A Good Label: 'Made in Council Bluffs' Part One

This is part one of a series focused on various company logos found in the August 21, 1958 issue of the Daily Nonpareil. A brief history of each business is included. The text from the original article read:

"Quiz a man about his home town, and he will surprise you with how little he knows-even of its most important assets. To any community a basic asset is its industry-the plants which provide paychecks for many of its citizens. And its products going out across the nation and the world are a city's most important ambassadors. Why do you know about Council Bluffs industry? The 37 insignia on this page represent a big share of the variety of products which might bear the label: 'Made in Council Bluffs.' How many do you recognize?"

Photo of various business logos from August 21, 1958 issue of the Daily Nonpareil. Logos include Peet's Feed, Reliance Batteries, Blue Star Foods, Bowen Chemical Company, Howard Plastics, Kimball Elevators, and Fritos
       Various company logos featured in the Thursday, August 21, 1958 issue of the Daily Nonpareil.

The Reliance Battery Products Company was started in 1921 by husband and wife, Norman and Eleanor McMains, in a barn behind their house located at 2201 South 8th Street. The company produced batteries for cars, heavy trucks, tractors, buses, and diesel generators. It became successful enough to move its operations to a larger building across the street at 2204 South 8th Street (address changed to 813 22nd Avenue in the late 1990s). The Daily Nonpareil reported that the company grew so quickly that the factory expanded five times by 1928. By this time, the company was owned by Norman McMains and A. J. Meyer, employing 86 workers. Starting in the 1930s, the company saw several lawsuits from employees stating that they developed lead poisoning while working in the factory. Despite these lawsuits, Reliance Battery Co. continued to be a prosperous company. It was awarded contracts with the Iowa State Highway Commission and the Illinois Highway Commission. During World War II, they produced 12 volt aircraft starter batteries for the navy. After Norman McMains died in 1954, Eleanor became the owner and manager of the company until she passed away in 1961. Her son Jack McMains took control until he sold the factory to William “Scott” Grant in 1975. In 1987, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company because they failed “to comply with regulations governing workers’ exposure to lead.” In the 1990s, the factory was ordered to initiate a costly cleanup of lead contamination. It had even started affecting nearby residential sites, requiring cleanup actions in 1990 and 1996. After owner William Grant died in 2008, the factory passed through various private owners until the city of Council Bluffs purchased the site in 2020. After the city applied for an EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grant, the building was demolished.


E. M. Peet Manufacturing Company was organized and incorporated in 1917. Located at 33 South 25th Street, the company produced various products including mill feeds, supplemental minerals feeds, and mixed feeds for all types of livestock. The main manufacturing plant was in Council Bluffs but Peet Manufacturing also had subsidiary locations, the largest being its Indiana plant. Their products were distributed nationally and sold directly to farmers. In 1965, Peet Manufacturing changed its name to Peet’s Feeds, Inc. It operated under this name until it was purchased by Biozyme in 1980. 


Ted and Dorothy Keller started the Howard Manufacturing Company in 1941 to produce holders for quartz crystals used for controlling frequencies in radio equipment. America’s entry into World War II later that year increased the demand for these plastic crystal holders since they were integral for military communication equipment. As a result, the company quickly outgrew its first location at 15 4th Street and in 1945, they moved to 1401 South Main Street. Mr. and Mrs. Keller hired women from Council Bluffs and the surrounding area due to the shortage of manpower during World War II. After the war, Howard Manufacturing transitioned to making plastic products and became known as Howard Plastics, Inc. Products included plastic electrical outlets, roller skate wheels, caster wheels, toys, plastic bags, and plastic film for vacuum sealing food. Its continued growth in the early 1950s resulted in the company expanding to the “Dwarfies building” at 1216 South Main Street in 1956. This building was previously home to the Dwarfies Corporation, a cereal manufacturer. Howard Plastic, Inc. was closed in 1959, shortly after it was bought by W. R. Grace Company of New York City. 


Kimball Brothers Elevator Company started in 1883 when brothers Charles and Willis Kimball were commissioned to build a hand-powered elevator for a grocer in Anamosa so he could move potatoes from the basement of his store. In 1892, they moved their business to 1021 South 9th Street in Council Bluffs. The business was a combination foundry and factory that allowed them to custom build each elevator to the customer’s specifications. Among the many elevators they produced, some notable ones included a “gold plated elevator for a home in Hollywood, an automobile lift that would hoist 40,000 pounds in Wisconsin, an elevator operating at a 25 degree angle for a dam in Wyoming, and one to carry lawmakers in the Capital building of the state of Alaska in Juneau.” In 1953, O'Keefe Elevator bought a stake in the Kimball Brothers Elevator Company. O’Keefe Elevator was started in Omaha in 1919 by a former employee of Kimball Brothers, Denis O’Keefe. The company operated under the name Kimball-O’Keefe Elevator Company until the Council Bluffs factory was closed in the early 1970s. O’Keefe Elevator Company was purchased by thyssenkrupp Elevator in 2019.

Photo of Kimball Brothers Elevator Company building
Kimball Brothers Elevator Company building circa 1956

The Frito Midwest Company moved to Council Bluffs in 1956, purchasing the former Quaker Baking Company building at 3919 West Broadway. The company moved from Omaha because they needed a larger facility. The facility produced plain popcorn, cheese popcorn, Doritos, and Fritos, in addition to distributing Cheetos. The company expanded the Council Bluffs plant in the 1960s to double its output. In 1961, Frito Midwest Company merged with H. W. Lay & Company to form Frito-Lay Inc. In 1965, it then merged with Pepsi-Cola to form PepsiCo, Inc. The Frito-Lay Inc. plant in Council Bluffs was closed in November of 2004.


Blue Star Produce was started in 1935 by David Kaplan and was located at 1135 South 4th Street. It later opened an office in the Park Building at 133 Pearl Street. The company bought and slaughtered chickens and canned them, while also processing dried eggs. At the outbreak of World War II, Blue Star started producing canned rations for the armed forces. Starting in 1946, they started making frozen poultry products and were contracted to make frozen dinners for the air force. The popularity of frozen meals encouraged Blue Star to branch out and make frozen meat pies, frozen dinners, and frozen fruit pies. The company offices were briefly moved to Omaha in 1948 and then moved back to Council Bluffs in 1951 to 501 West Broadway. The company was renamed to Blue Star Foods, Inc. and expanded its manufacturing facility. It also maintained several warehouses throughout the city, including one at 1501 South Main Street and the International Harvester building on 10th Avenue and South Main Street. In the 1960s the company no longer conducted slaughtering operations but instead bought frozen meats and poultry from meat packers. The company owned many subsidiaries including Diamond Products Company, Kitchen Treat, National Cold Storage Inc., and Morton House. In the early 1980s, Blue Star Foods developed Dining Lite to compete with Lean Cuisine. Blue Star was bought by ConAgra in 1988 and the manufacturing facility at 1023 South 4th Street continues to operate.

Photo of Blue Star Produce Inc. building at 4th Street and 11th Avenue
Blue Star Produce Inc. building at 4th Street and 11th Avenue circa 1945

Bowen Chemical Company started around 1923 and produced medicines for livestock including anti-cholera serums and vaccines. They sold their products under the trade name Marvel Medicines. The company utilized a direct mail order business model to supply its 44,000 customers, who were mostly farmers. The business was located at 1001 South Main Street. The company started as Bowen-Shields Chemical Company and then reorganized in 1933 to Bowen Chemical Company. The company operated until the 1940s. By 1942, it was no longer listed in the city directory.


Click HERE for more information on Council Bluffs History.




Various Daily Nonpareil articles 

A History on the Reliance Battery Factory written by the Community Development Department of Council Bluffs (April 2021)

Historical Society of Pottawattamie County newsletter (Apr/May 2014)

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Daley Porter
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