The long line of innovation that made Industrial Drive into what it is today.
During the mid-1900s, Jefferson City saw a plethora of growth with the rise of Industrial Drive. The U.S. economy was booming, and it was certainly reflected in the Midwest. Suburbs were expanding, families were having more children, and this created a demand for consumer goods that was stronger than ever. Jefferson City businesses looked toward the west end of town to expand. The Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce purchased land on the city’s west end to ensure this opportunity for expansion.
The space off Highway 50 West, now named Industrial Drive, also touted access to the Pacific Railroad Bagnell Branch spur, built in the 1880s. This spur provided immediate access to shipping and receiving important materials, which was imperative to early businesses in this area. Highway infrastructure for shipping, like I-70, was not completed until the mid to late 1950s. This factor solidified the importance of rail and river access for businesses during the nation’s economic growth. The spur ended on the west end of town, just past the current Jefferson City Country Club location, and was vital to the growth of Jefferson City for more than a century.
AN EARLY LEADER FOR JEFFERSON CITY
James Houchin served as president of Star Clothing Company, which was founded in the early 1870s. It is one of the earliest industrial businesses known in Jefferson City. David M. Oberman was a buyer and salesman for Houchin. In 1914, Oberman founded the Oberman Manufacturing Company and continued production for the next 50 years. In 1953, Oberman Manufacturing Company moved to Brooks Street (near the current Highway 50 and Highway 63 intersection) after outgrowing their downtown building on Main Street. It is thought to be one of the first businesses to help establish a vision for what Industrial Drive could mean to Jefferson City. It had more than 550 local employees and was sold to Levi Strauss, Inc. in 1966.
LOOKING WEST TO ESTABLISH INDUSTRIAL DRIVE
Until the establishment of Industrial Drive, businesses in the area ended at Brooks Street, which was the most western area of town. A pivotal feature, which drew attention to the west end of town, was the addition of a county fair. The fair was originally just a swine show started in 1947. It grew with the support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson City Jaycees, eventually bringing attention to the opportunities and space available on the western side of town. Demand for more shows and entertainment grew quickly within three years. The Cole County Fair of 1950 was held at Memorial Airport (the current site of the fairgrounds), which was the first multi-day fair of its kind in Central Missouri. Attendees were bussed to and from the 40-acre location from Bolivar and the West Main Street area. The Chamber and Jaycees purchased the full 40 acres of land in 1954 and gave the fair a permanent location. It supported and featured the successful agrarian lifestyles of local farmers and those representing small towns in Cole County.
As the access to transportation and owning a vehicle was more available to families, there was an expanded opportunity for more jobs — benefiting employees and future employers. Industrial Drive became a connecting factor for many important Jefferson City businesses.
BUSINESS MATTERS FOR MISSOURI’S CAPITAL
The Chamber of Commerce, under the division of the Jefferson City Industrial Development Corporation, built a plant in 1947 known as the Wheat Products Co. building, which was originally to be used to manufacture gluten and maple syrup. The agreement between the Chamber and Wheat Products Co. fell through after an acquisition by International Minerals and Chemical Corporation of Chicago, leaving the building to be leased by an alternate party. It remained vacant for three years until 1950 when the Missouri Attorney General’s Office approved the first Missouri National Guard building (near the current U.S. Rents-It) for maintenance shops. Fort Leonard Wood previously housed the shops, but after reactivation to the Army, Jefferson City became its new home, and it housed 50-60 employees at the time.
In the summer of 1952 the general manager of DeLong’s, Inc., Joe DeLong Sr., father of present CEO, F. Joe Delong III, purchased land from the Chamber to serve their steel fabrication business. They constructed a profit-sharing trust building on the plot at 1723 Industrial Drive, where it still stands today. The two remaining acres were purchased again by DeLong’s, Inc., where they constructed a building for Wilson Plastic Company.
Years prior, Von Hoff man Press of St. Louis acquired the local Mid-land Printing Co. in 1941, but by the 50s, they were in much need of expansion. Midland was formerly Hugh Stephens Printing Co., which originated in 1880 under the Tribune Printing Company name. Construction of their building on Industrial Drive began in June of 1955 and was completed in 1956. It was an impressive one-floor printing plant that served a large region in Missouri and was considered one of the most technically advanced for its time.
And while the printing company brought more technological advances, the McGraw Company, creators of electrical and small appliances, was one of Jefferson City’s biggest employers. Their first facility, at 1723 Industrial Drive, was built in 1954 and manufactured mostly fans. Overtime, they grew steadily and merged with Thomas Edison Co. in 1956. McGraw-Edison manufactured power tools and a variety of other appliances for consumers, utilities, and industries — all thanks to the talents of their 300 – 400 employees.
Today, nearing almost a century later, the Industrial Drive area remains a popular commercial location, lined with dozens of businesses including Capital Machine Company, DeLong’s, Inc., and Industrial Warehouse, which have become some of Jefferson City’s largest leading companies. With so much history, there’s no doubt that Industrial Drive continues to be a major contributor to the well-being of Jefferson City.