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American Made: Richardson Industries, Wisconsin's oldest family-owned company, celebrates 175 years of success

Posted at 9:50 AM, Mar 18, 2024

SHEBOYGAN COUNTY — While searching for stories to cover, an idea came to my mind. What's the oldest company in Wisconsin? While there are many 100-year-old companies like Kohler, Harley-Davidson, Jack Pandl's, Niemann's Chocolates, Wells Brothers, Usinger, Baird and more, none are quite as old as one company.

Richardson Industries in Sheboygan County has been around for as long as Wisconsin has been a state. Maybe even longer.

“I don’t think we could apply for a business license until Wisconsin was actually a state. So it might have been 1846 it might have been 1847. We just hang our hat on 1848 when Wisconsin became a state," Justin Richardson, the president of Richardson Industries said.

It's a furniture, wall, flooring and roof manufacturing company. It specializes in custom furniture and trusses. Richardson Industries has been in business for 175 years. Back in 1848, James K. Polk was president, gold was just discovered in California, and there were only 30 states.

Richardson Industries
Richardson Industries employees in the late 1800s.

“My 5th great grandfather started the company," Richardson, a 7th generation Richardson employee, said.

Richardson Industries is comprised of two companies - Richco Structures and Richardson Contract Furniture.

Richco Structures focuses on building trusses for apartment buildings and single-family homes. It's located in Haven, Sheboygan County just a block away from Whistling Straits.

Richardson Contract Furniture focuses on crafting high-quality furniture for boardrooms, college lecture halls, and auditoriums. The company's reputation has earned them recent deals with the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Timberwolves, and even the White House.

"We take pride in what we do. We always put Richardson quality on everything that we ship out, and I think putting that type of extra labor finesse and effort is why we get to deal with some of these gigantic institutions throughout the United States," Richardson said.

Richardson Industries
Richardson Brothers mill in 1891.

The company has tried a lot of different routes on its road to success. in 1848 it was a sawmill. Later, Richardson Industries tried making duck boats, yacht interiors, cheese boxes, and more. Furniture and trusses proved the most successful.

Three Richardsons, including Nigel, Justin, and David, still work for the company. It's owned by seven 6th and 7th-generation Richardsons.

Nigel Richardson, who grew up helping out with the company however he could since middle school, is now a roof truss quoter for Richco Structures.

“It feels almost just kind of like almost even like a hobby to work here," Nigel Richardson said.

The Richardson family's dedication and commitment have transformed their roles within the company into more than just jobs; it is a labor of love and a testament to their unwavering loyalty.

“Yea, my dad worked here, and he was a salesman for the furniture and stuff. And then again the same exact thing with my other brothers just pop in," Nigel Richardson said.

Surviving and thriving for 175 years is no small feat, especially considering the numerous challenges Richardson Industries faced throughout history. The company weathered the Civil War, two World Wars, multiple economic recessions, and a pandemic. So how does a company last so long?

Richardson Industries
One of the manufacturing buildings at the Richco Structures in Haven, Sheboygan County where they make trusses.

“We have always kept money inside the business. And when the business needed funds we have taken our own personal funds and put them into the business. During the Great Depression, my great-grandfather basically had to sell everything he owned to keep the business afloat," Justin Richardson said.

This unwavering dedication and willingness to invest funds during challenging times have been pivotal in Richardson Industries' ability to weather storms and emerge stronger.

Richardson Industries is one of a few longtime businesses in Sheboygan County. Others include Kohler, Johnsonville Sausage, and Sargento. Each is a powerhouse within its respective industry.

"It really just shows how strong Sheboygan County is as a whole. What we have to offer the world, the United States, the multinational companies we have here," Justin Richardson said.

As Richardson Industries celebrates its remarkable milestone, the company, its owners, and its employees all feel a sense of pride for their accomplishments over the past 175 years. However, all eyes are set on the future to bring about another century of success.

“While I’m as proud of what we’ve done the last 175 years, we’re really laser-focused into the next 175 years," Justin Richardson said.