Allen S. Baker is the man whose name is synonymous with industrial development in Evansville. He
was also the first to propose public utilities including electric lighting a public water system and a
telephone company for Evansville.
With the exception of two years Baker served in the Civil War, his entire life was spent in Evansville.
Baker's mother and father, John and Jemima Robinson Baker came to Union township in the 1840.
John and Jemima Baker were both children of early Ohio pioneers. Like many of the early settlers in
the area, the Bakers were descendents of another generation of pioneers who had fled the crowded
areas along the eastern coast to seek their fortune in the new land opened in West Virginia and
The John Baker family also chose to pioneer the a frontier and came west to the Wisconsin territory in
1837, settling first in Avon township in the southwest corner of Rock County. The Baker's moved
several times in Wisconsin and northern Illinois before finding a permanent residence in Section 26 of
Their son, Allen Baker, was born in 1842. Allen was one of nine children, seven sons and two
daughters born into the Baker family. Allen was still a child when his mother died and his father
remarried a widow, Jane Sale, who had four children..
As a young man, Allen was an apprentice to a blacksmith. When he was just nineteen years old, the
Civil War began and Baker was determined to join the first company of Wisconsin volunteers.
Allen and his friends, Waldo Sterns, Theodore Sutphen and James Cook took the Stearn's family
mule team and a wagon to Madison. By the time they reached the recruiting station, the quota for the
first regiment had been filled and the young men were sent home.
A few days later, a recruiting officer came to Evansville to sign up volunteers for the second
regiment. This time, all four young men were accepted, along with several others from Union
township. Fourteen men from Union township were assigned to Company H of Wisconsin's Second
Regiment. Allen Baker was one of these.
The Wisconsin Second Regiment was part of the famous Iron Brigade and took part in some of the
bloodiest battles of the Eastern Front of the Civil War. The poorly equipped unit was mustered into
service on June 11, 1861 at Camp Randall in Madison.
Wisconsin volunteers were issued caps, flannel shirts, flannel drawers, a wool blanket, canteen,
knapsack, stockings, haversack, cap cover and leather stock, according to a June 6, article in the
Janesville Gazette. There were not enough rifles for the young men and so they had no shooting
practice during their time in camp. Arms for the Second Regiment were issued in Philadelphia as the
troops passed through that city on were on their way to Washington D. C. to protect the nation's
Allen Baker was present at many of the famous battles of the Civil War, including Gainsville, Fitzhugh
Crossing, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He was wounded twice. At the battle of Gainsville in
August 1862, Baker was shot in the shoulder and sent to a hospital at Philadelphia. His friend,
Theodore Sutphen, was killed in that same battle on August 28, 1862.
While Allen was confined to the hospital in Philadelphia, the Southern forces invaded Maryland and
during the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, even the wounded in hospitals were needed as
volunteers to guard the railroads between Philadelphia and Washington, D. C. Baker volunteered
and served with a small unit near Newark, Delaware.
A widow invited the young men into her home and the soldiers befriended her son, Robert Sayers.
The young Sayers would often spend time with the soldiers as they guarded the railroad. One
morning Robert accidently shot himself and the soldiers carried him to his home.
Robert's sister, Margaret Sayers, was called home from Wilmington, Delaware, to take care of her
brother. Baker and the other soldiers continued to visit the Sayer family during Robert's
confinement. Robert recovered from his wounds. During Allen Baker's visits to the wounded young
man, he became acquainted with Margaret Sayers and fell in love with her.
Eventually, Baker was well enough to return to his regiment. The two young people, who had met in
such an accidental way, continued to send letters to each other.
Within a few months after Baker rejoined his regiment he was wounded again. This time his wounds
were serious. On the first day of the battle for Gettysburg on July 1, 1863 Allen was shot in the
abdomen. The bullet hit his hip bone, bounced off the bone and became imbedded near his spinal
column. Surgeons were afraid to operate to remove the miniball because it was located very close to
The ball remained in place for many years, eventually working its way to the surface. On March 19,
1889, "the bullet appeared at the surface, punctured the skin and was removed by Mr. Baker easily
without surgical aid." The small miracle was noted in Baker's biographical sketch in the Rock County
Biographical Album issued in 1889.
The injuries from his wound at Gettysburg made Allen eligible for a discharge from the Second
Regiment. He returned to Evansville and once again worked as a blacksmith. Margaret Sayers and
Baker continued their correspondence.
On March 23, 1865, Allen and Margaret were married in Newark and returned to Evansville to live.
That year, they purchased property on the southeast corner of First and Liberty streets and built their
The Baker's oldest daughter, Elsie, was born on October, 1867. Their second child, John S. Baker
was born July 17, 1869, and their third child, Elizabeth, often called, Bessie was born in November
The Baker's home life was quiet and seldom noted in the columns of Evansville's newspapers. The
family joined the Congregational Church and Baker was elected a trustee in 1866. He served in that
position for more than 30 years. Margaret also was active in church work.
Allen Baker's business life received frequent notice. In 1866, Baker purchased a building and
blacksmith business on the south side of West Main Street's business district from E. Bemis. Baker's
ad ran in the Evansville Citizen. "I am prepared to do all kinds of work in my line, with neatness and
dispatch. Give me a try."
A few years later, in April 1872, he purchased land on the opposite side of the street and built
another blacksmith shop. By the end of the year, Allen Baker was busy with another project that
would take him out of the small blacksmith shop and into the world of industry.
Baker and a partner, Levi Shaw had developed a steam engine and they dreamed of forming a
manufacturing firm to build the engines. Others in the community agreed that it was a worthwhile
project and six major investors, including Allen Baker organized the A. S. Baker & Co.
Over the next few years, Baker became the motivating force behind the new firm. He acted as
superintendent of the factory, advertising agent, and inventor.
As his children grew older, they were also brought into the firm. John began working in the factory at
the age of 12 and his father recognized and encouraged his talent for mechanics and invention.
The Baker Manufacturing firm was well established and their family growing rapidly. In 1877 they
made an addition to their home with Theodore Shurrum did the mason work on the foundation and
William Morgan the carpenter work.
One of the few early gatherings noted in the house took place in March 1880 when the Baker's invited
about fifty friends to their house to help celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. The Evansville
Review gave the couple their best wishes, "A good time was enjoyed, a good supper eaten and all
went merry as a marriage bell till quite a late hour. May the host and hostess live to celebrate their
"diamond wedding" sixty years hence."
Allen continued to receive new patents for machinery he developed. In September 1880, he was
issued a patent for a pump and a mechanical movement that he had invented. Baker also became
interested in other firms.
Although Baker's next- door neighbor was Isaac Hoxie, publisher of the Evansville Review, Allen
apparently felt there was a need for another newspaper in the community. Baker purchased shares
in the Evansville Publishing Company, publisher of the Enterprise and in September 1881 was elected
to the firm's board of directors. The Enterprise prospered and for the next few years Evansville had
two weekly newspapers.
With a growing family, Margaret and Allen decided to build a new home. In March 1883, the Bakers
purchased land fronting on South First Street from Peter F. Spencer and had their original house
moved to that lot. Before they left their old house, the Bakers held a "Sociable" at their home. These
gatherings were fund raisers for the Congregational Church.
In May the laborers began digging the cellar for the two houses on First Street. One basement was
for the house that was to be moved and the second basement was for a house that Baker intended to
build and sell.
While their new house on the corner of Liberty and First was under construction, the Bakers planned
to live in the old house they had moved to First Street. Then they began construction of a new home
on the spot where the original house had stood. This new house was to be "a much finer building"
than the Bakers had lived in previously.
It was a boom year in construction with new buildings, the Tack and Match Factory and other
construction going on in the village. The Baker house was one of nine to be constructed on Liberty
Street in 1883. Isaac Brink and Thomas Fidlier were the masons for the foundations of all three
houses being constructed by Baker.
The basement for the new residence on Liberty Street was finished in July and it was ready for the
carpenter work. The house was enclosed by the middle of August and by October, the Heron
brothers, John and Will, were completing the job of lathing the interior walls of Baker's new residence.
That same month, after the lath was in place, three men began to plaster the new house. Three of
the top masons in Evansville, Theodore F. Shurrum, Isaac Brink and Tommy Baker, sometimes called
Tommy the Tramp, were all employed at the Baker house. The Enterprise reported that the three
men had put 1,248 yards of "scratch coating" on the house in 27 hours. "Mr. Baker's job is to be a
first class job of three coat work throughout", the paper reported.
The Bakers hired A. F. Gibbs and a Mr. Tewkesbury to paint the house. By November, the family had
once again settled into their new home. The following February, they purchased new furniture from
the local furniture firm of H. J. & S. Smith, who advertised that they "keep constantly on hand one of
the largest stocks to select from between Chicago and St. Paul."
Bessie Baker, the youngest child, held one of the first parties in the new house. Thirty of her friends
were invited to the house for a tea party in July 1886. "The yard was full of joyous laughing voices
and Mr. Baker's large commodious dwelling gave ample room for all when called to tea."
The two oldest children, Elsie and John graduated from high school in the 1880s. Elsie went to
Oberlin College and John attended the University of Wisconsin. Both worked for their father, John in
the factory and Elsie in the office.
Elsie took training in typewriting and phonography, an early name for shorthand. In the summer of
1888, she worked as her father's secretary. "Miss Elsie Baker is turning her knowledge of typewriting
and phonography to good account in her father's office by aiding his extensive correspondence," the
Evansville Review noted in its August 7, 1888 issue.
Allen S. Baker was the first in the community to propose the use of electricity in homes and
businesses. The power would be provided by the Baker Manufacturing Company.
In 1886, Baker proposed to the Village Board that they replace the kerosene street lamps with electric
lights. Allen estimated that an electric plant "of the best Edison Pattern" installed at the Baker
Manufacturing Company factory could produce lights at a cost of one cent per hour per bulb.
The Village Board refused to spend the money to install the electric lights and pay Baker's for the
service. However, many of the merchants who had recently formed a Business Men's Association,
supported Baker's idea.
In May, Allen Baker wanted to see for himself how other communities were installing electrical power.
He took his family on a tour of other communities that had already installed systems. They visited
Whitewater and Waukesha and the tour increased Baker's enthusiasm for the project.
In July 1887, Allen S. Baker decided to take his proposal directly to the people. He personally visited
potential customers of an electric light plant to solicit their opinions about his idea.
Encouraged by the support that he was given in the community Baker once again faced Evansville's
Trustees. Twice, in July and August 1887, Baker made an offer to the Village Board to establish
electric lights instead of the kerosene street lamps. However, the Trustees said no to the electricity
proposal. They vetoed Baker's plan, believing that the kerosene lights were cheaper.
Baker's personal solicitation of Evansville's citizens had created new interest in electricity. There was
such a public outcry to accept Baker's offer that the Trustees decided to leave it to the voters. "We
do not like to take any responsibility in the matter and will ask for a public expression by vote."
The voters favored the electric lights and the Trustees accepted their decision reluctantly. In yet
another attempt to save tax payer dollars, the Trustees quibbled about whether the electric lights
should be used on moonlit nights. Finally, the Village Board made a contract with Baker to provide
electric street lights every night, moonlit or not.
By September 1887, the electric light poles and wires were being installed. There was a provoking
delay when the lamp manufacturer did not send the street lights on schedule. Other cities and
villages throughout the United States were also installing electricity and there was such a demand for
the new apparatus that the lamp manufacturer could not keep up with the orders.
When Evansville's street lights were finally installed, there were fifty-six, sixteen-candle lights and the
street were lit from early dusk until eleven at night. Each lamp cost the taxpayers ten dollars a year
and Baker had also convinced 150 customers in the private sector to purchase electricity from his
Baker met many challenges in the next few years, when he proposed new utilities to the Village
Board. When he proposed a water works system and a telephone company operated by the Baker
Manufacturing Company the governing body board refused to consider his proposal and sought
vendors outside of Evansville.
At that same time, Allen Baker seemed to hold no animosity towards the local governing body and
often showed them generosity. In November 1896, Evansville found they could not pay the Baker
company's bill of less than $70 for a month of electricity without borrowing money.
Allen assured the finance committee that they could pay after the tax money had come in after
January 1897. He then offered to renew his contract for lighting the streets for the year 1897.
Baker also faced challenges with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. The railroad held a
monopoly on the transportation to and from Evansville and they began to impose heavy tariffs.
Other forward-looking communities were courting successful manufacturing companies to move.
Baker began looking at offers from other communities. In 1892, Waukegan, Illinois businessmen
approached the Baker Manufacturing Company offering incentives to move to that city. Allen Baker
made a trip to Waukegan in December 1892, amid rumors in the Evansville newspapers that the
company was considering moving the windmill plant to Illinois.
He returned to Evansville with the news that "Although the inducements held out and the advantages
of low freight rates were considered, yet Mr. Baker does not think it best to pull up at present." The
community breathed a collective sigh of relief that one of the major employers would not move away.
In 1898, Baker advocated a privately operated water works system. He had seen the need for a
water supply with fire hydrants and a water tower since 1884, when his company's buildings and the
Evansville Furniture manufacturing plant were destroyed by fire. A second major fire in 1896 that
burned a major portion of the commercial district on West Main Street increased the need for a water
supply for a fire protection system.
During both fires, the closest and largest water supply was from Allen's Creek. Had there been a
sufficient water supply from hydrants, more of the factory and commercial buildings might have been
By the time he made his offers to a water system, the officials had changed from a village to a city
form of governance. Allen Baker made two proposals to the City Council members.
The first proposal was for the City to own and install the system and Baker's would provide the
pumping facilities. In the second proposal, the Baker Manufacturing Company would furnish the water
hydrants for the City and faucets for private homes and businesses and the City would grant the
company a franchise to operate and own the system.
Private operation of the water system received very little support from the City Council. There was a
primitive form of fire protection already in place.
In the 1880s, then under the village form of government, the trustees had ordered large cisterns dug
at various locations. The cisterns were filled with water to be used in case of fire.
One of the cisterns was on the corner at the intersection of Liberty and First near Baker's house.
Others were located in the business district and industrial area.
Some people felt this was an adequate system, and certainly an inexpensive one. Many believed that
residents and business could build at their own risk, without protection from a fancy public water
Although, they rejected all of his offers, the City Council still considered Baker one of the experts on a
water system and named him to serve on the committee to investigate the franchise for the water and
electrical power. The question of installing a water system was not resolved for three years.
In 1901, the city decided to hire an outside firm to build the system, rather than grant the Baker
Company the privilege. At the same time the water tower, pipes, and hydrants, were constructed, a
new electric power plant was built for the city. The electrical and water works systems came under
city for management for the first time in 1902.
While the water works system was under consideration, Baker had another utility problem he wanted
to solve. In September 1896, Allen Baker and Marshall Fisher appeared before the City Council to
ask them to delay a decision to sign a contract with the Wisconsin Telephone Company, because
they were in the process of forming their own company.
With several other successful businessmen, Baker helped organize Evansville's first telephone
exchange. In 1898, A. S. Baker, A. C. Gray, M. J. Fisher, Robert Richmond, and George L. Pullen
and several others formed a local telephone company. Baker was chosen President of the
In his leisure time, family and church occupied the activities of Allen Baker. After their studies at
college, John and his sister, Elise Baker, returned to their parents' home at the corner of First and
In 1893, Bessie Baker, the youngest child, left home to attend the Rockford Seminary, in Rockford,
Illinois. Bessie lived in Rockford and attended the school for four years, spending her vacations with
her parents and brother and sister.
Allen Baker's family enjoyed music. Elsie was an accomplished organist and pianist. The family and
friends formed a choral society. The group was organized at the Baker home. Meetings were held
weekly at the homes of members and Allen S. Baker was chosen president of the organization.
The Baker house was also the scene of elaborate and unique gatherings. In late February 1892,
President Washington's birthday was the occasion of a party for a crowd of young people.
"From every window gleamed incandescent lights. A large American flag floated over the central
doorway and in nooks and corners about the spacious parlors floated miniature flags." Friends of
John and Elsie Baker acted the parts of the President and his wife. Will Clark played George
Washington and Mabel Snashall, his wife, Martha. The impersonators greeted guests at the entrance
of the Baker residence.
Church activities were often the focus of the social gatherings at the Baker home. Allen served as
Sunday School Superintendent of the Congregational Church in 1876-80 and again from 1888-89. In
1891, he was appointed to the building committee when the church wanted to build a new parsonage.
The man who would become the Baker's son-in-law, Robert Hartley, served as treasurer of the
There are frequent notices in the Evansville newspapers of meetings of the Congregational Mite
Society at the Baker home. The women of the church organized these fund raisers to help to
support church projects.
It was estimated that women's circles and social fund raisers provided about one quarter of the
church's operating expenses. The programs included "birthday socials" and chicken pie dinners held
at the Baker house. One meeting raised thirty dollars toward the church's debt on their new
On September 19, 1895, the home was the scene of the wedding of Elsie Baker and Robert Hartley.
The young couple stood before the Congregational church pastor, Rev. John Schofield, and repeated
their vows. Elsie's sister, Bessie and her brother, John, were the attendants. The young couple went
on a short honeymoon and then returned to the Baker house to make their home with Elsie's
The two families lived together in the house at 39 West Liberty for the next 21 years. Robert Hartley
was the assistant cashier at the Bank of Evansville and a trustee of the Congregational Church.
Hartley also had a beautiful voice and was often asked to sing at church and other community
gatherings. His wife, Elsie, accompanied him on the piano or organ.
Allen's wife, Margaret Baker volunteered in church work and was also a member of Evansville's
committee for the relief of the poor. Before there were government appointed and funded welfare
agencies, each community took responsibility for feed, clothing and housing its poor. In Evansville,
the churches organized a relief committee and a representative from each church served on the relief
committee. The relief committee was elected at the joint services held by the local churches on
A union service held by the church on Thanksgiving day also served as a fund raiser for the Relief
Committee and the collection taken at that service was used to support the Relief group during the
year. The committee also received donations of food and fuel and committee members distributed it
to those in need. One year, the committee received so many donations of food and fuel, that it
helped six families. The cost for that year was $6.49.
In 1898, Allen Baker added one more activity to his long list of achievements. He entered politics and
was elected to the office of County Supervisor for the Second Ward in the City of Evansville.
Evansville had changed to a city form of government and elected three supervisors, one from each
ward, to serve on the County Board.
The realm of politics was new to Baker, but with his usual enthusiasm, he chose to educate himself in
this area. The Evansville Center of Economic League was a discussion group of men and women
who had as their goal, to "better understand political economy, political service and sociology."
Many of these same men and women became active in the Evansville Improvement Association
organized in 1902 to "look after cleaning and improvements of streets, alleys, public parks, grounds,
buildings, and sidewalks." Margaret Baker was named to the finance committee and Allen backer to
the "school grounds and children" committee.
At work, Allen Baker and his son John were dealing with a management and labor problems and they
often disagreed about the solutions. In the early 1890s, John Baker presented a plan that would
allow employees to become stockholders in the business.
At first, Allen Baker balked at the idea. John was persistent and eventually persuaded the major
stockholders to try his plan, known as profit sharing.
The earliest attempts to get workers to own stock failed. In 1892, the company offered to sell thirty
shares of stock to employees and no one took the offer. No dividends were paid to stockholders in
1893 or 1894 because sales were slow.
Then in 1895, the capitol stock was increased by $10,000, but again no one accepted the offer to
purchase stock. In May 1895, Bakers also reduced the wages of workers, rather than lay off
employees. When sales picked up later that year, the company found employees agitating for change
and a union. The company officials once again looked at ways to improve working conditions and
In January 1899, John Baker's plan was finally realized. The capital stock was increased to $300,000.
This amount included $200,000 in preferred stock and $100,000 in common stocks. In February
1899, the company distributed $2,905 in bonus money to their employees. It was 10 per cent of the
wages received by the Baker workers in 1898. Fifty-six men received the bonus and the opportunity
to purchase stock.
At a special meeting with employees, Allen Baker explained the program. Each man received from
$40 to $75, depending on his wages the previous year. The workers were allowed to purchase shares
of common stock in the company at $100 each. Allen Baker announced, "it is optional with them to do
so or not, this dividend being a free, unconditional present to each employee."
The employees were very grateful for the bonus and the stock-purchasing program. They passed a
resolution of thanks and had it printed in the four weekly newspapers being printed in Evansville in
The resolution was also a hope for a good future relationship between the workers and the Baker
owners and managers. The employees' resolution ended with the following: "We wish to assure them
(the major stockholders) that no effort of ours will be lacking to make the plan of profit sharing work to
our mutual benefit. May this step be the beginning of a wide spread movement that will remove all
difficulties now existing between capital and labor."
The profit sharing program received national attention over the next twenty years. Area newspaper
picked up the stories first. Janesville and Madison newspapers had lengthy articles explaining the
benefits to the company and to the employees.
According to a 1901 Evansville Review article, in the early days of the company, the few stockholders
had turned the company over to Allen S. Baker “with instructions to sink or swim” and not to spend
more on the business than it would pay out. In 1879, the firm was valued at $20,000, by January
1899, the company had capital of $300,000. Allen Baker had indeed followed the stockholder’s
John Baker, the originator of the profit sharing idea, believed that factories were like farms and
stores; “if you want profits you must run them yourselves and know how to run them.” By involving the
worker in the ownership of the business, the employee became more productive.
On the first Saturday in February 1900, the Baker Manufacturing Company paid its second profit
sharing dividend. Each employee participating in the plan received 10 per cent of his year’s
earnings. The highest amount paid the first year was $60, and in 1900, some employees received as
much as $400.
Allen Baker seemed finally convinced that his son’s idea for settling labor/owner problems in the
factory was indeed workable. When he began receiving requests to explain the profit sharing plan to
other manufacturers, he did so with gusto and praised the virtues of the new system.
In October 1903, Allen Baker spoke to the Janesville Manufacturers Club. “We have no labor
problems, but many applicants and thus we are particular who we take in. We find our men willing to
do more work in our factories. We have had labor organizers there but they receive no
encouragement from our men.”
Company president, Almeron Eager died in October 1902, The stockholders elected Allen Baker as
president and treasurer of the company at the annual meeting in January 1903. John Baker became
the general manager and the tradition of inventing and improving new products continued under John’
s management of the firm.
In the early years, Allen Baker had often acted as a salesman, visiting fairs and other farm promotion
events. By the early 1900s the company had a sales force of nearly 20 men in several cities in the
Midwest and Texas. The salesmen were invited to the home office of the company in Evansville on an
annual basis. Allen Baker gave a history of the company, to the visiting salesmen, and explained the
profit sharing plan.
The profit sharing plan received national recognition when the Baker Company received a visit from
Ida M. Tarbell in the fall of 1913. Tarbell was a social reformer and writer for the American Magazine.
She had heard about the Baker Manufacturing Company’s system of profit sharing and had spent
some time in Wisconsin interviewing John and Allen Baker, as well as employees who had benefited
by the plan.
The article written by Miss Tarbell did not appear in the magazine until February 1915. She had high
praise for the Baker Company in the article entitled, “The Golden Rule in Business”. Tarbell called
the plan of stock ownership a “partnership, which is quite as revolutionary and adequate.”
Ida Tarbell went on to explain the benefits of the plan. “What the Baker plan does it to make partners
of all those active in the business. It keeps the business permanently in the hands of those who are
actively interested in its stability and its development.”
Allen S. Baker died in January 1916 during an epidemic of influenza, called “La Grippe”. At his
service a section of the Congregational Church was reserved for the factory workers who came in a
group to pay their respects to the man who had helped them earn a share of the company. After the
funeral service, the men walked in the final procession to pay tribute to their beloved boss. Baker
was the last surviving member of the original investors.
When the stockholders and officers met at the annual meeting in late January 1916, John S. Baker
was elected president, treasurer and general manager of the firm. The torch had been passed to the
second generation of the Allen Baker family for the leadership of the company and involvement in the