Marshall B. Lloyd
Marshall B. Lloyd

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Air travel, at least the way we know it today, was unheard of when Marshall Burns Lloyd came to Menominee in 1906 to build a sterling reputation in the making of baby-buggies and furniture. If there would have been air travel in the early years of his rise to industrial stardom, a Menominee-based airport would have been buzzing with flight schedules.

Of course we could say that about the other pioneer business names who helped build Menominee and Marinette — Stephenson, Merryman, Hall, Spies, Wells, Holmes, Lauerman, Sherman, Noyes, Andrews, Henes and others. They would have much preferred air travel to stage coach and sailing vessels because of their hectic business schedules.

I submit, though, that Lloyd’s type of business was different from the others. He had foreign investors interested in his inventions.

Although Menominee enjoys the storied success of the Lloyd name and his list of inventions, Mr. Lloyd’s liveliness and vivacity of imagination actually began in the family woodshed in Meaford, Canada, years prior to his arrival here by way of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was in Menominee where his dreams materialized and his fortune was assembled.

As a young lad north of the U.S. border, Lloyd built a clothes hamper, a product he traded to others for food and clothing. He produced a wooden eaves trough by scooping out the heart of a small tree. His father was so impressed with his son’s brilliancy, he manufactured them. Various other creative devices followed.

Many different gadgets followed, but Mr. Lloyd’s first genuine invention was a bag-builder and scale, which permitted one man instead of two to fill and weigh grain sacks. Lloyd and his supporters set up a blacksmith shop to manufacture some of his inventions, but the shop was destroyed by fire, temporarily ending his creative work.

Lloyd’s ambition and innovative habits didn’t vanish in the flames at the blacksmith shop. He wound up in Minneapolis and hooked up with the C.O. White Manufacturing Co. because of a machine he had invented for making household articles. Then came a method for manufacturing mattresses, which proved to be yet another Lloyd product that was successful.

Early in the 20th century, Mr. Lloyd decided to take his bag of inventions and head to a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where a booming lumber industry was in motion and people with money were looking to invest in other interests. Their positive outlook convinced Lloyd to take a chance. He never regretted it.

Lloyd came to Menominee with two new inventions. One was a welding machine, which made it possible for gauged steel tubing to be manufactured at a substantially reduced cost. Until then, the tubing costed more per foot than heavy tubing because it required greater labor costs to produce it. By the post-World War I era (1918), Lloyd’s invention was being used in industries throughout the United States. The Lloyd invention was in wide use in factories making bicycle frames, automobile parts, steel bed frames and chairs.

It was only a matter of time when Lloyd’s invention was going to influence industries in Europe and Asia to take a look.

In a 1920 story in the Lloyd Shop News, a publication produced by employees at the Lloyd Manufacturing Co. operation in Menominee, the steel tubing phenom was positioned in factories in Japan, Canada and Australia. Ralph Wells of the Wells lumber family of Menominee installed a plant in England, and then headed to Europe to exercise Lloyd’s famous patent.

Lloyd’s most famous inventions, however, were those connected with the production of wicker. In ancient times, wicker-woven products were made by first building the frame and then weaving the fabric around it. Lloyd changed the system.

He designed a method which called for weaving the wicker separate of the frame and later attaching it to the frame. When the U.S. Patent Office granted the patent, it gave one of the broadest patents ever issued by the agency.

This was followed by Lloyd’s patent on loom. With the two patents in hand —wicker-weaving and loom — Lloyd had revolutionized the wicker-weaving world. In Lloyd’s case, it enabled him to slash labor costs by a substantial margin.

“The power of those inventions has resulted in this firm growing to be the largest baby-carriage manufacturer in the nation,” wrote the Lloyd Shop News in a 1920 edition. “Through this growth the Lloyd Loom Woven baby carriage is the best known baby carriage made, and Mr. Lloyd, himself, has come to be recognized as one of the greatest mechanical inventors in the nation. Lloyd employees may not know it, but they are working in a plant which is entirely different from any other in America.’’

In an age of slow-moving communications and marketing, the news of Lloyd’s inventions traveled around the world. A man identified as H.C. Tucker came to Menominee from Australia to secure the rights to the wicker inventions in Australia and New Zealand. Lloyd sent Simon Bolin of Menominee to the new operating plants in Australia and New Zealand to assist in setting up the machinery and getting them in operation.

It was the beginning of a boom for Lloyd and his inventions. Inquiries came from Norway, Spain, Holland, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and China. Machinery and related tools were shipped from Menominee to plants around the world where the wicker-weaving process was put in place.

The surge in sales with the worldwide attention prompted Mr. Lloyd to expand the size and scope of his Menominee Factory. More workers were hired and the Lloyd company became the largest employer in the reign with more than 1,208 employees.

For more than a half century, baby carriages bore the weight of the local economy.