Menasha Corporation - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Menasha Corporation

P.O. Box 367
Neenah, Wisconsin 54957-0367

History of Menasha Corporation

Menasha Corporation is a rapidly growing, diverse family business serving six major markets: forest products, packaging, promotional graphics, information graphics, plastics, and material handling. From its 19th-century origins in woodenware production, Menasha shifted to paper-based packaging and material handling products in the 1930s, earning its reputation as a "box maker," even though packaging accounted for only one-third of total sales by the early 1990s. From the 1980s onward, active acquisitions resulted in rapid growth and diversification, carrying Menasha well beyond its original scope of interests in packaging and woodenware. By the early 1990s, the company employed over 4,000 workers in over 40 operations in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Menasha's origins date back to entrepreneurial efforts of woodenware manufacturers in the mid-19th century midwest. In 1849 a pail factory was founded in Menasha, Wisconsin. The undercapitalized venture was then sold to Elisha D. Smith for $1,200 in 1852 and named Menasha Wooden Ware Company. By 1871, 250 employees manufactured products ranging from pails to tubs, churns, measures, butter tubs, fish kits, kannikins, keelers, and clothes pins. After further growth, the operation was incorporated on May 24, 1875. Expanded size involved expanded risk, and in 1875 the original pail factory was destroyed by fire. Twelve years later, in 1890, the entire company was devastated by yet another fire, with only the Cooperage Shop escaping destruction. But quick reconstruction was followed by further expansion. In 1895 the founder's son, Charles R. Smith, merged a broom handle and barrel factory with the Menasha Wooden Ware Company, creating the world's largest manufacturer of turned woodenware.

During the first decade of the 20th century, timberlands and related operations were acquired throughout Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest, providing vital raw materials as the company grew over time. By 1915, Menasha supplied 27 million feet of timber annually and was the United States' foremost producer of wooden food packaging in bulk. In 1929 the company began production of wood flour with its plant in Tacoma, Washington. In 1969 lumber products were further expanded as Menasha merged with the John Strange Paper Company, creating the Appleton Manufacturing Division and a majority interest in the Wisconsin Container Corporation, later to become Menasha's Solid Fibre Division. By 1980, wood fibre production--used primarily as industrial fillers and extenders in products such as plywood and molded plastics--had increased enough to warrant an additional wood fibre plant in Centralia, Washington, and the 1987 purchase of yet another plant in Marysville, Washington.

Over time, Menasha would form its Forest Products Group specifically to develop its timber interests. By the early 1990s, its Land & Timber Division managed the corporation's 100,000 acres of timberlands in the Pacific Northwest alone, meeting worldwide timber needs. In addition, the Wood Fibre Division produced organic based wood flours. In 1990 the Menasha's Forest Products Group broke new ground by entering the export market for hardwood chips from Alaska's interior. The move was regarded as unique on several accounts: first, Alaska's interior had been traditionally neglected in favor of other forests, such as the Tongass National Forest in the state's southeastern region; secondly, Menasha focused on the hardwood chip industry instead of round-log White Spruce, the conventional choice for export; and finally, the new, untapped industry lacked developed transportation systems. Despite potential for substantial growth in the new operation, Menasha showed reservations, as voiced by Chris Maisch, forester for Menasha's Fairbanks operations, in a November 16, 1990, article in the Alaska Journal of Commerce: "We don't want to create false expectations. At the end of 12 months we're going to take a look at the numbers and make another decision."

While timber development provided raw materials for woodenware and wood packaging, its uses changed toward paper production as Menasha moved into production of corrugated containers. In 1926 Menasha Wooden Ware was split into two separate but affiliated companies, the Menasha Wooden Ware Company and the Menasha Wooden Ware Corporation. Accommodating changes in packaging technology, the latter organization produced Menasha's first corrugated containers in 1927. By 1935, corrugated containers had supplanted their wooden predecessors, and Menasha discontinued its line of barrels, converting woodworking plants to the manufacture of toys and juvenile furniture. To supply its growing corrugated business with necessary raw materials, the corporation acquired an interest in the Otsego Falls Paper Company in Michigan, which would eventually be fully acquired to head off Menasha's Paperboard Division. Its paper machines would produce corrugating medium for several markets: the production of corrugated containers at Menasha's own container plants, outside sales, and trading in exchange for additional types of paperboard used but not manufactured by Menasha.

From the post-war era into the early 1960s, Menasha focused on expansion of its core business in corrugated containers and timber, acquiring and developing new facilities for corrugated medium, containers, plywood, wood fiber, and lumber. Major investments in the G. B. Lewis Company of Watertown, Wisconsin, led to Menasha's funding of that company's reorganization and Menasha's subsequent entry into plastic handling containers and other plastic products. With diminishing emphasis on woodenware products and increased diversity in the field of plastics, Menasha Wooden Ware Corporation changed its name to Menasha Corporation in 1962.

Corporate growth occasioned new emphasis on community services. In 1953 the Menasha Corporation Foundation was formed as an independent philanthropic organization funded by one percent of Menasha's pretax earnings. By the 1990s, the Foundation provided substantial support for charitable, educational, health and welfare, cultural, and environmental projects and programs. In education, the foundation contributed to a wide variety of colleges and universities, in addition to sponsoring scholarship programs for its employees and other qualified students. At the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Oregon State University, the foundation also sponsored fellowships for select students studying packaging or forestry. Beneficiaries of health and welfare allocations included the United Way campaigns in communities where Menasha had plants, and various chapters of Special Olympics, hospitals, retarded children's workshops, mental health centers, medical research appeals, and other concerns. The foundation also contributed to various cultural organizations, including the New Dramatists in New York City, Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin, and the Oregon Coast Music Festival in Coos Bay, Oregon. Starting in the 1980s, the foundation increased contributions to environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and the International Crane Foundation.

In the 1960s Menasha began a move toward packaging innovation and diversification that would position it as a main industry player by the 1990s. As part of a strategy to increase its share of the Midwest's corrugated market, the company purchased a plant in Coloma, Michigan, from Twin Cities Container Company. In addition to expansion of existing container plants and paperboard operations, Menasha began production of multi-color corrugated containers, foreshadowing future advances in graphics that would figure strongly a decade later. In 1967 new corporate offices were established in the town of Neenah, Wisconsin, replacing the former headquarters that had been destroyed by fire in 1964. Then, in 1968, the company purchased Vanant Packaging Corporation and developed its Sus-Rap Packaging operation, custom engineering and manufacturing interior protective packaging items to meet specific end-use requirements. Primary products of that line included Sus-Rap, Menasha Pads, and SuperFlute protective packaging. In 1969 a new container plant was opened in Grants Pass, Oregon, and in 1972 the Hartford Container Company, of Hartford, Wisconsin, was acquired. Further expansion in packaging brought the 1977 purchase of a plant in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, and then the 1989 purchase of Colonial Container of Green Lake, Wisconsin.

In 1991 Menasha and other packers benefited from a new common carrier rule, Alternate Rule 41/Item 222, that permitted savings on freight costs and increased productivity. The rule emphasized packaging stacking strength, as opposed to weight specifications of older rules. Consequently, packagers could use lighter but stronger combinations of liner and medium in their corrugated containers, reducing shipping costs and clearing the way for high-performance containers that offered not only better printability and runnability, but promoted reduction in solid waste, according to Bill Whitsitt, materials and testing consultant for Menasha, in a March 29, 1991, article for PR Newswire.

Just as changing packaging technologies had introduced corrugated containers to the woodenware arena in the 1930s, so the rise of plastics in the 1950s pushed Menasha to innovate and diversify in various areas of plastic manufacturing. In the postwar period, Menasha made initial investments in the G. B. Lewis Company of Watertown, Wisconsin. It's funding of the Lewis Company's reorganization introduced Menasha to the field of plastic material handling containers for the first time. The Lewis Company and plastics in general would become keys to long-term growth and diversification. In 1973 Menasha Corporation assisted in the construction of two new G. B. Lewis company plants in Monticello and Manchester, Iowa. The following year Menasha continued to strengthen its profile in plastics by acquiring the Poly-Hi Corporation of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a leading manufacturer of ultra high density polyethylene extruded products. By 1975, G. B Lewis had been fully acquired, and Menasha formed the LEWISystems and Molded Products Divisions of its Plastics Group. Success of LEWISystems prompted the 1980 purchase of Dare Pafco Products Company of Urbana, Ohio, to increase that division's capacity. Similar growth patterns of Poly-Hi also called for increased manufacturing capabilities, prompting the 1981 acquisition of Scranton Plastics Laminating Corporation of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Menasha's plastics operations expanded into reusable plastic and metal products with the 1984 acquisition of Traex Corporation of Dane, Wisconsin, specializing in such items as serving trays, dispensers for straws and condiments, tumblers, bus boxes, and ware-washing racks used in the food service industry worldwide.

Menasha's Plastics Group went international in 1985, when the corporation launched its first foreign joint venture with the Japanese firm of Tsutsunaka Plastic for the production of ultra high density polyethylene products. The joint venture's capital was set at Y15 million, with projected sales of Y1 billion for 1988. In 1987 Poly-Hi operations extended operations to Europe, with construction of a plant in Scunsthorpe, England. And in 1988 a precision injection molder of thermoplastics and engineered resins, Thermotech, was added to the Plastics Group. That division produced high performance plastic components for various applications including automotive, electrical/electronic appliances, and medical equipment.

Menasha's developments in packaging and plastics were paralleled, and often supplemented, by innovations in graphics and promotional labeling. In 1977 the corporation acquired a graphics container plant in Roselle, New Jersey, which it then moved to South Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1982 Vinland Web-Print, a producer of web-printed paper and plastic film products, was also acquired. Construction of an additional graphics container plant was completed two years later, in Olive Branch, Mississippi. Expanding into identification and merchandising tags and labels, the corporation acquired Mid America Tag & Label in 1985, followed by its 1986 acquisition of Murfin Inc., a Columbus, Ohio, web fed screen printer of label and identity products. With the 1987 acquisition of Neenah Printing, the corporation extended its graphics operations to a full range of printing services in commercial, business forms, and packaging applications, ranging from sample booklets to high image lithographic brochures. In 1989 the corporation added Labelcraft, Inc., of Farmingdale, New Jersey, to its Mid America division, specializing in custom designed tags and pressure-sensitive labels. Production capacity for those items was further augmented by the 1990 purchase of Denney-Reyburn of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Tempe, Arizona.

The investments quickly paid off, winning valuable accounts in the early 1990s. In 1992 Mid America collaborated with the Pillsbury Corporation to design a pressure-sensitive label for the newly introduced Hungry Jack Syrup. Intended to create a "family" message for the complete Hungry Jack breakfast line and differentiate between regular and light versions of the syrup, the labels were given an honorable mention in the 1991 Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute annual awards. That same year, Mid America's label for DowBrands' Perma Soft shampoos and conditioners was designed to deliver an upscale feeling by its "no-label" look. The labels won first-place honors in the 1991 TLMI competition.

Over the course of its business expansion, Menasha also developed a Material Handling Division to manufacture reusable plastic container systems including recycling containers, food handling products, small parts bins, work-in-process containers, Stack-N-Nest containers, distribution containers, and transport trays, among other products. In 1986 the corporation's Molded Products Division introduced plastic pallets designed to maximize warehouse inventory stacking and reduce work-in-progress inventories by virtue of their uniform weight. Their wooden predecessors had not only been costly to maintain, but could vary by several pounds in weight, resulting in inventory error of up to thousands of parts in lightweight merchandise. In 1991 similar plastic pallets, marketed as Convoy Opte-packs, were combined with reusable corrugated sidewalls to maximize carrying volume and strength.

In response to heightened environmental concerns of the 1980s and 1990s, Menasha took initiatives to literally clean up its act, along with its surroundings. In its "Environmental Mission Statement," the corporation noted that "environmental and industrial hygiene goals can and should be consistent with economic health." And in 1989 negotiations were made with several discounters, including Wal-Mart, to provide products like unbleached cellulose packing material that could replace bubble wrap; other products included recyclable shipping boxes, video cases, and other ecological alternatives. "This isn't a gimmick," stated Larry Jenkins, sales and marketing manager of consumer products for Menasha, in a December 18, 1989, Discount Store News article. "There is a great deal of concern over this issue, and because we provide these products at the same price as competing ones, interest among retailers had been high," he continued.

In 1991 Menasha Corporation consolidated its developed industries into six primary business groups: Forest Products, Packaging, Promotional Graphics, Information Graphics, Plastics, and Material Handling. The Forest Products Group consisted of the Land and Timber division, Menasha Development, and Wood Fibre; Promotional Information Graphics Group consisted of Mid America, Murfin, Neenah Printing, and Printed Systems; the Packaging Group was made up of Menasha Packaging, Paperboard, and Color divisions; the Material Handling Group included Convoy, LEWISystems, and Special Products; and the Plastics Group combined Appleton Manufacturing, Molded Products, Thermotech, Traex, and Poly Hi Solidur. Such an operating structure divided the various divisions into working groups while permitting them to interrelate as working parts of an ever-more diverse organization.

Moving into the 1990s Menasha continued to expand and innovate, promising later additions to its already complex operating structure. In 1991 the corporation began marketing fully automated core preparation systems at various North American mills, such as the Blandin Paper Co.'s Grand Rapids, Minnesota, mill. It was estimated that, before Menasha's plan, fewer than 12 of roughly 726 paper mills in the United States and Canada had fully automated core preparation systems to prepare winding machines for consistency in quality, diameter, and length of paper rolls.

In the 1990s the corporation expected continued growth, as reflected by the 8,500-square-foot expansion and remodeling of its Neenah Printing prepress department in May of 1992. In addition, new federal labeling laws, scheduled for May of 1994, ushered in new business. Under the new regulations, food labels were to indicate precise amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, and protein, as well as the percentage of recommended daily diet represented in those figures. While labelers like Menasha faced the problem of redesigning labels to accommodate much more information in much less space, they also looked forward to possible benefits of increased demand for new labels. Though many labelers anticipated increased business, most remained diplomatically even-tempered. "I don't think we're sitting here salivating," said Patricia Mulvey, marketing manager of the Mid America Division of Menasha Corporation in a January, 1993, article for Packaging magazine. With or without business from new labels, Menasha's history of growth and diversification could hardly be labeled anything other than successful.

Principal Subsidiaries: Land & Timber Division; Wood Fibre Division; Appleton Manufacturing Division; Molded Products Division; Poly-Hi Division; Thermotech Division; Traex Division; Color Division; Mid America Division; Neenah Printing Division; Convoy Plant; LEWISystems Division; Special Products Division; Menasha Packaging Division; Paperboard Division; Printed Systems Division; Murfin Division; Menasha Transport, Inc.

Additional Details

Further Reference

Cox, Jackie, "Automated Core Prep Systems Are Expanding into North American Mills," American Papermaker, October 1991, p. 22."Custom P-S Labels Hit Target, Win Awards," Packaging, June 1992, p. 69.Demetrakakes, Pan, "Packaging Field Gears Up for New Labeling Rules," Packaging, January 1993, p. 3.Dunn, Richard L., "Custom-Designed Plastic Pallets Reduce Costs, Errors," Plant Engineering, April 10, 1986, p. 58.Geist, Al, "Logging Has Potential in Interior," Alaska Journal of Commerce, sec. 1, p. 7.Menasha Corporation, Press Release Kit, Neenah: Menasha Corporation, 1993."Packagers Enjoy Better Choices and Savings under New Common Carrier," PR Newswire, March 29, 1991."Reputation, Not Ads, Woos Customers," Discount Store News, December 18, 1989, p. 213."Tsutsunaka to Sell Menasha Products," Japan Economic Journal, November 16, 1985, p. 21.Whitehead, Sandra, "On the Prowl for Growth Opportunities," Corporate Report Wisconsin, January 1991, sec. 1, p. 10.

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