MENASHA — This year, as Menasha reaches 150 years of cityhood, a business that played an instrumental role in its growth is celebrating its own 175th anniversary.

In fact, Menasha Corp.’s roots actually date back to one year after Wisconsin become a state.”To have that amount of history and have the company still thriving is somewhat unheard of nowadays,” said Christopher Drees, who took over roughly a year ago as president and CEO of the international manufacturing
business, now based in neighboring Neenah.

Menasha Corp. is just one of a series of a businesses and industries that shaped Menasha over the decades.
Generations of families have worked at the Menasha paper mill, which was established in 1915 and is currently owned by Essity, a Swedish company. Today, Essity employs about 900 people in the Fox Cities, between its Menasha mill, Neenah converting facility and Service Excellence Center in the town of Menasha.

“We are proud to have called Menasha or home for over 108 years,” said Erik Standerfer, operations manager at Essity Menasha. Menasha Corp. evolved from early days as wooden pail factory. In 1852, Elisha D. Smith bought a wooden pail factory, which opened in Menasha three years prior, for $1,200. During the Civil War, that factory became “the largest manufacturer of woodenware in Wisconsin,” according to a website commemorating Menasha’s sesquicentennial.

By 1872, the business incorporated as Menasha Wooden Ware. It made barrels and kegs for vinegar, sauerkraut, beer, sausage and condensed milk, according to a history page on Menasha Corp.’s website, as well as wooden pails and tubs
for bulk packaging of candy, fish and pickles. The company made “a daring decision” in 1927 “to enter the corrugated box business,” the company said.

“This decision is the most ambitious and important transition in Menasha’s history — out of woodenware, into corrugated — and changes the course of the company, shaping what is today the Menasha Packaging Company,” according
to the website. By the 1950s, the company added plastic containers, which evolved into Menasha Corp.’s other current business, ORBIS Corporation.

Three years after a fire destroyed its Menasha box plant in 1964, the company built a new headquarters in Neenah, to have better access to the highway and rail facilities, according to Drees. Menasha Corp. is still based in Neenah today, in a facility updated in 2016. Reaching 175 years is “a testament to the family shareholders  and all the people that have worked at Menasha Corp.,” Drees said. He credits the company’s ability to innovate, reinvest and hire “great, great people.” Menasha Corp. will celebrate, he said, by following the example its founder, Elisha D. Smith, set.

“There’s a story,” Drees said, “where he purchased 50,000 trees for a local nursery and donated them to anybody” in the area to plant. Those could still be standing today throughout Menasha, according to Drees. Smith was known for giving back to the community, he said, and a local park and library carry on his namesake. Similarly, employees will volunteer to
complete “175 acts of kindness,” according to Drees.
The company also expects to make some “larger philanthropic announcements” in the Fox Valley this year, he said, and publish a book about Menasha Corp.’s history.
The company remains a leading corrugated and plastic packaging manufacturer and supply chain solutions provider. In February, it received a Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Award.

Menasha known as ‘Industrial City of the North’ Like Neenah — which celebrated its own 150th anniversary last year —
Menasha’s waterpower supported flour mills in its early days. Those were later replaced by paper mills, such as Gilbert Paper, Whiting Paper and John Strange Paper, as well as other businesses, including Walter Bros. Brewing Co. In the 1900s, Menasha became known as “The Industrial City of the North” because of “the large number of industrial facilities located within the city,” according to the city’s anniversary website. George Banta Publishing Co. printed newspapers and magazines, while Marathon Corp. was one of the city’s largest employers, the webpage says.

Today, Menasha remains “home to some of the world’s largest corporations as well as innovative local companies,” according to the city’s website. “We’re proud to be headquartered right in the middle of the city and are thrilled to watch it continue to grow and thrive,” said Mike Jansen, CEO of Faith Technologies Incorporated. Jansen and Standerfer, of Essity, congratulated Menasha on reaching 150 years.

“Essity continues to invest millions annually in the Menasha paper mill to strengthen our market position for years to come,” according to Standerfer. The company also gives back to the local community, Standerfer said, by reducing water use and improving wastewater treatment quality, donating meals through Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, and planting tree saplings at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, among other activities.

Menasha Corp., meanwhile, keeps growing and innovating, Drees said, including in Wisconsin. Over the last couple of years the company added new equipment in Neenah and Hartford and expanded capacity within its Menasha Packaging business, he said.
“It’s been a good, long road of success, and we look to continue that,” Drees said.

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