2320 Creve Coeur Mill Road
The "We" in Weber truly makes the difference.
Based in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, Missouri, Fred Weber, Inc. is an employee-owned company that through ten subsidiaries is involved in three service areas. Fred Weber's construction services, acting as a general contractor, offers a full range of roadwork, including heavy grading, concrete and asphalt paving, sewers, and all aspects of bridge building. Fred Weber also makes its own material through its material services division, which owns nine quarries and provides materials to most of the builders and contractors in the St. Louis metropolitan area. In addition, Fred Weber takes advantage of a depleted quarry to operate a sanitary landfill. The natural gases that are a byproduct of the landfill are then used to heat a concrete ready mix plant boiler, an asphalt plant burner, a number of greenhouses, as well as a local high school. Fred Weber is also looking into ways to use methane gas from the landfill to run mini-turbines and produce electricity for the local market. Finally, Fred Weber offers transportation services, operating as many as 350 trucks each day, hauling materials from company quarries to production facilities, transporting construction materials from third parties to production facilities, and providing internal hauling of cement and asphalt from company plants. In addition, the company operates a helicopter charter service through subsidiary Adeletom Aviation L.L.C.
Company Formally Launched in 1928
The man behind the eponymous company was Fred Weber, Sr., born in St. Louis in 1899, known for years by his employees as "Old Man Weber." When he was just a teenager he went to work for his father after World War I, delivering ice and coal with a horse-drawn wagon. He soon revealed his ambitious nature, renting a truck in order to deliver even greater volumes. In 1920 he was able to buy the vehicle, a five-ton dumpster. Because the truck was better suited for hauling construction materials, Weber left the ice and coal business. Operating out of his home in South St. Louis, he began transporting materials from area quarries to construction sites. He was successful enough by 1926 to buy more trucks and hire his first employees: foreman Fritz Saur, and drivers Johnny Rathouse and Red O'Connell. At this stage, Weber was still driving a truck himself. A key moment in his business career came in 1928 when he won his first road contract, which involved the excavation and pipe work for a stretch of road in St. Louis County. According to the company, this contract marked the start of Fred Weber, Inc.
Because of the excavation needs of this first road contract, Fred Weber bought its first heavy equipment: a gas shovel and a "Skimmer Scoop" (which featured a large bucket with a hinged bottom on a boom that allowed its operator to move and dump a load of dirt and rock dug up by the gas shovel). Despite the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Fred Weber secured enough business to warrant the purchase of a second shovel. In addition to hauling and subgrading, the company, starting in 1930, also began to build brick sewers. Another important source of revenues during these lean years was the excavation work Fred Weber did on several major building sites in St. Louis. The business prospered enough that the owner was able to move the company's headquarters out of his own home, in 1939 paying $4,500 for an old ice warehouse. This site would serve as Fred Weber's base of operations for the next 50 years. It was also in 1939 that a second generation became involved in the business, as Fred "Freddie" Raymond Weber joined his father. His first taste of the work came when he was 14 and hired to fetch water for the construction workers.
Because of restrictions caused by World War II, Fred Weber had to find other sources of income to make up for the lack of road construction during the early 1940s. Thus, in 1941 the company established a rock crushing business, which helped to do its part in the war effort. The company now supplied materials needed for area military bases, such as Fort Leonard, for roads and other construction needs. One achievement of note during this period in the company's road construction efforts was the work done by Fred Weber on the "Devil's Elbow" section of U.S. Route 66. Crews completed the largest vertical rock cut in Missouri, some 118 feet, accounting for nearly 1.2 million cubic yards of material.
Postwar Boom Leading to Growth
In 1945, as the war was winding down, Fred Weber achieved another milestone, landing its first major concrete job to enclose Cold Water Creek at St. Louis Lambert Airport, the erstwhile balloon launch site, today known as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. A year later, when Lambert began an expansion program, Fred Weber was awarded its first airport contract to build a new runway--measuring 4,100 feet in length and 200 feet wide--as well as necessary taxiways. Two years later the company won a contract to do work at the airport serving the state capital, Jefferson City Memorial Municipal Airport. Rapid economic growth in the postwar years also led to robust building in the St. Louis area and Jefferson County. As was the case around the county, war veterans and their families flocked to the suburbs, requiring the construction of many new roads to serve the shift in population. A pair of milestones also marked the second half of the 1940s. In 1947 the company was incorporated as Fred Weber Contractor, Inc., and in 1949 a second son, John R. Weber, came to work for the family business on a full-time basis.
Because of the increasing need for construction materials, Fred Weber became involved in the quarry business. Through auction it purchased 340 acres of land on Creve Coeur Mill Road. This operation was incorporated in 1952 as Vigus Quarries, Inc. Now known as the North Quarry, it represented the launch of Fred Weber's present-day material services division. During its first two years, all the crushed limestone produced by Vigus was entirely devoted to the runway work being performed at Lambert. In the meantime, Fred Weber, Sr., suffered a stroke in 1953 and as a consequence was partially paralyzed on his right side. Nevertheless, he stayed active in the business and continued to visit job sites. A major development for the company during the 1950s was the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which led to the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Fred Weber holds the distinction of being awarded the program's first contract.
Also of note during this period, Fred Weber, Jr., was named president of the company in 1959. Just four years later, on September 13, 1963, Old Man Weber died. He left behind a flourishing business. During the 1960s the company won numerous roadwork contracts, the result of ongoing expansion in the federal highway system as well as local development. In 1966 Fred Weber established the Heavy & Highway Division to accommodate the increase in highway construction business. For its work for the state, Fred Weber was named by the Missouri State Highway Commission as the "Contractor of the Year" for 1963, the first such honor to be awarded by the commission. During the period 1964 to 1969, Fred Weber was ranked by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration as the 14th largest road contractor in the nation based on dollar volume.
The decade of the 1960s also brought with it the introduction of Fred Weber's current chief executive and chairman to the company, Thomas P. Dunne. Dunne's father was a friend of Old Man Weber, who encouraged the young man to study civil engineering at college, promising to provide him a summer job as long as he kept his major. Although Dunne's dream was to one day play professional football, he studied civil engineering at Washington University. Old Man Weber passed away, but Dunne continued his studies, graduating in 1965. He went to work for Fred Weber as a field engineer, involved in the building of culverts and bridges. At this point, the company was only doing about $5 million in work each year, a far cry from the $200 million turnover of today.
Fred Weber Inc.: Result of 1972 Merger
Fred Weber underwent a number of changes during the decade of the 1970s. In 1972 Fred Weber, Inc. was created out of the merger of Fred Weber, Contractor, Inc. and Vigus Quarries, Inc. A year later a second quarry and asphalt plant was opened in O'Fallon, Missouri. In 1972 Fred Weber found a use for depleted sections of the first quarry when area voters rejected an incinerator project and the company was able to secure state permits to convert 90 acres of the quarry into a sanitary landfill. Because of the limestone and hard shale that lined the 200-foot-deep pit, which was also well below the water table, the landfill was not a danger to local water supplies. It started operation in 1974. Over the years, the landfill business was a perfect complement to Fred Weber's quarry activities and a profitable sideline. It was also in 1974 that Fred Weber, Jr., decided to retire and John R. Weber succeeded him as president and chairman of the board. In 1978 the company celebrated its 50th anniversary. It continued to win a large number of roadbuilding contracts in the St. Louis area.
Dunne was named Fred Weber's president in 1980. Also in that year, the company created the Building and Industrial Division, part of an effort to diversify. Projects included the construction of the School of Business at Washington University and a parking garage on the grounds of St. Louis's Gateway Arch. In 1981 the company formed subsidiary Webcom Systems to develop computer systems for asphalt and concrete plants. In 1986 Fred reached a major turning point when the Weber family elected to sell the business to its employees and management team. As a result, Dunne now became chief executive officer and chairman of the board. The company then underwent further reorganization when management elected to merge the Heavy and Highway Division with the Building and Industrial Divisions, creating Fred Weber's Construction Division. Two years later, in 1988, the company moved into its current Maryland Heights headquarters facility after spending half a century in a converted icehouse.
Fred Weber continued to prosper in the 1990s. Early in the decade it added another quarry, the New Melle quarry, which it began to mine as an open pit operation. But the bulk of Fred Weber's revenues still came from its construction services. By the end of the decade the company was generating an estimated $139 million in annual sales, at which point Fred Weber experienced a major bump in business, with sales growing to nearly $150 million in 2000. The company then won several large contracts at the close of the year, including a $48 million interchange at Interstate 70 and Flourissant Road and a $39 million project at Interstate 55 and 141. These deals helped to create the biggest backlog of work in the company's history and led to a major increase in revenues for 2001, when Fred Weber recorded $218.9 million. Because the company was so heavily dependent on Missouri transportation projects, the company was hard pressed to reproduce those results when the state began to cut back on the kind of infrastructure projects that were the life blood of the company.
Fred Weber managed to generate revenues of $218 million in 2002, just $1 million less than the year before, but because Missouri voters rejected a highway funding proposition, resulting in transportation spending cuts in the state, the company was forced to lay off some 450 workers in January 2003. In the meantime, Fred Weber also took steps to diversify, looking across the Mississippi River to the state of Illinois, where there was a well funded road program, part of an Illinois First initiative that earmarked several billions of dollars in the upcoming years for roads in southern Illinois. As a first step, Fred Weber spent $2 million to acquire Quality Sand Co. near Collinsville, Illinois, and later added the Bluff City Minerals quarry and sand plant in Alton, Illinois, in order to secure a necessary supply of materials in the area. Dunne explained to the St. Louis Business Journal, "We haven't really done work in Illinois. In our type of work, if you don't have materials, you have a hard time keeping control of your work." Only time would tell whether Fred Weber was about to embark on a new era in its history, expanding beyond its traditional areas of operation.
Principal Subsidiaries: Bluff City Minerals; EZ Street Cold Asphalt; Iron Mountain Trap Rock Company; Jotori Dredging, Inc.; Quality Sand, Inc.; Adeletom Aviation L.L.C.
Principal Competitors: F.A. Wilhelm Construction Company, Inc.; J.E. Dunn Construction Company; Nooter Corporation.
Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: