The light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, and even electricity hadn't yet been invented. There were only 22 states in the Union and the first open-land run of the territory of Oklahoma was still a projected 70 years away.
During this period, frontier entrepreneur Jacob Bromwell emigrated from Baltimore, Maryland to a quaint hamlet in Ohio coined Cincinnati, which was just being carved out of the virgin frontier forest. Mr. Bromwell, a veteran of the War of 1812, drifted down the Ohio River on a flatboat with a handful of wire looms where he was prudently able to jumpstart his entrepreneurship during the Panic of 1819 - America’s first major financial crisis.
Cincinnati developed to become the “Queen City of the West”, and as Cincinnati flourished, so did Jacob Bromwell’s wire-goods business. Covered wagons, flatboats, and steamboats embarked on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers delivering goods in a rapidly growing new nation.
The California Gold Rush began in 1848. During this pristine era, Americans caravanned to the West with their Jacob Bromwell® tin cups, popcorn poppers, and frying pans. Just two short years later, pioneers started their migration across America. Again, a variety of Jacob Bromwell® products were included as part of the necessities needed to carve out an existence on an unknown frontier. These products included flour sifters, cheese graters, and pans, as well as buckets and popcorn poppers. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Jacob Bromwell® products continued to be a vital part of the pioneers’ daily living. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, and Jacob Bromwell® was there through it all.
In the early 1900s, Jacob Bromwell® moved to Michigan City, Indiana where the company rejoiced in the Roaring 1920s, and the heartbreak of the Great Depression. During this time, the company operated just three days per week, while unconditionally supporting as many hard-working Americans as possible. Jacob Bromwell® survived the daunting times by loyally adhering to its mission statement, which was to produce the highest quality cooking, baking, and campfire products for American families. Jacob Bromwell® was founded with this mission in mind, and remains committed to it today.
It falls to but a few companies to celebrate nearly two centuries of business. If Jacob Bromwell® could be transformed from a little wood-frame building into one of America’s leading housewares companies in almost 200 years, what might the next century bring?
Jacob Bromwell (1785-1866) is born in Richmond, VA, a country village not far from Cincinnati, OH. He is not to be confused with his grandson, Jacob Henry Bromwell, born May 11, 1848, who was a former U.S. Representative from Ohio. Mr. Bromwell is educated in the Quaker Schools of Baltimore, MD and becomes a young soldier of the War of 1812. He returns home with an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong desire to start his own business.
A frontier entrepreneur, Jacob Bromwell leaves Baltimore and forges his way across the American frontier. He travels west via the Ohio River on a flatboat, ending his journey in a small town with the funny name of Cincinnati, OH. The Panic of 1819 strikes – America’s first major financial crisis – yet that same year he opens America’s first wire goods and housewares manufacturing company. Located at 181 Walnut St. in Cincinnati, his eponymous company occupies all six floors and boasts over 1,000 products in its catalog.
As one of America’s manufacturing pioneers, the company patents the world's first flour sifter. The company continues to create cutting-edge products that fulfill the demands of American pioneers at the time, including shoe and scrub brushes, leather and wood horse shiners, dusting and window brushes, mops, rat traps, and corn poppers. They were meticulously crafted by hand with portions constructed on innovative machinery to quicken production.
Resourceful miners and pioneers of the Old West use our pie plates – sometimes called pie pans – to pan for gold during the California Gold Rush of 1848 as they search for infinite treasure. Still today, our company makes these pie pans the same exact way, and you can purchase them for baking something scrumptious for your next family gathering. You might just strike gold!
The company supplies its tin drinking cups to Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War – marked U.S. for United States and C.S. for Confederate States. Standard issue during the Civil War, our company continues to produce these cups today and they are made without welding, soldering, or rivets – all with a little help from the original machinery and equipment.
Jacob Bromwell spends his retirement years in Cincinnati, OH surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and is greatly adored for his kind and amiable character. He is said to have been a large portly man, to have been fond of good living, and to have kept an open house and table for all his friends and kindred. Jacob Bromwell passes away in 1866, yet demand for his company’s tin cups, popcorn poppers, graters, and flour sifters continues to increase, reaching new heights.
During its first 50 years of business, the company undergoes several name changes, including The Bromwell Brush Manufacturing Company and The Bromwell Wire Goods Company. On February 12, 1883, the business files for incorporation and finally settles on the name The Bromwell Brush & Wire Goods Company.
The Bromwell Brush & Wire Goods company celebrates 100 years in continuous business and remains family owned by Jacob Bromwell’s descendents. The company has upwards of 1,000 employees in 7 states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. As the largest business of its kind, it bills itself as having "the largest capacity in the country.” Much of the manufacturing is done through convict labor and the company employs prisoners at wages averaging about 35 cents per day.
The fireplace division of the company is purchased by the Gerwe family, who opens a fireplace store in Cincinnati, OH that is still open today called Bromwell’s. It is now owned by the McClorey family and has been since 2005. The housewares division of the company (this company) is purchased by large conglomerate company Leigh Products, Inc. Leigh Products renames their portion of the business Bromwell Housewares and relocates its manufacturing to a 4-story building at 601 N. Carroll Ave. in Michigan City, IN.
Under the ownership of Leigh Products, Bromwell Housewares enjoys rising sales during the Roaring 1920s followed immediately by the heartbreak of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, sales fall drastically, yet the company continues to operate just three days per week employing as many hard-working Americans as possible.
The company earns numerous distinctions, including being the oldest known manufacturer of tin and stainless steel products in the United States, the oldest housewares company in North America, and the 34th oldest continuously owned and operated company in the United States.
The Original Popcorn Popper, one of the oldest products in our line, was originally sold at a wholesale price of $3.50 for a gross. In 1952, the company proudly announces the sale of its one millionth popcorn popper at Walmart. Walmart celebrates its success with the company and special signs are put on display at Walmart stores to further promote the company’s products.
Leigh Products divests its interest in the company and sells Bromwell Housewares outright to a private investor. Under new ownership in the late 1980s, Bromwell Housewares sustains its success and continues to distribute its namesake, mass market household goods to nationwide discount stores, hardware stores, supermarkets, and drug stores, including Walmart, K-Mart, Target, and Ace Hardware. It is estimated that 1 in 4 American households owns a Bromwell product.
Corporate headquarters relocates to Phoenix, AZ yet the factory in Michigan City, IN continues to operate. While nearly all housewares companies based in America move production offshore to capitalize on low labor costs, Bromwell keeps production local due to its faith in the creativity and productivity of American workers. But as lower cost imports make their way onto the shelves of big box retail stores, demand for the company’s products slowly declines throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and sales consistently drop year after year.
With sales at an all-time low, Bromwell Housewares nearly files bankruptcy and disappears into history. New ownership steps in with a bold turnaround plan to revitalize the failing company which was once a household name. Due to unsafe conditions, the Michigan City factory is closed. The product line is reduced, product quality is improved, and new distribution channels are established. The brand is renamed and repositioned to Jacob Bromwell®, and focused solely on producing top-of-the-line, handcrafted products. In keeping with the brand’s authenticity, the Jacob Bromwell® logo becomes our founder's actual signature, made with his own hand.
Jacob Bromwell® begins production at its new plant in Markle, IN, which features start-of-the-art machinery and safe labor conditions. Products manufactured at this factory include the All-American Flour Sifter and Original Popcorn Popper, both of which have become important icons of 19th-century domestic Americana and continue to be among the company’s best-selling items. The company sees a resurgence in sales and a return to profitability by focusing on the brand’s reputation for durability, quality, and exclusivity.
Jacob Bromwell® brings to market the world’s first copper flask and it becomes an instant success, catapulting the company’s sales and helping to garner nationwide press in publications such as Country Living, People, Esquire, and Martha Stewart Living. In response to the increased demand, the company opens a copper fabrication workshop in Richford, VT. All products produced at this facility are made by hand using old-fashioned techniques and authentic materials.
One of the company’s original factories located at 530 W. First Street in Greensburg, IN factory is converted into apartments. In fact, this two-story building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. How would you like to live in a building that once made Jacob Bromwell® tin cups, flour sifters, popcorn poppers, and wire-based household items?
Jacob Bromwell® proudly donates several original pieces of machinery and equipment to a permanent exhibit at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, IN. Historical Bromwell products can also be found at a number of museums across the country, including The Rossen House in Phoenix, AZ.
In an age when businesses live or die by the next new thing, Jacob Bromwell® has thrived by making the same products the same way for almost 200 years. We are proud to serve a customer base that includes homesteaders and environmentalists, hunters, fishers, cabin dwellers, the "chronically nostalgic", and even Hollywood celebrities and set designers. It falls to but a few companies to celebrate nearly two centuries of business. What might the next century bring?