News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 2, 2011

FLASHPOINT: A great company will soon disappear from community

James Wood

TERRE HAUTE — This is in reference to the Tribune-Star story of Aug. 6 concerning the Terre Haute Sherwin-Williams plant’s intention to close by end of the year:

The closing of the Sherwin-Williams paint factory in Terre Haute is an end to over 100 years of paint manufacturing and distribution here. Sherwin-Williams was just the final name for a continuously operating company.

In 1909, the Smith-Alsop Paint and Varnish Co. was founded by two men from Princeton in Gibson County. Their first manufacturing plant was located at 104 Wabash Ave. The factory production equipment was on the second floor and the retail store was on the first floor. The company maintained the retail outlet at that location until the building was razed in 1969 when the area was to be redeveloped.

In 1924, Dix Lumber Co. buildings and land were purchased at 630 N. Third St. at Spruce Street in order to expand. Guy Fredericks was president of the company. A new three-story concrete and steel manufacturing building was constructed in 1925 and it still remains. Manufacturing of paints and varnishes began at this location in 1926. There were several building expansions under the Smith-Alsop name. In the 1960s Smith-Alsop stores expanded outside the Midwest by opening stores in Tennessee and Alabama while opening a factory in Orlando, Fla., serving retail stores all over Florida

In 1969, M. A. Bruder & Sons, Inc., a paint manufacturing company located in Philadelphia, purchased the company. The Smith-Alsop name remained in use in the Midwest and south for several years, however, until the local operation’s name was officially changed to MAB Paints in 1977.

In 1984, many of the oldest buildings at the factory were demolished when the Third Street overpass was built. In 1983 and 1985, a new office building, finished goods and raw material warehouses were constructed to replace them and to expand the operations.

Paint production at the Terre Haute factory grew to 500,000 gallons a year in 1945 and to 1,000,000 gallons a year in 1969. Lee Roads became president of Terre Haute operations in 1973. His leadership led to a rapid growth of retail and professional paint sales in the South and Midwest. Annual production and sales grew to 2,000,000 gallons in 1987 and 3,000,000 gallons in 1996 with distributions to states from Michigan to Alabama and Florida and from Iowa and Missouri to Ohio. By the time Sherwin-Williams purchased the entire M.A. Bruder & Sons operations in 2007, nearly 100,000,000 gallons of paints and varnishes had been manufactured in Terre Haute. Sherwin-Williams closed the MAB factories in Philadelphia and Orlando soon after the purchase, but the Terre Haute plant remained in production, albeit much smaller, until now.

Over these 100-plus years, I think of the thousands of different persons who were employed at one time or another in Terre Haute at the factory, laboratories, distribution center and offices, plus store and sales within the states of operations. The local factory and shipping employees were represented by Painters Union Local 1123 from the 1930s to near 2000. Over those years there was never a strike. There was always outstanding cooperation between labor and management to produce quality products efficiently.

The same quality of employees was found in the technical, office, sales and store operations. I worked with manufacturing, sales and technical employees in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Georgia before joining this Terre Haute operation. The quality and loyalty of employees here are the best I have ever seen. I was proud to have worked with them for 26 years.

It is sad to see a great company disappear from Terre Haute.

— James Wood

Smith-Alsop and MAB Paints Factory Manager, 1972-1998

Terre Haute