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Can you provide history the Airguide Instrument Company?


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Airguide Instrument Co. was founded in 1930 by Albert L. Stemwedel and Richard Fee in Chicago, IL. Their first products were battery maintainers for home radios (at that time many homes were still not connected to the power grid) and hygrometers. Around 1932 they landed a major contract to provide thermometers to Marshall Field & Co.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the product line expanded to include compasses, barometers, clocks, altimeters, marine speedometers, inclinometers, rain gauges, field glasses, etc. Around 1953 the company landed a defense contract to provide hand-held lensatic compasses to the U.S. Military. In 1956 Dick Fee sold his interest in Fee & Stemwedel to Al Stemwedel, who subsequently changed the firm's name to Airguide Instrument Co. "Airguide" had been the company's primary trade name almost from the beginning.

Throughout most of its history, Airguide was a highly successful company, but in the 1970s increasing foreign competition began to take its toll. In 1976, beleaguered by excessive inventory, Al Stemwedel began seeking a buyer for Airguide. In 1980, after filing for Chapter 11 protection, Airguide was sold to Johnson Worldwide Associates (JWA) of Racine, WI, a branch of the Johnson Wax family of companies. After the sale, Al Stemwedel stayed on as a consultant for a few years, during which time Airguide went through a series of changes in its top management. The account below, provided by another contributor, describes Airguide after its sale to JWA:

Airguide Instrument Company was a manufacturer of high-end compasses, barometers, and thermometers with a management, sales, and operations support office in Buffalo Grove, IL and a manufacturing & shipping center on Wabansia St., Chicago, IL.

Initially the company was in financial trouble until the company received a round of private investment and brought on a new VP of sales. After an injection of funds and a new VP of sales the company began to heavily market its products to major retail chains such as K-Mart, Service Merchandise, and Sears.

At the time of the sale ([to JWA], the best of my knowledge) the Buffalo Grove branch employed approximately 30 employees while the manufacturing plant employed many more.

In 2000 JWA stopped marketing products under the Airguide name, finally ending a 70 year journey.

Al Stemwedel passed away at home in 2002 at the age of 97.