Who was Kewanee Boiler?

Early employees at the first Kewanee Boiler facility, c. 1892. (Photo: Kewanee Historical Society.)

Kewanee Boiler was a manufacturer of firetube boilers located in Kewanee, Illinois from 1891 until they ceased operations in 2002.

The original facility used by Valerius D. Anderson, c. 1868. (Photo: Kewanee Historical Society.)

Boiler manufacturing in Kewanee began in 1868, when Valerius D. Anderson started manufacturing steam pressure cookers. Anderson’s company started producing boilers for heating applications in the early 1870s. By 1875, Anderson handed over the reigns of the company to William Haxtun. Haxtun renamed the company as the “Haxtun Steam Heater Company” and expanded into manufacturing tubes, pipes and various valves associated with boilers. Later, two gentleman – John Pierce and Emerit E. “Double-E” Baker (E.E. Baker) – would join the company.

Haxtun retired in 1891 and sold his share to the National Tube Company, which soon changed the name from Haxton Steam to the Western Tube Company. Pierce assumed the role as the leader of Western Tube, which focused on manufacturing valves, pipes, and tubes.

E.E. Baker headed the company from 1891 to his death in 1929. (Photo: Kewanee Historical Society.)

E.E. Baker would soon leave Western Tube, starting his own company. Baker, along with various former Western Tube employees, formed the Kewanee Boiler Company in 1891.

At the turn of the century, Kewanee Boiler soon moved to a larger facility at 101 Franklin Street – a space they occupied until operations ceased in 2002.

Kewanee developed the smokeless boiler in 1906 and made major contributions to both World Wars in assisting with producing wartime materials, such as locomotive and ship boilers and more.

In 1929, E.E Baker died at 74 years old. He made several philanthropic contributions in the Kewanee community, such as starting a fund for several city parks and financial contributions to a clinic for children with disabilities.

That same year, Kewanee was purchased by American-Standard. Throughout the 20th century, American-Standard was a large producer of industrial equipment, ranging from boilers to blowers to plumbing equipment. American-Standard would retain ownership of Kewanee Boiler until 1970, when they sold Kewanee to LaCrosse Plumbing Supply. LaCrosse sold Kewanee again in 1975, eventually creating a company called EBCOR.1 In 1978, administrative functions of EBCOR/Kewanee were relocated to Chesterfield, Missouri; meanwhile, boiler manufacturing continued in Kewanee.2

Some boilers were co-branded as “American-Standard Kewanee” during the time American-Standard owned Kewanee, from 1929 to 1972.

In 1990, Kewanee changed hands again — this time to the Burnham Boiler Company of Pennsylvania. Burnham would continue manufacturing boilers in Kewanee — under the Kewanee name — until 2002, when they ceased operations there and dropped the name.

In 2018, demolition began of the former Kewanee Boiler facility began.

The Kewanee Boiler facility at 101 Franklin Street in Kewanee was constructed in 1900 and used until Kewanee went defunct in 2002. Demolition on the building started in 2018. (Photo circa 1968, courtesy of Kewanee Historical Society.)
The Kewanee Boiler mascot, “Kacee”, which was also used by Kewanee High School. The mascot is based on Purdue University’s “Purdue Pete.”

Although Kewanee went defunct in 2002, many Kewanee Boilers still provide reliable and safe heat for buildings everywhere. In Kewanee, the history of Kewanee Boiler is still celebrated. For instance, Kewanee’s high school mascot is the “Boilermakers.”

Demolition of the Kewanee Boiler factory at 101 Franklin St., commenced in 2018. The only remaining portion of the facility — the administration offices/headquarters — burned in a December 2023 fire. The fire appeared to have been intentionally set by minors.

While the Kewanee Boiler facilities are gone, Kewanee is still celebrating its lengthy boilermaking history. The Kewanee Preservation Society and Kewanee Chamber of Commerce are working to establish a “Kewanee Boiler Workers Memorial” to pay homage to more than a century of boilermakers in Kewanee. The groups are working to locate and restore Kewanee boilers — which started their life in that very community, just yards away from where the memorial is going to be installed — to preserve the history of Kewanee Boiler for future generations.

In addition to boilers and the pipes/valves for boilers, another company based in Kewanee, Illinois manufactured an item often used near boilers. The Kewanee Manufacturing Company manufactured doors, including coal chutes used in buildings and homes throughout the early 1900s. (Other prominent industry in Kewanee include Boss Manufacturing, a manufacturer of gloves. Sandy’s, a fast food chain sold to Hardee’s in the 1970s, was also headquartered in Kewanee.)

More info…

Cited sources

1McKenna, Lynne. “New Boiler Management Predicting Bright Future.” Star Courier, 9 July 1975, p. 3. (Click here to access.) Accessed 16 Dec. 2021.

2Langdon, Dennis. “Boiler Headquarters to Leave Kewanee.” Star Courier, 28 July 1978, p. 1. (Click here to access.) Accessed 16 Dec. 2021.

Created November 2020. Last updated March 10, 2024. Special thanks to Mike DeWalt and the Kewanee Historical Society.