Allis-Chalmers Factory Complexes

I live and breathe Allis-Chalmers history. The story of the industrial giant, which was once headquartered in Milwaukee, has attracted many other followers and enthusiasts like myself. The story of the company’s achievements and innovation is worth studying. I have set out to locate and document the locations of some of the factories, ones that were once operated by the firm, across the world using Google Maps. Consulting books, newspapers, and fellow Allis-Chalmers enthusiasts I was able to pinpoint and mark out the exact locations of a few of these old complexes, but I still have many more to go.

Using the map below you can examine the locations of Allis-Chalmers’ old complexes (these are a few I have listed so far). Some remain and stand as a reminder of the once huge firm, while others have been long decimated to make way for new industries.

Because it would take a long time to put all the information into one posting, I have decided to break up the information into segments about each of these locations.

West Allis

#1 West Allis Works- Headquarters

I have been to the West Allis Works in West Allis, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee). There are still quite a few buildings left from the days it was occupied by Allis-Chalmers. The old factory grounds are located on South 70th Street, just off of I-94 East exit 307A.

An old comic book, put out by Allis-Chalmers, from the 1950s includes a brief overview of the West Allis Works. That complex was built in 1901 when the E.P Allis Reliance Works, Fraser & Chalmers Manufacturing Co, Dickson Manufacturing Co. and the Gates Iron Works merged to form the Allis-Chalmers Company. In order to meet the demand for their products, the company moved out of its cramped Milwaukee lot and relocated west of Milwaukee near Greenfield. The community would rename itself “West Allis” after the company that set up headquarters there.

In this publication, it was stated that the plant stood on 160 acres and maintained a workspace of over 4,100,000 feet of floor space in the sprawling complex. The factory employed 15,000 of the total 41,000 (at that time) workers of the entire Allis-Chalmers firm. To get their product out, the complex contained 21 miles of railroad tracks and 5 miles of roads. The West Allis Works was the largest of all the A-C factory complexes at that time.

When you visit this place, you get the sense of how massive of an operation the place really was. Above a retail store that is standing there now, a Pawling & Harnischfeger crane remains as a reminder of the big things that were made by the firm and the equipment that was used to move them.

It was in the main foundry, where massive heavy equipment was cast, that Allis-Chalmers claimed that 80,000 tons of metal would be melted and cast into parts that could weigh as much as 135 tons. Large objects, after being cast, were shaped and formed in massive 2,500-pound press machines. Automated machines and conveyors made and transported cast tractor parts from start to finish before being assembled as a tractor.

Elsewhere in the factory, Allis-Chalmers boasted having “the largest position welding table in the western hemisphere.” The firm also had an X-ray machine, powered by 24 million volts, that could examine their metal products and detect any irregularities or flaws on a piece of metal up to 24 inches thick.

Allis Chalmers made so many different pieces of intricately designed pieces of machinery and heavy equipment. Everything from steam turbines & components, parts for crushers in mining industries, and massive rotors for electric motors ( Allis-Chalmers claimed they built the largest rotor being fitted for a 3,600hp motor).

Other important machines and components built at Allis-Chalmers were generators, transformers, steam & hydraulic turbines, and condensers, all of which would help power plants produce electricity for people all around the world. Electric equipment, both indoor, and outdoor, high voltage and low voltage switch gears and control units were also built at the West Allis Works.

Another product built at the factory, the one that got me interested in the firm’s history, was the Allis-Chalmers tractor. The company got involved in the farm tractor business in 1913. They gained a reputation for some of the key innovations of farm equipment including pneumatic tires, power-shift adjustable wheels, turbocharged diesel engines on tractors, and more. The Allis-Chalmers tractor line was most noted for its bright orange-colored tractors, a color that was said to be inspired by a flower.

D-17s on tractor assembly line

The West Allis Works of the Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. was a huge industrial complex that put out some intricately designed and manufactured goods. Though the firm was great in size and was profitable, it was no match for the recession the 1980s brought in. Management began selling branches of the firm to prevent the economic loss, but all attempts were futile. The firm filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1987 and on January 29, 1989, the factory officially shut down, except for a few office workers. In 1999 the rest of the complex was closed and Allis-Chalmers’ legacy came to an end.

* Information from A better tomorrow begins today at Allis-Chalmers: The story of a great company. (1950s) produced for Allis-Chalmers by Johnstone and Cushing of N.Y.C.

4 thoughts on “Allis-Chalmers Factory Complexes”

  1. My father worked for Allis-Chalmers between 1930 and 1946. I don’t know the exact time and he is now deceased. Do employee rosters exist? Also he was not in the armed forces of WWII but was sent to Russia to repair salvageable equipment from battlefields. Did Allis-Chalmers supply this type of support to the US efforts as well as physical equipment? I remember he had a rather unique signature which said he came to use because he had to sign so many documents. He was not an accountant and most likely worked in the agricultural division of the company. His name is Haskell Elwood Kemp 1913-1995. Thank you

  2. I worked for Allis Chalmers at the West Allis Works between 1955 and 1960 after graduating from college. The facility was massive and manufactured 100’s of various types of heavy industrial equipment. It is sad to realize such a giant of a company is no longer in existence. My tenure there gave me the experience which I used until I retired. This is a very interesting and informative web site and has brought to mine many things and people from olden times.

  3. what a pity too bad about Allis Chalmers yeah I worked there . big plant they could have
    built anything they wanted to there to the found the way to keep it going so always the working people that pay the price for the corporate executives run with the money in laundering the businesses

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