How did Minnesota become a window manufacturing center?

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Minnesota is home to some of North America’s largest window and door manufacturers.

Andersen Windows & Doors from Bayport and Marvin from Warroad are among the most recognized brands in their industries. And they’re not the only big companies in the country making windows and doors.

Other Minnesota window and door companies include Lindsay Window & Door of North Mankato; Hayfield Window & Door in Hayfield; and Vector Windows & Doors at Fergus Falls.

In fact, Minnesota has the second-highest concentration of window and door manufacturing jobs in the U.S., after Iowa, at more than six times the state average, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Reader Erik Holmstrom, who lives in Roseau, less than 25 miles from Warroad, wanted to know how Minnesota became a center for this industry. Holmstrom moved to Roseau about a year ago and was surprised at the size of Marvin’s Warroad manufacturing facility. He sought answers from Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s reader-driven reporting project.

The answer is partly due to the abundance of white pines that made Minnesota a leading lumber market in the early 20th century.

Origins in logging

Logging was a large industry in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the tall harvestable pine forests in the Northeast were being depleted, so loggers were being relocated to Minnesota, said Phil Donaldson, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Andersen Corp.

Minnesota became a leading logging center because of its extensive white pine forests, which were highly desirable for housing, Donaldson said. Rivers, including the Mississippi, made it possible for logs to be shipped to lumber mills where they could be processed and shipped to markets across the country.

In 1903, Hans Andersen, a Danish immigrant, founded the Andersen Lumber Co. in Hudson, Wisconsin. The company moved its office to the Stillwater area years later.

As a direct result of the Industrial Revolution, Minnesota lumber companies like Andersen were looking for machines to convert their lumber into engineered wood materials that could support the construction of more homes, schools, ships, boats, and businesses. This led to production facilities that could produce more wood-based products repeatedly, more efficiently, and faster.

About a decade after founding the company, Andersen opened its first manufacturing facility in Bayport, which remains the largest factory.

“What you saw in the early 1890s is that the geographic frontline of the lumber industry crossed into Minnesota and at the same time the Industrial Revolution was looming,” Donaldson said.

Two years after founding the company, in 1905, Andersen developed the two-bundle method that allowed windows to be installed on site in less than 10 minutes. In 1932, the company’s Master Casement Window was the industry’s first fully assembled window unit.

This period also led to the creation of additional glass companies in Minnesota, which currently has the ninth largest concentration of jobs for this specific industry in the United States, according to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Andersen doesn’t make its own glass, but has sourced its glass from Cardinal Glass Industries of Eden Prairie for 50 years, Donaldson said.

In the early 1950s, new products allowed Andersen to double its workforce from 500 to 1,000. Today, nearly half of the company’s 13,000 employees work in Minnesota, Donaldson said.

Marvin’s post-war expansion

Marvin’s transition from lumberyard to window maker came a few decades later, in the 1940s.

In 1904 George G. Marvin came to Warroad to manage a granary and lumberyard for the Canadian Elevator Co. When the company moved, Marvin stayed in Warroad and formed the Marvin Lumber and Cedar Co.

In 1939, George Marvin called his son home from his job at General Mills to help out in the family’s lumber and cedar business.

William Marvin saw an opportunity to grow the woodworking machinery business, but also felt a responsibility to grow the business “because he was afraid his friends and community members wouldn’t come home afterward.” [World War II] if there were no jobs,” said Christine Marvin, the company’s chief marketing and experience officer and granddaughter of William Marvin.

“That’s what drove him at the time and motivated him to do work to get people to come home,” she said. “We happened to be making windows and doors.”

During the war, Marvin made ammo boxes and life jackets in addition to windows, and even had a contract with Campbell’s Soup Co., Marvin said.

By the end of World War II, Marvin was the most important employer in Warroad, Marvin said.

Today, Marvin has more than 7,000 employees in 16 cities across North America, with approximately 2,000 employees working at its Warroad headquarters and manufacturing facility, Marvin said.

A major employer

Marvin and Andersen together employ about 20,000 people, and each company generates more than $1 billion in annual sales, according to Window + Door, a publication of the National Glass Association.

In general, the Midwest is a center for window and door manufacturing. The other well-known window and door brand in the region is Pella Corp. based in Pella, Iowa. Wisconsin is home to Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. and Weather Shield Manufacturing.

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, window and door manufacturing in Minnesota employs 6,915 people across 48 employers. The average salary of workers at these companies was over $86,600 last year.

In Minnesota alone, these industries contributed approximately $929 million to regional gross product production in 2021. Minnesota ranked 14th among US states in window-related exports.

In 1961, Marvin’s Warroad factory was destroyed by fire. Many cities outside of Minnesota offered attractive incentives for the family to move, but they declined and rebuilt in Warroad instead.

“It was always ‘This is home,’ and we’re going to build it again,” Marvin said.

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