By Lynda Jensen
WINSTED, MN Business legend Paul Millerbernd of Winsted has died Wednesday at the age of 95.
“He would have been 96 on Tuesday,” commented grandson Trevor Millerbernd. Check out Paul's obituary online, (click here).
Paul Millerbernd was the founder of Millerbernd Manufacturing Company in Winsted, which observed its 75th anniversary in 2008.
Millerbernd was an award-winning engineer and successful businessman, but also responsible for providing Winsted with one of the first lighted baseball fields in the area.
Millerbernd the man
Born May 25, 1914, in Victor Township, Paul Millerbernd was the son of Joseph Bernard and Josephine (Thiemann) Millerbernd.
His father was born near Munster, Germany, and came to the United States in the late 1800s. Joseph was schooled in the metalworking trade and later became a farmer.
Paul received his education at Holy Trinity, where he completed the eighth grade. He worked about his father’s farm and shop, gaining experience in operation, maintenance, and repair of machinery.
Later, he was seasonally employed as a mechanic for a road construction company.
At the age of 20, Paul went into business with his brother Carl in the repair of automobiles and farm machinery in Winsted.
In a gradual transition, this business turned to the rebuilding of industrial equipment and the manufacture of machinery for the canning and dairy industries.
Paul was married to Rosella “Sally” Laxen in 1939. Sally died in 1991. They had three children: Yvonne Guggemos, Dave, and Steve.
Paul and Rosella grew up on farms just a few miles from one another, just north of Winsted.
Millerbernd the businessman
Millerbernd Manufacturing has a long, and interesting history which began in Winsted in 1933 when Paul and Carl rented a building in downtown Winsted.
Back in the early 1930s, jobs were very hard to get, and to make money, Carl and Paul did mechanical work on automobiles in a shed at their father’s home farm, according to company records.
After a few years, they felt that they would get more business if they were in town. In 1933, they approached their uncle Ben Millerbernd, who at that time operated the Millerbernd Store in Winsted.
They borrowed $500 from Ben, bought the machinery from the Monroe Garage and rented the building for $20 a month.
Here, Paul and Carl did many small welding jobs on farm machinery and automobiles.
In those days, most people couldn’t afford antifreeze for their cars, so they would drain the water out of their engines every night to prevent freeze-up and cracked blocks.
Occasionally, people would forget to drain the water from the engine and in the morning would have a cracked engine block.
Carl and Paul discovered a unique way of welding cast iron and got many jobs repairing these engines. Since the side of engines would fracture, they would tip the car or tractor on its side so the welds could be made in a flat-horizontal position, and vehicles were put back in service.
Paul and Carl also built a plate roll out of old steam thrasher engine axles and some old parts they bought from a Minneapolis junk yard.
With this steel plate roll they made many tanks which were used for milk and whey storage, home fuel storage, and for liquid transport trucks and wagons.
Millerbernd Bros. also made many snow plows for the Pure Milk Products milk trucks. In the 1930s and 1940s these trucks would plow their way in and out of farms for milk pickup. Other than for emergency reasons, this was the only way the secondary roads were plowed.
In 1942 government sub-contracts were obtained for the manufacture of fabricated components used in portable electric generator sets.
In 1945, Paul bought his brother’s share of the firm and continued in the capacity of president.
In 1949, Paul attended a Winsted council meeting to find out whether or not the town was going to buy towers for its baseball field, which it did.
At this meeting, he learned that the town also had received a quote for street lighting poles, and that the delivery would take 18 months.
He decided that this was a product in demand, and in the months that followed, Paul and his men designed tapered eight-sided pole shafts.
Through the 1950s and the 1960s, Millerbernd Manufacturing expanded its product line into light towers for baseball fields, and eventually lighting poles for towns and cities.
In 1958, Paul decided to expand the lighting pole business.
In 1966, the stainless steel pole with a breakaway design base (which means that when a car strikes the bottom, it breaks off) was put on the market and many lives have since been saved.
In 1969, Hi-Rise lighting was introduced in highway lighting and one of the first installations in the country was installed on Interstate Highway 90 at Worthington.
Millerbernd received an engineering excellence award from the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers for the design on this job.
The purpose of Hi-Rise lighting is to cut down on the number of poles along the highway, provide more even lighting at ground level, and get the pole further off the highway, thereby minimizing accidents.
After overseeing several expansions and equipment acquisitions, Paul Millerbernd retired in 1985 after more than 50 years of service.
Even after his retirement, he still liked to see what was going on at the plant.
Paul’s son, Dave, remembers his dad as a hard worker who spent many evenings working late into the night. Paul liked to hunt and fish, enjoyed photography, and did a lot of reading, he told the Herald Journal in 2008.
“He would check out the scrap bins to make sure we didn’t leave anything good in there, and he would go through the plant and leave notes all over the place for Steve and I,” Dave told the Herald Journal in 2008.
Paul understood the importance of the enthusiasm and effort put forth by his employees, and in 1964, set up a cash profit sharing program where a portion of profits were paid out to the employees based on their individual efforts.
Since that small 50-ft-by-50-ft. shop in 1937, Millerbernd Mfg. Co. has had many additions to its present plant. The current 421,597 sq. ft. plant and 8,285 sq. ft. stainless steel office building, which were designed and built by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company, employs over 200 people.
Millerbernd has more than 70 outside sales representatives and has sold products in all of the United States along with some export.
In 2008, Paul Millerbernd was named grand marshal of the Winsted Summer Festival, along with his son Dave Millerbend, in honor of the 75th anniversary of Millerbernd Manufacturing.