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Manufacturers Index - West Side Iron Works (J. Jackoboice)

West Side Iron Works (J. Jackoboice)
Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Steam and Gas Engines

Last Modified: Dec 5 2016 8:07PM by joelr4
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.


(and its transition to MONARCH ROAD MACHINERY, a.k.a. MONARCH HYDRAULICS, Inc.)

By Edward Michael Jackoboice (Jakóbowicz) – from research 2008-2014

Historians described Józef Jakóbowicz of Kalisz, Poland as “a master craftsman” and as “a machinist par excellence” of the 1800s. He worked with iron to build machines – from steam engines to big bandsaws. He emigrated and eventually settled in the logging town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known as Joseph Jackoboice, he built machines for riverside sawmills and furniture factories which turned logs into furniture – in “The Furniture Capital of America.” The title of one book tells the story: The City Built on Wood: a History of the Furniture Industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1850-1950.

Joseph was born March 16, 1824 in or near the old city of Kalisz (known for its metal, lumber and wood products). Starting at age 16, Joseph “learned the machinist’s trade” in Kalisz and made machinery for four years. In 1844 he emigrated to Germany and worked as a machinist for eight years. In 1852, with “the American dream” he voyaged the Atlantic Ocean and lived in New York City for 2.5 years. He likely worked in a machine shop or a factory in the “Little Germany” district of Manhattan. Records show that he moved to Michigan in 1854, at age 30, and by 1855 became the first Polish immigrant to settle in the city of Grand Rapids.

According to historian M.A. Leeson, by 1856 and until 1860 Joseph worked as a machinist at Elihu Smith’s lumber company/machine shop (at northeast corner of Canal/Monroe and Newberry St.)… and then at Ball & Butterworth/Grand Rapids Iron Works (at Mill and Huron St.). During that time, he married Prussian immigrant Frances Rasch (in 1858).

Two contemporary historians recorded that Joseph started his own machinery business in 1860 (a small foundry and machine shop on Mill Street). He proceeded “to make and repair Steam Engines and all kinds of Mill and Iron Work,” and he developed a lumber-recording device. This was the first of his seven succeeding machine shops on both sides of the Grand River, from the Bridge Street Bridge area downstream to the Pearl Street Bridge area. His shop and home addresses are listed in city directories from 1865 to 1899. An 1865-66 city directory advertisement, various city directory listings, and a photo indicate a simple business name/shingle from 1860 to 1880: “Machine Shop, J. Jacoboice” (surname spelled Jackoboice from 1873 forward). His son Edward Joseph began working as an apprentice machinist in 1879. They built and sold products to customers in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

In 1880, on the west side of the Grand River, Joseph founded the West Side Iron Works. He acquired a large, two-story schoolhouse and converted it to a machine shop (at 31 S. Front St., on the southwest corner at Tremont/Bowery/Douglas Street). Joseph and son manufactured products advertised in city directories of the 1880s and 1890s: Steam Engines… Mill Work [sawmill machinery] and General Wood Working Machinery… Band Saws [also Table, Rip and Cut-off saws]… Saw Arbors... Sand Papering, Boring and Shaping Machines… Shingle Machinery… Shafting and Pulleys… and Excelsior Machines [Upright model. Historically, these rotary, upright and wheel machines (one wheel of 20 knives) cut fine wood shavings (“excelsior”) used as stuffing for mattresses and furniture cushions, and as packing for shipping boxes and crates, etc.]. They also built “Jackoboice’s Fire Escape - More than one hundred in use in Grand Rapids.” (Some of these fire escapes can still be seen aside old buildings, including the 1883 Lemon & Wheeler Building at Ionia and Weston.)

Joseph had a health scare that nearly ended the family business (possibly kidney-related, possibly with painful kidney stones). Its severity moved him to write a business sale notice which happens to be his only extant communication of a personal nature. The notice appeared in the Grand Rapids Evening Leader newspaper, in the “Business Locals” section, on July 27, 1881: “MACHINE SHOP FOR SALE… Having been 20 years in the manufacture of machinery of all kinds in Grand Rapids, I have established a first-class business, but owing to ill health, am compelled to sell. I therefore wish to dispose of my machine shop, building and lot, together with all the lathes, tools, fixtures and patterns. Located at 31 and 33 Front Street. Call or address, JOS. JACKOBOICE, Grand Rapids, Mich.” Fortunately, the health scare passed and the family business continued through the end of the 19th century, through the 20th and into the 21st century.

Joseph, a machinist for 55 years, retired circa 1895. The Evening Press reported that he “was one of the oldest settlers upon the West Side, and a pioneer of the Polish citizens.” Another contemporary newspaper stated that he “was widely known among the business men of the city and had an enviable reputation for business honor, honesty and reliability.” The headline announced, “Honest and Industrious… a Wealthy Polish Citizen is Dead.” Joseph died at age 74 at home (52 Broadway) of “Bright’s Disease” (hereditary kidney failure) on February 8, 1899.

One of ten children, Edward Joseph Jackoboice (1864-1935) was also known for invention and innovation. For fun he built a steam-powered boat and named it The Comet - the name indicating a very fast boat, or a very good sense of humor. In 1897 he built the fourth steam-powered automobile in Grand Rapids and drove it to Detroit in 1898 (a six-day roundtrip by car, on horse and wagon roads that likely sparked a desire to build road maintenance machinery).

Edward Joseph married Helen Hake in 1906, extending the family line and business.

In the early 1900s, Edward Joseph manufactured woodworking machinery for car body builders (Wilson, Fisher and Briggs) during early mass production of the automobile. As more Model Ts and other cars rolled and bounced along dirt and gravel roads, the public began demanding better road conditions. And Edward Joseph transitioned from the manufacture of woodworking machinery to road maintenance machinery – including “scraper” grading blades with early hydraulics. He sold the West Side Iron Works woodworking machinery business to a Chicago company in 1921. But he kept the old schoolhouse/machine shop and renamed it the Edward J. Jackoboice Company (1922-1931). Known patents? He co-patented a Glue-jointing machine (1898) and a Sand-belt machine (1909). He patented “Road scraper” grading blades (1923, 1929) and a “Hydraulic scraper” (1929). He was once described as one of “the best known mechanical men and expert machinists in the city” (Grand Rapids Press, 1903; a Cadillac car ad listed him as one of several local buyers).

In 1931 the family renamed its business as the Monarch Road Machinery Company. Edward Joseph died in 1935. Sons Edward William and George A. Jackoboice built the business through the Great Depression and then World War II (also producing torpedo propellers). As demand for hydraulic products grew, the brothers constructed a new factory at 1363 Michigan Street (opened in 1954). Monarch employees always excelled in the production of pumps, valves and cylinders for snowplows, tailgates and a variety of lifts and ladders (parade floats to aerial ladders to drone planes). Monarch grew to 125,000 square feet of factory and office space by 1981, with a Canadian subsidiary and an assembly facility in Europe. The company was aptly renamed Monarch Hydraulics, Inc., in 1983.

Five generations of the family owned and operated these companies, selling products nationwide and exporting worldwide (from Disneyland to the Holy Land, IDF). As family machinery work in America reached its 150th anniversary in 2006, a workforce of 240 employees generated annual sales of $71 million.

One can see Jackoboice product patents, with original illustrations and descriptions, on the Internet (16 patents from 1909 to 1974). Go to: Google Advanced Patent Search. Find the “Inventor” line, type Jackoboice, click Google Search. And see Rasch Genealogy, Rasch Genealogy– Rasch/Gutkorn Family, Frances Rasch, Jackoboices. Enterprising men of integrity, Edward William Jackoboice (1907-1980) and George A. Jackoboice (1908-1987) are both in the Greater Grand Rapids Business Hall of Fame.

Many came to know the family’s logo: Quality Machinery Since 1856 – by Jackoboice. Considering research discoveries and eventual developments, it would be appropriate to reword the logo: Quality Machinery from 1840 through 2007 – by Jakóbowicz.

Following the sale of Monarch, it became a subsidiary of Bucher Hydraulics and Bucher Industries in January, 2008.

Additional notes: The original Monarch/West Side Iron Works schoolhouse/machine shop fell silent from 1954 to 1958. From 1958 into the 1960s, my father Edward James worked in this shop where his father Edward William, grandfather Edward Joseph and great grandfather Joseph worked for decades. The old building stood throughout my youth, so I remember its aroma of vintage wood and industry. Revived as the West Side Iron Works, the shop’s last product was a metal, accordion-like, street barricade (a.k.a. “road barrier”). Its production eventually moved into the new Monarch hydraulics factory, where my brother Tim and I worked at times. During my school and college years (1968-1981), I mowed the lawn and assembled pumps and barricades. Forefathers and cousins ran the business. I retired in 1981 as a journalist en route to life in Alaska, Chile and New Mexico. As the last Jackoboice to labor for the West Side Iron Works, I may be the last to research the story of its founder.

I’m thankful for superb research assistants in Poland… for journalists, historians and archivists… and for the very helpful expertise of the staff at the Local History Department of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

The historic German-English Schoolhouse/machine shop was a downtown landmark for 116 years. Fires damaged the building in 1979 and 1981, and it was razed in 1982. The family donated the property to the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Near the President’s grave, one can walk the fence to a plaque at the original site of Monarch and the West Side Iron Works.

For anyone trying to date a product from the early days, the following business names, addresses and dates might be helpful (from recent research and 1800s city directories):

Under “Machine Shop, J. Jacoboice”: on “Mill Street” from 1860-1862… at “w.s. Canal nr. [near] Bridge” from 1862-1867… at “Mill-st. cor [corner] Bridge” from 1868-1871… at “w s Water w s [West Side]” in 1872 (Water St. renamed Front St. in 1873).

Under “Machine Shop, J. Jackoboice”: at “e s Water n Pearl WS” in 1873 (Water St. renamed Front St. on 7/12/1873)… at “e s South Front St., bet [between] Allen and Valley” from 1874-1880.

Under “West Side Iron Works, J. Jackoboice” (and/or Edward Joseph Jackoboice): at “31 S Front, w s” (as written in 1881-1882 city directory) from 1880 to 1911. The address was also written as “31-33” and as “31 and 33” S. Front St., references to two lots beneath the building. The address was renumbered as 327-329 S. Front St. NW in 1912 (same address through sale of the business in 1921).

A related note: The family name developed from the original Jakób-owicz (hyphens added) to Jakob-owics (1844-1858)… Jacob-owicz (1858)… Jacob-o-ice (1859-1872)… and Jackob-oice (1873 forward, eventually pronounced “Jacko-boyce”). Joseph was a master craftsman. However, in crafting a unique new surname, this iron worker forged an endless irony. Countless Americans would forever continue to spell and pronounce "Jackoboice" countless different ways!

One can see a vintage, West Side Iron Works bandsaw in the “Furniture City” section of the Grand Rapids Public Museum – and several others on the Vintage Machinery website (www.VintageMachinery.org). Bandsaws and other machines may exhibit clues as to general date of manufacture. For example, a metal tag with a number likely indicates the 1st bandsaw produced, or the 205th produced (as tag number 205 on the bandsaw in the Grand Rapids Public Museum). This bandsaw was probably manufactured in 1898 or later, as indicated by a triangular label marked “J & G.” This label likely represents the Jackoboice & Robert M. Gleason partnership – which was first listed in the 1898 city directory and lasted until at least 1908 (maybe until sale of the West Side Iron Works business in 1921).

Unfortunately, we do not know when the first bandsaw was produced, when the last bandsaw was produced, nor the total number of bandsaws produced. Some conjecture? One could estimate that production started circa 1868 (when Joseph built a machine shop) and ended 50 years later circa 1918 (Vintage Machinery reports, “So far as we can tell, they had stopped making their woodworking machinery line by the end of World War I.”). With production of about five bandsaws per year, about 50 per decade, the shop would have produced a total of about 250 bandsaws. Based on conjecture, bandsaw #205 would have been produced circa 1909.

From the door of the West Side Iron Works in the late 1800s or early 1900s, a large “Line Drive” bandsaw made its way to Louisiana. Circa 1995, Mr. Dennis Reid purchased it for his workshop ($650). He first reported its restoration on the Vintage Machinery website in 2007 (with striking photos). Contacted via e-mail in 2012, he shared more about this superbly restored, fully functional bandsaw: “Oddly enough, the machine really didn’t need that much done to it except cleaning…. It has a new, 3hp electric motor on it.... That machine is rock solid and works so well.... I can stand up a nickel on the table, start the saw and it does not shake, vibrate or roll.... Zero vibration, smooth as silk cutting, so much room to maneuver around with the large throat… and once those 36” wheels are up to speed, the momentum is so great, they keep turning for quite a while…. I built a Sam Maloof replica rocking chair for my wife using this saw to cut out the rockers without any problem. An absolutely awesome machine and the showpiece of my shop…. They were the top of their class and still are, and in this day and age can’t be touched…. I can assure you of one thing… your family built super equipment that lasts and lasts. I just don’t believe that any manufacturer comes close to the quality. This is the best money can buy….”

In downtown Grand Rapids, it is enjoyable to stroll and check old buildings for “Jackoboice’s Fire Escapes.” Walk Ionia Avenue. Start at the Blodgett Block of buildings (built in the 1880s) to see a confirmed, West Side Iron Works fire escape – and its distinctive style. It is on the south end of the 1883 Lemon & Wheeler Building, at Ionia and Weston. I enjoyed a close look in August, 2012 and watched a maintenance worker lower its perfectly functional, bottom ladder. A plaque on this building states that it is in the National Register of Historic Places. Across the street (Ionia) there is a very old brick building with a WSIW-style fire escape on the back.

At the north end of the Blodgett Block, at 7 Ionia Avenue, there is a building titled with raised lettering: “THE GUNN COMPANY 1885. ” There is a fire escape high on its back, west side.

Another WSIW-style fire escape is on the east side of the Cornerstone Building at 89 Ionia Avenue (at Fountain Street). This impressive fire escape is a single, spiral staircase with ornate balconies at the windows. The building dates back to 1906 – as Steketee’s Department Store.

A larger, elaborate fire escape graces the back of a building at Ionia and Pearl. The building was built by the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) and dedicated in 1893 (when WSIW fire escapes were readily available to save kids and teens from fire). The YMCA moved in 1914… and the building was renamed as the Federal Square Building. Note the fire escape’s spiral and staircase ladders - connected to signature WSIW balconies at smokeless windows.

From old, faithful fire escapes to restored, working bandsaws, the West Side Iron Works continues to serve.

Information Sources

  • Listing (as Joseph Jackoboice) in the 1874 work, Wiley's American iron trade manual of the leading iron industries of the United States, as an iron foundry and machinery maker.
  • This profile is from the 1881 book, History of Kent County, Michigan, by M.A. Leeson (published by Chas. C. Chapman & Co., Chicago; pp. 1050-51): “Joseph Jackoboice, proprietor West Side Iron Works, was born in Poland, March 16, 1824. He was reared and educated in his native land, and when 16 years of age learned the machinist’s trade at Kalisch [Kalisz], where he worked four years. He then emigrated to Germany, where he was employed at his trade until 1852, when he located at New York city [City]. After stopping there two and a half years, he came to Grand Rapids (in 1855), and was employed by Elihu Smith and Ball & Butterworth till 1860. He then went into business for himself, and has succeeded in making a success of his trade. A sketch of his business will be found in another chapter….”

    The sketch of Joseph’s business follows: “The West-Side Iron Works, with Joseph Jackoboice proprietor, were established in 1860, by William A. Berkey, on Canal street [first established on the east side of the Grand River]. The works were carried on there some eight years, until in 1870, when they were moved into William T. Powers’ shop. In 1880, [Joseph] purchased the Grand Rapids Savings Bank building, the present shop, at a cost of $10,000. The building is 40 x 92 feet, two stories high, all of which is occupied by the works. All kinds of steam engines, mill work, and general wood working machinery are manufactured. A specialty is made of “Jackoboice’s band saw.” Sales average about $24,000 annually. Product is sold mostly in Michigan. Six men are employed in the business.” E.M.J. notes: This business sketch and others contain some inaccuracies. The machine shop building (originally a schoolhouse, then possibly and briefly used as a bank) was transferred to Joseph free of charge. He likely bought Mr. Berkey’s iron works business and equipment for $10,000, then moved into the old schoolhouse - and named it the West Side Iron Works.

  • The book The City of Grand Rapids: Sketches of the Principal Industries and Business Houses, 1889, has this sketch:
    WEST SIDE IRON WORKS.—Joseph Jackoboice, proprietor, manufacturer of band saws, saw arbors, shafting, pulleys and general mill work, and of the Jackoboice fire escape and balcony; office and works 31 and 33 South Front street. Nearly a score and a half years ago Mr. Jackoboice laid the foundation for his present profitable and conspicuous enterprise, whose trade extends throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. The manufactory occupies a two story building, 50x92 feet, the plant being complete in all mechanical accessories and an adequate force of competent workmen being employed. The productions of the work are as above noted, and all lines manufactured are recognized for their excellence. A specialty is made of the Jackoboice fire escapes and balconies, which are substantial and ornamental in design, and not excelled by any other device answering a similar purpose. These escapes and balconies have been adjusted to Sweet's Hotel,... Mr. Jackoboice is a native of Poland, is a pioneer in the Valley City, having located here in 1855, and he is a practical machinist of fifty years' experience. The gentleman, in the conduct of his business, is honorable and reliable, and enjoys a high standing in the respect and esteem of the community.
  • From the 1891 book, History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan by Albert Baxter (available online at RootsWeb.com):
    Joseph Jackoboice began iron work in 1860; in a small room on the second floor of a sash, door and blind factory on Mill street. In 1862 he moved into a building near the east end of Bridge street bridge. In 1865 he purchased a lot on the present site of the Clarendon Hotel, where he put up a building which he occupied about two years, when he removed to South Front street, near the end of Pearl street bridge. From there, in 1880, he moved to his, present quarters, erecting a two story building on the corner of South Front and Bowery Streets, and opened the West Side Iron Works. The capital invested by Mr. Jackoboice is $10,000, and gives employment to half a dozen men, with a monthly payroll of about $300. The annual output of $10,000 or more consists mainly of mill work and wood working machinery, his specialties being Jackoboice's band saws and fire escapes.
  • Ad in December 1963 issue of Popular Science for a dump truck with a hydraulically controlled snow plow. "Quality machinery since 1856—by Jackoboice / Monarch Road Machinery Company / 1331 Michigan St., N. E. Grand Rapids 3, Michigan" (Please note the factory's original and actual address: 1363 Michigan St. NE; Grand Rapids, MI 49503)
  • Edward Michael Jackoboice (Jakóbowicz) – from research 2008-2014
  • West Side Iron Works, Complete History by Mike Jackoboice