Nancy Mehring, a volunteer at the open house wearing the same outfit from when the photo was taken in 1958.
“It was 53 years ago and I was like a girl sitting there dreaming about getting married,” said Mehring recalling her inspiration.
Mehring started work at the West Bend Company when she was 17, in high school and her last name was Furger.
“I was in the wholesale and premium division. I worked for Harold Ziegler, Bernie Ziegler, Allan Kieckhafer, Bob Claus and Harry Haugen as a stenographer and office gal or secretary until I earned enough money to go to college,” she said.’
Back in the day the West Bend Company was in its prime; 1,100 people worked in the factory and police were needed to direct traffic at the intersection along Hwy 33 when shift changes occurred at 3:30 p.m.
Families were the bedrock of the workforce at the West Bend Company. Mehring’s father Ed Furger worked at the company as did her Aunt Ann Rossman, Aunt Loretta Furger Paasch, and Aunt Rita Schwinn.
Mehring’s brief modeling career started at the West Bend Company as industry leaders were trying to toe the bottom line.
“West Bend Company tried to keep prices down and they used staff for the photos and booklets,” said Mehring. The photos were taken in the company’s test kitchen. Mehring made about $1 an hour and said there were no fringe benefits and her dress was simply what she wore to work. “I think I got this at J.C. Penny’s,” she said, the dress now faded a bit to a soft, powder blue.
Kitchen Craft and Lustre Craft were big products at the time for the West Bend Company which placed ads nationally in newspapers across the country and Modern Bride magazine.
Mehring has a scrapbook of clippings of the ad including one that ran in an Iowa newspaper.
Nobody ever saw the ads in West Bend, the only way people in town may have caught Mehring in print was if they bought the cookware; her photo, pleasantly flipping hamburgers on a stove filled with Kitchen Craft stainless steel cookware, was on the front of the cookbook included with each piece.
On Saturday, April 23 there will be a West Bend Company reunion. It will coincide with an open house as the former factory that was known for making pots and pans has been repurposed into the new Cast Iron Luxury Living Apartments.
Folks will gather and share stories about working at the company, tours will be offered and there will be free food and drink and music. The event will run from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
RSVP’s are appreciated at 414-975-2617 or E-mail Megan at [email protected]