On November 4, 1947, residents of the Greenup and Casey area were saddened to hear of the sudden death of Nicholas Ettelbrick, Sr., age 70 years. For the past 20 years Mr. Ettelbrick was active in manufacturing and community affairs in the area. In 1926 he became the founder of the Ettelbrick Shoe Co. in Greenup and later expanding into .the communities of Casey and Robinson, Illinois.
Born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania on December 6, 1876, he migrated with his parents of German descent, August and Annamarie Wasserman Ettelbrick, to Springfi.eld, Illinois. After leaving school, he entered the business world and for several years thereafter he operated a retail shoe store in that city. On June 7, 1899 he was united in marriage to Miss Emma Link of Springfield. Children born to this marriage were August V., Alma (Mrs. Ernest Hiltebrand), Nicholas Jr., Joseph (Rev. Rene), Albert (Rev. Albert) and Marie (Mrs. William Willenborg). In 1912 the family moved to St. Louis and eventually he entered the manufacturing business in the production of the ”Soft Sole” shoe. However, Mr. Ettelbrick could not pay his workers as much as workers received at the larger Brown and International companies. This resulted in losing the good workers he had trained to the higher-paying competitors.
In the summer or 1926, Mr. Art Van den Ende, General Manager of five tanneries in nine states and a son-in-law of Mr. Ed Elstun of Greenup, Illinois took up the need for a manufacturing business with a group of Greenup businessmen. Mr. den Ende was also acquainted with Nicholas Ettelbrick and suggested persuading Mr. Ettelbrick to relocate from St. Louis to launch a shoe factory in Greenup.
After several meetings, a committee composed of Barry Jenuine, Fred Wylde, J.D. Green, Arthur Jobe, Charles Greeson, Ross Greeson and Charles Stanford, worked with untiring efforts to raise the amount of funds necessary to finance the factory. Next they raised money for the building to house the factory. These men were backed by Gar Borden and Ernest J. Bancroft. As a result of their negotiations, $20,000 was raised to begin the process of locating a factory in Greenup.2
On Monday, October 4, 1926 at 2:00 p.m., the contract was let for the erection of a building to house the shoe factory in Greenup, Illinois.
While the building was being constructed, machines were installed in the corner building, which later was the location of a coffee shop. There the first employees were trained in the manufacturing of baby shoes. The plant represented an investment of $50,000 and employed 75 persons, with a payroll of $800 a week.
The Directors for the factory were: Arthur Jobe, Fred Wylde, and Art van den Ende.
Mr. Ettelbrick’s oldest son, August (Gus), a 1925 graduate from St. Louis University School of Law, had joined a St. Louis law firm when his father asked him to come to Greenup to help get the project underway. Once he became a part of the business and the community, he never left.
About 1927-28 a decision was made to establish a factory in Casey, Illinois with Gus as the President. The enthusiasm for the new industry and the involvement of the community were expressed in a Tag Day. The high school students were dismissed and marched in a parade from the school to town selling tags for $1.00 apiece. Funds raised were contributed towards the necessary financing. Local businessmen also made individual contributions. A building on East Main Street, used as the Ford Garage by Charlie Peirson and Dr. Lester Johnson, was rented. The $75 a month rent was to be applied toward the purchase price. With added space, shoe production readily expanded from infant sizes to include children’s sizes.
Later, son Nicholas, Jr., also took an active part in the management of the Greenup company, as did two sons-in law, Ernest Hiltebrand and William Willenborg.
For the first 15 years of Ettelbrick Shoe, business was devoted to sales to chain and volume accounts. Then on July 15, 1941 a decision was made to create a branded line of shoes to service the independent retailer. A female factory employee suggested the name, Step Master, and the line became an immediate success. Marie Ettelbrick was named as the first President. Since women were not accepted in the executive ranks of businesses in the mid- 1940’s, they decided to identify her on all of the corporate documents as M. J. Ettelbrick. She remained as President until Step Master became a subsidiary of Ettelbrick Shoe Company in the late ’60’s.
Eventually, Step Master surpassed ESCU in size and production. Step Master was the fourth largest manufacturer of children’s shoes in the country in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.
During World War II, appropriate conversions were made to manufacture nurse’s oxfords to aid in the war effort. At the end of the war, about 1946, a plant was built in Robinson, Illinois with August Ettelbrick as manager.
Under the direction of Nicholas Sr. and sons, August and Nicholas Jr., the company progressed well. Upon the death of both Nicholas Sr. in November, 1947 and August in January 1948, the reins were placed in the hands of Nicholas Jr.
On August 24, 1964, Nicholas Jr. was promoted to Chairman of the Board and his brother in law, William Willenborg, became President. A factory was opened in Newton, Illinois in 1965 but closed five years later due of lack of business volume. Following the death of Nick, Jr. in 1974, William Willenborg became Chairman of the Board.
On November 26, 1976, the Ettelbrick Shoe Company celebrated its 50th Anniversary with Nick Eltelbrick III, grandson of founder Nicholas Sr. serving as President, grandson Tom Elttlbrick as Vice-President, grandson Jerry Willenborg, as Purchasing Agent and granddaughter Judy Ettelbrick Cochonour as Head of the Payroll Department. The Board also included two other grandsons, Bob Ettelbrick and Ernie Hiltebrand, Jr.
By 1984, three great-grandsons of the founder were working at the company. Nick Ettelbrick IV was Step Master salesman for Southern Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky; Eric Ettelbrick worked nights in the Data Processing Area and Joseph Ettlelbrick was the assistant to Tom Ettelbrick in the areas of Production and Quality Control Jerry Willenborg was the Secretary and Treasurer of the company. ,
From its beginning, the Ettelbrick Shoe Co. provided a strong influence on the area communities. In one way or another it affected the lives of many either through employment by the company or from the financial benefits it provided to other businesses and to the community. There was scarcely a family who did not have some association with it during the years of its existence. The company’s tremendous impact was especially felt during the difficult years of the Depression and World War II. At Christmas time, there were always new shoes for the school children of families who had fallen on hard times.
The company expanded into three factories, one main office building and a warehouse with a production of 2-3 million pairs of shoes a year. It formed its own subsidiary company – Step Master Shoes. At its peak, over 1000 people were employed; at the lowest point, just before closing, it had about 150 employees.
On January 1, 1984, Ettelbrick Shoe Co. closed its doors, partly due to the impact of imports and partly due to the difficult times for small businesses.
Ettelbrick Shoe Company-Manufacturer of Children’s Shoes-A Three Generation Family Owned Business
57 Years of Serving Greenup, Casey and Robinson, Illinois
Compiled by Kay Ettelbruck Ziegler, daughter of August Ettelbrick-2002