History of Manufacturing and Commerce in Nebraska
From: York County, Nebraska and its people
T. E. Sedgwick, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1921



Without taking the space to attempt a thorough roster of Nebraska's many manufacturing enterprises, it is desired to call attention to a few here and there, in order to impress upon the reader the diversity of Nebraska's resources, not altogether dependent upon agriculture. Broom factories have been established in numerous Nebraska towns, notably Omaha, Lincoln, Red Cloud, Burwell, Deshler, Bloomington, Seward, and others. Many Nebraska bakeries have branched into the manufacture of ice cream and various products. Nebraska has several factories now devoted to manufacture of clothing and shoes. Over seventy towns in the state have cement block manufactories, and some of these towns are hardly more than villages Exeter has a factory for the manufacture of metal tags, the product of which has become a nationally advertised article. Harness shops and cigar factories are very common throughout the state. Over twenty five granite and monument works in the state are turning out this finished product. In support of the statement that the foregoing does not even pretend to be a roster of Nebraska manufactured articles, but simply an indicative list of the scope, extent and diversity of the same, can be. cited the fact that recently a contest was conducted in Grand Island, the third city of the state, with a population according to 1920 census of approximately 14,000, to ascertain the number of articles manufactured in that city, and the number finally determined upon was 353. When this fact is considered with the reasonable presumption that the other cities of the same class, and within a few thousand of the same population, such as Hastings, Fremont, North Platte, Beatrice, Norfolk, Scottsbluff, York, Fairbury, Nebraska City, Falls City and their sister cities add their number, it is promising for the future manufacturing development of Nebraska.

The best posted authority on manufacturing conditions in recent years was Hon. Frank I. Ringer, of Lincoln, who died in 1920, after having spent many years contributing to the upbuilding of the success of the Nebraska Manufacturers' Association and manufacturing conditions generally in Nebraska.


By Frank I Ringer, Commissioner, Nebraska Manufacturers' Association
Every person in Nebraska knows that this state is one of the leading agricultural states of the Union, that in wealth per capita she is one of the first and that her public school system is second to none. Yet how little is known of the manufacturers.

How many people know that the annual output of the state's factories is valued at more than a half billion? Or that shoe strings, suspenders, and spark plugs are made in Omaha, index tags at Exeter, refrigerators minus corners at Fremont, dandelion rakes at Kearney, butter tubs at Ralston,. rubber collars at Lincoln and chewing gum at Fairbury?

But these are only a few of the more unusual industries. Besides these we have some 4,000 factories engaged in a wide variety of industries and utilizing a large proportion of the raw materials produced within the state.

The four sugar factories located at Grand Island, Scottsbluff, Gering, and Bayard will this year convert the beets from more than 50,000 acres of Nebraska's finest land into 1,700,000 sacks of sugar, valued at $20,000,000.

One of the valuable by products from these factories is the potash which is obtained by evaporating the water used in washing the beets during the sugar season. Thousands of cattle and sheep are fattened annually on the byproducts beet tops, pulp, and molasses.

We boast of Omaha as being the largest dairy product market in the world and Lincoln claims one of the world's largest creameries, owned and operated by Nebraskans, the Beatrice Creamery Company. In these huge plants and the smaller plants scattered over the state, the cream and milk from Nebraska's dairy herds is made into butter, cheese, and condensed milk, the value of which is greater than the combined wool and mutton output of any state in the Union.

A large part of our enormous wheat crop never leaves the state except in the form of flour, breakfast foods, crackers, macaroni, etc. Practically every town has its own flour mill, ranging in size from the small one man mill to some of the largest and most up to date plants west of the Mississippi River. From these mills, besides supplying the home demand, flour is shipped to all parts of the world.

Large quantities of wheat are also used to supply the demand of such firms as the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, the Iten Biscuit Company, the Skinner Manufacturing Company, and the Uncle Sam Breakfast Food Company of Omaha, the Gooch Milling Company of Lincoln, and the multitude of smaller concerns over the state. The Iten Biscuit Company operates the largest exclusive cracker factory west of Chicago, their daily output of crackers exceeding six carloads. The Skinner Manufacturing Company has long since proven that Nebraska and not Italy is the home of macaroni and is now known as the largest macaroni factory in the world, and the product of the Uncle Sam Breakfast Food Company is known across the seas.

Another important branch of the industry is alfalfa. milling. There are a number of plants scattered throughout the state of which M. C. Peters Mills Company of Omaha is perhaps the largest. These mills annually produce thousands of tons of alfalfa meal, valued at over $5,000,000, which is distributed over Nebraska and neighboring states.

As a live stock market Omaha ranks second, and as a meat market and packing center, third in the world. Seven large packing companies and a number of smaller concerns maintain plants in this city with an output during the year 1918 valued at $288,820,787.

Candy factories, canning factories, dehydrating plants and soda water factories are thriving industries and consume enormous quantities of Nebraska grown fruits, vegetables, and sugar.

Ready to wear clothing is made in a dozen factories and Nebraska made boots, shoes, and hats are known in practically every state.

Farm implements, pumps, mills, and harness are made in quantities and a ready market is found not only in Nebraska and the other states, but in Canada and South America as well. At least three manufacturers of gas engines, trucks, auto bodies, and repairs enjoy a profitable foreign trade.

Although few in number, the brass and iron foundries and sheet metal works of the state, collectively do an extensive business and ship their products over a wide area. The railroads are, perhaps, the largest consumers.

The war seriously affected producers of building material but the present building activity finds them running full blast once more and in difficulties supplying the local demand, for brick, tile, cement and structural steel. Some of the finest and largest deposits of sand and clay in the west are found in Nebraska and her people are well acquainted with the sand dredges and the brick and tile factories.

It is not long since all engraving, lithographing, binding and printing was sent out of the state. There is no further occasion to do so now, for Nebraska plants are equipped with the most modern machinery and the latest methods of production. Steel plate engraving, lithographing and book binding and publishing are now important industries.

Several well known incubators are made in the state as at Clay Center, Lincoln, Wayne, Fremont, and Omaha, and distributed from Cape Town to Hong Kong.

Stock feeds and hog cholera serums are made in Lincoln, Ralston, Red Cloud and a half dozen other places.

Boxes and bags for the shipping of Nebraska products are made at home and our Nebraska soldiers were sheltered by tents from their own state.

Although the activities of our many potash factories were somewhat deranged with the end of the war, they are rapidly returning to normal and will soon, as before the war, be producing sixty per cent of the potash output of the states. There are eighteen small potash plants and nine large plants in Nebraska. There is a large Portland cement plant in successful operation at Superior, Nebraska.

Nebraska has one of the largest smelting and refining plants in the United States with an output in 1918 valued at $48,000,000.

Although there is very little broom corn raised in the state, the largest broom manufacturers in the states, the Lee Broom and Duster Company, is located at Lincoln and another huge plant is at Deshler.

The only floor tile manufactured west of Indiana is made in Lincoln.

Nebraska made cigars find their way into practically every state and Nebraska made toilet preparations can be found in shops on Fifth Avenue.

Although Nebraska may never equal some of her eastern sisters in the manufactures, she is only beginning. The past ten years has seen a phenomenal growth and with our unlimited production of raw material and excellent transportation facilities the coming years will bring even greater advancement in this line of development.



By H. G. Taylor, State Railway Commissioner
Mileage and Distribution. Nebraska is comparatively well served with railroads, having 6,742 miles of main line and approximately five hundred miles of double track. This is equivalent to a mile of road for every 200 people. Unlike Iowa, the Nebraska railroads are unequally distributed geographically, due to the greater density of population in the eastern part, 72 per cent of the population being in a territory in the eastern end comprising only 29 per cent of the total square miles. In this 29 per cent territory there are 3,255 miles of road, which is almost 52 per cent of the entire state mileage. In an area comprising 42 per cent of the square miles, there are 4,392 miles, or 66 per cent of the total road, and in an area in the western end of the state comprising 58 per cent of the total square miles there are 1,472 miles of road, or less than 24 per cent. In the 29 per cent territory, the average distance from a railroad station is seven miles. In the remaining 71 per cent of the area, the average distance is fourteen miles.

Railroad Systems. Seven railroad systems operate in the state, namely, Chicago & Northwestern; Union Pacific; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Missouri Pacific; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, and the St. Joseph & Grand Island. The latter road is now a subsidiary of and operated under the Union Pacific management. The C., St. P., M. & O. has a close relationship with the C. & N. W. Other railroads have terminals in Omaha.

New Lines. There are territories in the state, notably in the middle western and northwestern part, capable of great development, that are not reached by railroad. Construction of new lines and extension of existing lines has been very limited in the past ten years. The extension of the Union Pacific from O'Fallons up the valley of the North Platte to Gering and later to the Nebraska line is the longest extension constructed in recent years. When the Union Pacific acquired control of the St. J. & G. I. it built a connecting line from Gibbon to Hastings, over which it has diverted a large amount of freight traffic to and from Kansas City and the the south. A Burlington cut off recently built from the Ashland-Sioux City line of the Burlington to the main line at Chalco shortens the distance between Omaha and Sioux City.

Tonnage and Revenue - A hasty survey of statistics filed by the railroads with the State Railway Commission presents graphically the extent of the transportation business in Nebraska, and at the same time offers concrete evidence of the rapid development of the state. For the purpose of comparison, the figures for the years 1908 and 1916 are used. In 1908, the total revenue tons carried aggregated 17,029,344 while in 1916, the tonnage had increased to 26,521,203 tons, or over 55 per cent. The gross revenue from all sources in 1908 was $30,639,859.00 but by 1916 it had doubled, being $62,124,463.00. The total expense in 1908 was $19,333,480.00 and $37,066,418.00 in 1916, this leaving a net income in 1908 of $11,333,844.00, which grew to $25,356,090.00 in 1916.

Livestock and Grain Shipment - In 1908 the railroads forwarded 58,967 cars of livestock in the state. In 1916 they forwarded 78,158 cars, or a gain of about 33 per cent. The shipment of grain and grain products forwarded reflect the same satisfactory increase. In 1908 41,147 cars were shipped while in 1916 the number reached 52,041, or a 26 per cent increase. These figures indicate a greatly increased production of agricultural products in the nine years covered. Comparison of other commodities would disclose the same rapid progress in the development of the state's great resources.

Passenger Traffic - The general prosperity of the state during this period is further reflected by the statistics with reference to passenger traffic. In 1908, 8,622,627 passengers were carried in the state, paying a total revenue of $5,078,999. In 1916, 10,460,663 passengers paid $6,024,075. This represents a gain of twenty one per cent in passengers carried and eighteen per cent in revenue received.

Rate Situation - The rate situation in the state, as elsewhere in the United States, has been somewhat chaotic since the railroads were taken over by the Federal Government. The final disposition' of the roads, should, however, correct this condition. Prior to 1914, the rate structure rather favored certain specific jobbing points, but in that year the Railway Commission promulgated a schedule of class rates that served to equalize conditions. Subsequently, this was somewhat interfered with by an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission, but on the whole, the situation, as it stood at the time the United States entered the war, permitted a free and unrestricted development of any community so far as freight rates constituted a factor in that development. As industries develop, of course rates must be adjusted to meet their changing needs. The rate structure normally is sufficiently elastic to permit of growth.

From the foregoing facts, it would appear that Nebraska is well favored and that the development of the state's tremendous resources will not be seriously limited in any way by a lack of transportation.


There are approximately 220 miles of street and interurban railway in Nebraska, operated by seven companies. Of this mileage, 129 is operated by the Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway Company and 58 by the Lincoln Traction Company. The other companies, largely interurban in their character, are as follows: Omaha, Lincoln & Beatrice; Omaha & Southern Interurban Railway; Lincoln, Capital Beach & Milford: Omaha & Lincoln Railway & Light; and the Bethany Traction. The seven systems carried 88,395,179 passengers in 1916, of which 68,432,670 were passengers paying fare, the remaining being nonpaying passengers. It is interesting to compare these figures with the showing for 1908. In that year the total number of passengers carried was 51,182,242, of which 50,680,499 paid fare and 501,743 were non paying. The gross revenue in 1908 amounted to $2,711,238.00. In 1916 it had increased to $3,931,735.00. These figures indicate the growth of the state's two largest cities and their environs. They show that the number of passengers per mile of road has practically doubled.

The development of interurbans has been somewhat slow, but the next few years will probably witness considerable building of that kind. Lines have been surveyed to connect the principal cities in the eastern part of the state, the Omaha, Lincoln & Beatrice being one of these.


By R. E. Mattison, of the Lincoln Telephone Company.
There are more than two hundred and fifty thousand telephones in Nebraska or one to a little less than five persons; 290 companies maintain exchanges and 70 or 80 rural lines are built, owned, and operated by farmers. Between twenty five million and forty million dollars of capital is invested in the telephone business. The telephone industry is important because the network of wires with their universal connection serve to weld the state into an economic and social unit whose solidity would be otherwise impossible.

The Nebraska (Bell) Telephone Company, the pioneer company, is the largest. It operates about 88,000 telephones. The Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph Company oprates close to sixty six thousand phones. Six other companies operate over fifteen thousand telephones. These are the Monroe, the Hamilton County, the Farmers of Dodge County, the. Glenwood, the Kearney, the Platte County, the Southeast Nebraska, the Platte Valley, and the Wyoming and Nebraska companies. Dozens of companies operate several exchanges.

Of the 290 companies in the state, 218 are stock companies or mutuals which sell exchange service and are, therefore, required to make annual reports to the State Railway Commission and are under jurisdiction with respect to rates and service. The number under supervision is 230,000. To this number, at least twenty five thousand should be added to cover those connected with the mutual and switching lines.

The better quality of telephone apparatus now in use in the state has made possible the complete linking up of practically all exchanges by toll lines that do a tremendous yearly business, and which connect not only all Nebraska towns with each other, but give a nation wide service to every phone user.

Rural Lines - Development of rural lines has been greater and the point of saturation nearer reached in some vicinities than in the cities. Many of the original lines built in 1900 were first made up of wires strung on fence posts or on two by fours nailed to the tops of fence posts. Most of these have disappeared and through co-operative effort in hauling poles, digging holes for them and helping put them in place, a much higher grade of rural service is given.


By G. E. Condra, Director, Conservation and Soil Survey.
Nebraska has higher rank in production from these resources than is generally supposed. Among the important resources are sand, stone, clay, volcanic ash, and potash. There are small deposits of coal, and prospecting for oil and gas is being done at a number of places.


The sand resources have been investigated and published by the State Geological Survey and the State Conservation and Soil Survey. A report of about two hundred pages, now out of print, was prepared by the writer and published by the Geological Survey, and Bulletin 6 of the Conservation and Soil Survey is available for distribution as long as it lasts.

The sand resources of Nebraska are widely distributed. The largest deposits, along the Platte, are worked in open pits and by dredging and pumping. Sand and gravel of good quality are produced from this:


The greatest drawback in Nebraska is a lack of fuel. Coal occurs plentifully in all bordering states from which it is shipped. There are a number of thin seams of coal in Nebraska in the Pennsylvanian and Cretaceous formations, but none of them are now worked. Several years ago, drifts were opened on thin beds along the Missouri and in the southern parts of Richardson and Pawnee counties to mine coal for local use. Later a small mine was operated for a short time near Peru.

Beds of low grade lignite have been encountered in artesian wells drilled into the Dakota Formation. A thick carbonaceous shale at the base of the Pierre Formation, exposed near the mouth of the Niobrara, and at places in the Republican Valley, has been mistaken for coal. It is now generally believed that the chance to discover coal of economic importance in Nebraska is small, as shown by a study of the geological formations and by drillings.


The geology of the state is quite well known, except where there is a deep covering of mantle rock. Such knowledge as we have of the structure indicates that there is some chance for the discovery of oil and gas, yet the drillings in several counties have not made discoveries.

The State Conservation and Soil Survey has the duty of gathering and keeping the records of deep wells and is in close touch with prospecting. Wells were sunk the past two or three years at or near Table Rock, Red Cloud, Bassett, Stockville, in Banner County, and in South Dakota near the Sioux and Dawes County lines. Two wells completed at Table Rock extended into granite, and condemned what was thought to be the state's best structure and probable source of oil. The well near Stockville was abandoned at a depth of about two thousand five hundred feet. A string of tools was lost in the Bassett well at 2,000 feet and another location was made. Drilling at Red Cloud continued below 2,000 feet. The Prairie Oil and Gas Company, operating in Banner County with the best equipment ever used in the state, abandoned a test at a depth of 5,697 feet. Two tests were made about twenty five miles northeast of Chadron. They encountered a small showing of gas. One of these wells was put down a number of years ago and the other was completed last year. A well defined structure eighteen miles northeast of Chadron, and on the Nebraska side, will be tested within a year. This should contain oil and gas.

Deep wells have been drilled at Omaha, Rulo, Union, Nebraska City, Beatrice, Lincoln, Arapahoe, McCook, Lynch, Litchfield, Shelton, and Niobrara. Except those at Lincoln, Nebraska City, and Omaha the depths were not sufficient for oil and gas tests.

The western counties are known to be underlain with formations of the age of those which carry oil in Wyoming. It would seem that they might produce in Nebraska, but three conditions, somewhat unfavorable, are encountered. First, it is not possible to work the geology of the formations. because of limited exposure. Second, the sands of the oil bearing formations of Wyoming appear to thin out in the direction of Nebraska and eastern Colorado. Third, the depth in much of Nebraska will be greater than in Wyoming.

There are a number of deposits of clay and silt in Nebraska, some suitable for the manufacture of brick and tile. Unfortunately a great deal of the best clay is thickly covered with mantle rock, making its working comparatively expensive. The silt occurs more favorably.

The clay deposits are in the Pennsylvania, Permian, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and later formations. Clays and shales, interbedded with limestone and exposed in the southeastern counties, are of Pennsylvania and Permian ages. Some of the exposures are worked, as at or near Nebraska City, Auburn, Humboldt, and Table Rock. The clays at Tekamah, Lincoln, Beatrice, Fairbury, and Steele City, are principally of Cretaceous age, occurring in the Dakota Formation. Clays of western Nebraska, belonging to the Tertiary formations, have been used for brick in a limited way. The drift deposits of the eastern counties and the loess deposits distributed so generally over the southeast half of the state are used in brick making, but to best advantage when mixed with materials of finer texture. Brick plants operating on these deposits as at Hooper, Hastings, York, and Omaha, usually ship some clay from the Dakota Formation or from the clay shale beds of the Pennsylvanian formations.

Brick Yards - There are thirty six successful brick plants in Nebraska. The clay resources and strong demand for clay products warrant the expansion of brick and tile manufacture. The state produced 127,000,000 brick and tile (brick measure) in 1918, and 122,000,000 in 1919.


Though lime was made at several places in the state during the early history, the manufacture of Portland cement was delayed until a few years ago, when a cement plant was built at Superior. It operated for a while, was abandoned one year, and rebuilt and enlarged. This plant, owned by the Nebraska Cement Company, is now in successful operation, producing high grade cement. The capacity is to be enlarged to 2,500 barrels per day.

The cement materials of Nebraska are principally in the Pennsylvanian and Cretaceous formations. They are limestones, shales, and chalkrock. Some of the limestone members of the southeastern counties have been tested and found suitable for cement making. The Niobrara chalk and shales immediately below and above it are the state's principal cement resources. The chalk is widely exposed along the Missouri between Knox and Cedar counties and in the Republican Valley, where it is here overlaid by Pierre shale and underlaid by Carlile shale.

Cement Plant at Superior - This large plant is located just west of Superior. The quarry is two and one half miles south of the mill.


The potash industry of Nebraska grew up with the war. It advanced in three Or four years to a point where the state produced about sixty per cent of the potash output in the United States. About ten million dollars was invested in plants and pipe lines. There were 300 miles of pipe lines, nine large plants operating, and eighteen small plants operating or building when the armistice was signed. The daily production was about five hundred tons of crude potash.

During the war Nebraska potash was shipped to the eastern and southeastern states and to Porto Rico and Cuba for use in fertilizers. It was without doubt an important factor in increasing agricultural production and thereby a factor in winning the war. Just what may be done at Washington to assist the potash industry cannot be foretold at this time. It will be necessary to protect the industry for a time against foreign production, and it seems that this will be done. A low tariff or subsidy would insure a permanent potash industry for the United States.

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