Wadena Cracker Company
Lina Belar, Wadena County Historical Society
At the beginning of the 20th century, the leading manufacturing company in Wadena was the Wadena Cracker Company. Like many successful ventures it had a humble origin.
It was started in the fall of 1895 by Lars Ericsson and at the time was more in the nature of a bakery than anything else. Mr. Ericsson possessed a great deal of energy and he was constantly expanding the business. In the spring of 1900 he took into partnership with him, Jim Weeks, and they began to experiment with making crackers. A factory was built and ovens were put in and it was soon discovered that there was a ready market for the product. In the fall of that year, the company was further strengthened by the advent of W.H. Benson who took an interest in the concern. The firm was then known as Ericsson, Weeks & Co. Weeks and Benson went on the road as traveling salesmen and business grew so rapidly that in 1902 the firm was incorporated under the laws of the state with a capital of $25,000 and the name of the Wadena Cracker Company. A large addition was made to the plant. The gasoline engine was thrown out and a large steam engine put in and an electric light and heating plant installed. These improvements doubled the capacity of the factory and by 1903 the company had five regular traveling salesmen and employed forty people. Its payroll averaged $600 per week and sales were $10,000 per month. The company manufactured bread, crackers, ginger snaps, Swede toast, and cookies of all kinds and their wares sold readily throughout northern Minnesota.
The business of the factory kept constantly increasing until November 1904 when fire gutted the mechanical department of the factory, destroying practically all of the expensive machinery and the ovens. It also ruined an immense stock of flour and other product. Facing the catastrophe of the fire, the stockholders of the company set out to rebuild the plant. The old factory had been erected piece meal, and the burned building for this reason had not been properly planned to give the best results. Local business men came forward with liberal stock contributions and when the rebuilding operations began enough stock had been subscribed to give the company a paid up capital of $60,000. In a few months the business was up and running and production had increased from 1,500 to 2,000 loaves a day and there was a steady and growing demand for Swede toast.
After several years of successful production, the Wadena Cracker Company closed on March 13, 1913 and the affairs of the concern were liquidated. It is hard to determine just what caused the downfall of the Wadena Cracker Company but probably the main factor was the growth of large national companies manufacturing similar products, such as the National Biscuit Company.
From issues the Wadena Pioneer Journal 1900-1905, compiled by Robert C. Zosel. Lina Belar is the interim executive director of the Wadena County Historical Society.