Locations of Historic Mueller Co. Plants and Offices
Hieronymus Mueller’s first shop in Decatur, Illinois was in a 2-story frame building in the 100 block of West Main Street. A sign identified the business as “H. MUELLER, GUN SHOP.” Hieronymus and his wife lived on the second floor of this building. He closed this shop in 1858 for a brief bit of adventure in the gold fields of Colorado but quickly realized that his path to success lay in building the business he had begun in Illinois.
When Hieronymus returned from the gold fields, he re-opened his Decatur business in a 3-story brick building in the 100 block of North Water Street. Again, the family lived in the upper floors. The gun business was expanded to include clock and sewing machine repairs.
Business was growing and moved to a larger building in 1859. The third Decatur location was a 2-story frame structure at the corner of East Main and South State Street. The family started out living above this shop but, like the business, was outgrowing the space and soon moved to a nearby home. The business was now concentrated on gunsmithing and sporting goods (hunting and fishing equipment).
The fourth Mueller site in Decatur was a newly constructed brick building a 220-222 East Main Street in Decatur. This was initially a 2-story building with a 3rd floor and rear addition completed around 1885. It was in this building that the business emphasis changed from gunsmithing to plumbing goods and the company we know today began to emerge. By 1880 the gun shop was sharing space with plumbing, gas and steam fittings. When the third floor was added, the signage on the building changed from the gun shop to H. Mueller Manufacturing Co. It is interesting to note that the downtown business district was home to both retail businesses and to industrial use – Hieronymus was operating a brass foundry and machine shop in this building.
Hieronymus Mueller moved his gun shop and sporting goods business to a separate location at 138 Merchant Street which was a part of the Seven Stores Block in downtown Decatur. A 1909 fire destroyed two of the seven stores including 138. The other five stores make up the largest part of Merchant Street — downtown Decatur’s best-known “shopping” street and popular night spot filled with shops and restaurants.
The Decatur manufacturing business continued to expand and Hieronymus made additional space in the 220-222 East Main Street location by moving the actual plumbing business to its own site at 249 East Main Street. He was now operating three distinct businesses – a plumbing goods manufacturing company, a plumbing service shop, and a sporting goods store.
Hieronymus Mueller built a new 3-story building at 237 North Main Street in Decatur to house his plumbing business. This business was sold by the Muellers in 1896 and the building was sold to the Herald Newspaper. The historic building still stands today with the designation of “Herald Block, 1891” in its cornice. It was originally the “Mueller Block, 1891”.
The gun and sporting goods shop was relocated to 134 East Prairie Street in Decatur in 1892, around the corner from its previous location at 138 Market Street. By 1896 the manufacturing business had grown to demand the full attention of the family, so the gun and sporting goods shop was sold.
The present-day Decatur, Illinois, campus of Mueller Co. had its beginnings with a large 2-story brick building erected on the corner of Cerro Gordo and College Streets. This location was significant for three reasons – it was outside of the downtown area which gave space for expansion, it allowed heavier industrial use, and it had rail access for national distribution of Mueller Co. products. By 1910 the 2-story plant had acquired a 3rd floor and a new 3-story office and warehouse facility was built next to it. Other buildings were added to the complex over the years including a power plant, fountain plant (manufacturing soda fountain equipment), galvanizing building, engineering building, and gymnasium. Well over a dozen buildings occupied nearly 6 city blocks making Mueller Co. an impressive presence in Decatur.
The company’s market had grown to the point that it became practical to open a distribution and sales office in the center of American commerce – New York City . Office space was acquired and the youngest of the Mueller brothers, Oscar, moved to New York to oversee the newly formed Eastern Division. This was the first step of considerable growth and expansion to come in the next two decades.
The addition of a New York office resulted in a large increase in shipments to Canada. To meet the demand more effectively, a new plant was constructed just north of the border in Sarnia, Ontario. This plant, under the name of Mueller, Ltd., produced nearly the full line of Mueller© goods within easy reach of the important Canadian market. Again, Oscar Mueller moved to head this operation.
The First World War found a shortage of brass rod used in fuses for various munitions. To meet this need, Mueller Metals Company was formed by the Mueller brothers and a new plant was constructed in Port Huron, Michigan, just south of the Sarnia location. Unfortunately, this plant got into production just as the war ended, leaving the company with huge losses on the new facility. Oscar Mueller saw an opportunity and turned the operation from manufacturing brass rod to brass tubing and fittings. He eventually offered his brothers a swap of all of his interest in Mueller Co. in exchange for the Port Huron plant. This was accepted in 1927 and Oscar formed the Mueller Brass Company which became a very successful independent enterprise.
The Mueller Iron Foundry Company was established with the acquisition of the National Casting Company plant at 1942 Eldorado Street in Decatur. This operation was made a part of Mueller Co. in 1928 and continued production until the mid-1950’s.
1925-1933 / 1942-1945
A plant to manufacture vitreous wares was constructed south of Decatur. This facility produced a full line of bathroom and kitchen fixtures to compliment the other hardware lines of Mueller Co. During this period, the company greatly expanded its distribution and advertising to reach a national market. Unfortunately, the Great Depression wiped out much of the demand for the product line and the plant was closed in 1933. The building was used for Civilian Conservation Corps and WPA activities during the Depression and was officially reopened by Mueller Co. in 1942 as a munitions plant. Mueller Co. produced 37mm and 57mm shells as well as larger naval ordinance at the plant during WWII. The plant closed at the conclusion of the war and the property was sold in 1948.
Sales and distribution offices were opened in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, and Atlanta as the company sought to better serve new markets and alter sales strategies. These offices were gradually closed as the Depression caused changes in the company’s product offerings and sales.
A production plant was added in Los Angeles, California to provide better distribution in that rapidly growing region.
1933 – Present
Columbia Iron Works in Chattanooga, Tennessee was purchased by Mueller Co. in 1933. This plant produced fire hydrants and large gate valves. The Columbia name was changed to Mueller in 1955. Facilities in Chattanooga were modernized in 1966 and gate valve production continues there.
The Los Angeles plant was replaced by a new facility in Brea, California.
Mueller Co. bought the Adams Clamp Company in Los Angeles, California. This plant was soon closed with the manufacture of the product line being moved first to Decatur and then to its present site in Cleveland, Tennessee.
1966 – Present
Mueller, Ltd opened a new iron foundry in St. Jerome, Quebec.
The production of fire hydrants was moved to a new plant in Albertville, Alabama. Since then, more than 3 million fire hydrants have been produced there, earning Albertville the designation “Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.”
Mueller Co. purchased an existing building from Crown Cork Company at 1226 East Garfield in Decatur for conversion to a new foundry. This facility took over both the brass and iron pouring which had been done in the Cerro Gordo and Eldorado plants. Within a few years the iron foundry operation was phased out of Decatur and the plant turned solely to brass. It has undergone extensive modernization and is among the largest brass foundries in the world.
The year 1961 saw a significant change to the central Decatur plants with the construction of a new plant and office building. Most of the operations which had been spread through many buildings were brought under a single roof and older buildings were razed or sold off. Still, parts of some of the earliest structures remained and were incorporated into the new plant building and provide a link to the company’s past.
A plant to manufacture butterfly valves was opened in Clinton, South Carolina. This operation ended with the 1996 acquisition of Henry Pratt Company.
Mueller Co. acquired Henry Pratt Company, a maker of butterfly and specialty valves. Their operations are centered in Aurora, Illinois with plants in Dixon, Illinois and Hammond, Indiana. Henry Pratt has subsequently acquired the operations of Lindsey Fabrications, Virginia Valve Automation (Salem,Virginia), Milliken Valve (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), Hydro Gate (Commerce City, Colorado), and Jingmen Pratt (a Chinese foundry).
1996-Present A new plant was constructed in Brownsville, Texas for the production of gas distribution products. 1998-Present A pipe repair products plant for the Adams Clamp line was opened in Cleveland, Tennessee.
2010-Present The corporate headquarters of Mueller Co. relocated from Decatur to Chattanooga, Tennessee.