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Humans of Manufacturing

Art Imitates Manufacturing

President of Winzeler Gear Creates Positive Image for Company & Industry Via the Arts


It is not every day that you are exposed to the arts when visiting a manufacturing company, but at Winzeler Gear, a precision plastic gear manufacturer located in Harwood Heights, (IL), visitors and employees are exposed to creative endeavors throughout the facility—there is the Gear Art Collection, Fashion Collection, and Installation Gear Art. There is also Gallery 43, located in the bright, airy atrium space of the facility, and visible when passing between the two manufacturing floors inside the building.

“There are many people in our plant that appreciate the environment they work in and engage with the art in the building,” said John Winzeler, president of Winzeler Gear. “We have done a lot of fun stuff here.” Winzeler is a mechanical engineer by degree, and went into the family business after he graduated. “My dad took me around the plant when I was young, whether it was sweeping up floors or picking up around the plant, showing me the machinery and equipment,” said Winzeler. “I never really thought about much else.”

Where does his love of the arts come from? An interest in the arts started for John and his wife after their children went to college. They bought a mid-century modern ranch home with large open spaces and white walls—a perfect place to accumulate and showcase art.

“I started to look at art and get curious, wanting to learn more, so we joined the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and we became a part of its campaign to build a new museum,” explained Winzeler. We also got involved in art groups at the School of the Art Institute.”

At Winzeler Gear creativity is a team effort since ideas are generated by different people during the creative process. “It all comes together, which is a lot of fun,” said Winzeler. “In some ways we created this WOMP (word of mouth potential) that people may like or don’t like what we are creating here, but they cannot get it out of their heads.”

“There are many people in our plant that appreciate the environment they work in and engage with the art in the building. We are creating a good manufacturing image, and we enjoy the collaboration with creative and technical people.”
John Winzeler

For example, two gear art projects were done with the School of the Art Institute—a head wear project and dress design project. The competitions were judged and scholarship money was given to the winners. Also, the head wear and dresses were displayed in the gallery.

“We are creating a good manufacturing image,” said Winzeler. “We enjoy the collaboration with creative and technical people.”

Besides integrating his love of art into his manufacturing company, Winzeler is proud to be a part of the longevity of the family-owned business. It has been in Chicago for over 100 years.

In the early 1900s, Johnny Winzeler (John’s grandpa), started an entry-level position at a Chicago manufacturing company. He decided to complete a tool and die apprenticeship and became a tool and die maker. In 1920 he and a business partner opened Reliance Die and Stamping. At one point the business had more than 100 employees, but the Great Depression hit and the company closed in 1931.

Fast forward six years and Johnny’s son, Harold, graduated from Northwestern University’s Mechanical Engineering School and entered a tool and die apprenticeship, following in his father’s footsteps, becoming a journeyman die maker. Then in 1940 Harold opened his own company, Winzeler Manufacturing, focusing on the specialty of stamped metal gears.

In the 1950s, Johnny Winzeler went to work for his son as an engineer/designer. “My dad was the front office entrepreneur type/marketing guy,” explained Winzeler. “Together they did it. Winzeler Gear was built by the first and second generation.”

Even though the business was booming, Harold was a visionary and forecasted how alternative materials would replace stamped metal gears. He began developing plastic molding partnerships to help ensure the company’s future. His visionary thinking over 40 years ago helped forge a strong future of success.

“When I came out of engineering school and went to work for the business we were seeing the future of plastics, moving punch presses out and molding presses in, and we became a plastics company, focusing on gears, so we changed the business name to Winzeler Gear,” said Winzeler.

Winzeler Gear’s success is driven by a company-wide philosophy that combines the company’s “manufacturing art” of creating precision molded gears with the power of strategic business partnerships. “This is Winzeler’s difference, and in today’s competitive, global marketplace, it’s a great advantage,” said Winzeler.

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