Milwaukee’s Fire & Police Call Boxes

I have recently become fascinated with the old police/fire call boxes on street corners around Milwaukee. My fiance’ is from the Milwaukee area, so we run into these old boxes in random areas around the city. I have noticed them before and didn’t really think anything of it. While watching an episode of American Restoration, Rick’s Restoration got an NYPD police call box in that a customer wanted restored. That episode really got me fascinated about these old call boxes that Milwaukee had. There is little information that I could find on the internet about these specific call boxes. There are plenty of pictures, but what I want to know the history of these interesting devices as they relate to Milwaukee.

First off, I should explain what a call box is for someone who may not know. The cast-iron boxes where either mounted on poles or had a cast-iron stand (like Milwaukee’s). The box could be used for police officer on the “beat” to call in to police headquarters, or for headquarters to notify police officers on the streets of information. These call boxes served as the early communication for Milwaukee’s police force. Early boxes contained telegraph units for communication. The boxes were locked and were only accessible by a police officer. Later on they were opened up for public use.Milwaukee’s boxes were called combination alarm boxes. This design housed both police and fire alarm system in one box.

Pictured below is one of many call boxes located around Milwaukee. They are painted blue, although this one is faded and chipping. Others show signs of being repaired or repainted.

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The is some interestin history behind these boxes. The alarm boxes in Milwaukee were invented by Oscar D. Kleinsteuber and patented in 1915. Kleinsteuber was appointed as a police and fire system utility man in Milwaukee on October 2, 1882. He became superintendent of the system in 1913. Oscar worked with his brother Hugo to invent and patent the combination police & fire call box. The patent was approved in December 1915. Hugo went on to patent the automatic traffic light that is common today.

Combination Alarm System Diagram(United States Patent and Trademark Office)

Combination Alarm System Diagram
(United States Patent and Trademark Office)

The Kleinsteuber brothers’ inventions was a huge milestone in public safety. Cities around the country used the Kleinsteuber designed call box. Call boxes were not new to big cities. Milwaukee had its first call boxes at early as 1908. It was Oscar’s invention of the combination box for both police and fire alarms that revolutionized them, and Milwaukee set the example for the rest of the country with the Kleinsteuber type of call boxes.

I have been trying to examine where the call boxes were made. On one of the cast-iron doors of these call boxes it says Fire and Police Alarm Post Co. It has been difficult to find a significant amount of background information on the firm, but there is some information about it.  It was a Milwaukee based company that built Kleinsteuber’s call boxes and eventually Hugo’s traffic lights. The company was started around 1915 under the name Kleinsteuber Combination Post Company , and change names around 1920. In a 1921 issue of Electrical World an article said that a factory to build the cast-iron equipment was located on the corner of Mitchell Street and 39th Street in Milwaukee. It also stated that while 250 posts were already being made for Milwaukee, and agents would sent out to various cities to market them.

In 1923, however, a red flag went up, and city officials stopped doing business with that company. The reason being was that Oscar Kleinsteuber, then superintendent of police and fire systems, and his brother Hugo, then assistant superintendent, were involved with the company and city officials. This doesn’t add up with the photographs I have posted. Each call box also has year of manufacture cast on a door. My picture has 1927 cast on the door, and others I have found have other years past 1923 also cast on the door as well as the name Fire and Police Alarm Post Co.  In a Milwaukee Journal article from October 29, 1930, Milwaukee city officials were planning to install newer call boxes around the city. In the article it states that the Federal Electric Company of Chicago was the exclusive manufacturer of Kleinsteuber’s alarm boxes. The Federal Electric Company had to have been manufacturing Kleinsteuber’s call boxes under Alarm Post Co. name after 1923.

Milwaukee officials began looking into updating the alarm boxes. There were issues in manufacturing the combination boxes because Kleinsteuber held patent rights yet. The Milwaukee Malleable & Grey Iron works won a contract to build 50 new alarm boxes for the city. In October 1930, A newer design was going to replace the original Kleinsteuber boxes. The new boxes were being designed to help cut costs of building the posts.

There is still information to be learned on the Alarm Post Company, and why a newer design was being devised to replace the older boxes. Maybe an old Milwaukee police officer remembers using these old call boxes. I think they are really interesting historical pieces. I wouldn’t mind buying one of these old units and restoring it for a conversation piece.

Wisconsin Civil Defense


Wisconsin civil defense unofficially began on August 29, 1950, by the order of Governor Oscar Rennebohm.[i]  The formal incorporation of the Wisconsin Office of Civil Defense was through the passage of the Act 433, Laws of 1951. By the time Wisconsin formally organized its state organization, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) had already been established six months prior by President Truman. The purpose of the state agency was to “insure that the state and its subdivisions and municipalities will be prepared and able to cope with disasters arising from enemy attacks, sabotage, or other enemy action.”[ii]

Prior to 1955, Wisconsin’s civil defense was limited to cities. Milwaukee had been on edge about an enemy attack, but rural Wisconsin was not as concerned. Atomic weapons didn’t have massive devastating powers, and the hydrogen bomb technology was safely in the hands of the United States. Attitudes changed when the Soviet Union tested their first hydrogen bomb in August 1955. Civil defense suddenly became a serious concern to everyone.[iii]

The passage of Act 377, Laws of 1955, also known as the Wisconsin Civil Defense Act of 1955, amended the state civil defense agency to it give more power to the state government and the Office of Civil Defense on matters of civil defense. The act placed a mandatory obligation upon county and municipal governments to establish civil defense committees, appoint leaders, devise plans and participate in test exercises, which would be enforced by the director. Each municipality was also granted the power to appropriate fund and levy taxes for a civil defense program. [iv]

The new law significantly expanded the powers of the state civil defense director. The governor appointed the director to oversee the agency and statewide civil defense planning. The director was able to establish standards for civil defense based on location and vulnerability. He could also designate roads for civil defense or military use and bar unauthorized use of them. Another significant power granted to the director was the ability to use public property as needed for the good of civil defense and safety of the state, even if it meant destruction of property. The new law essentially gave the director more authority to do whatever he needed to assure the progress of state civil defense.[v]

Ralph J. Olson was the key builder of civil defense in Wisconsin. He served as the director of civil defense agency in Wisconsin for ten years, 1951 to 1961, as well as the major general of the Wisconsin National Guard, and Wisconsin’s adjutant general. It was under his direction that Wisconsin established a “realistic civil defense program,” and that it grew to be a strong agency “ready to serve Wisconsin citizens in a major emergency.” In addition to building the state civil defense agency, Olson developed and implemented the first state survival plans. He also helped strengthen civil defense laws in Wisconsin by supporting the legislation that made it a stronger state agency.[vi]

Another important designation the law established was the State Civil Defense Council. The council was made up of the state civil defense director, serving as chairman, state civil defense co-directors, and members of the state Legislature. It was established to “counsel the director in civil defense matters.”[vii] The council essentially helped the state civil defense director by acting as the mediator between the local and state agencies.

Civil defense was a very structured organization in the United States. The U.S. was split up into regional boundaries by the FCDA. Each region had a civil defense headquarters, and the region’s headquarters received its information and orders from the national headquarters in Washington D.C. Wisconsin was in region four with Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana. This region’s headquarters was set up in Battle Creek, Michigan. The regional headquarters served as a distributor of information, hardware and warning control hub for the region. Wisconsin’s warning center headquarters was first located at the Capital in Madison but was later moved to Stevens Point in 1959.[viii]

Wisconsin itself was subdivided into regional areas by the state director, another duty granted to him through the Wisconsin Civil Defense Act of 1955. Each area was made up of several counties where one city would be designated as a key point that served as control center. In 1959, Stevens Point, one of the key locations, was made the emergency seat of government for Wisconsin pending an enemy attack. Government officials could convene at Central State College, UW-Stevens Point today, and could continue state government after the blast.[ix] The Wisconsin regions mimicked the concept of the national regions, which was to maintain a structured chain of communication and planning before and after an attack.

More restructuring of the state’s civil defense agency came after the passage of Act 628, Laws of 1959. The agency was renamed the Wisconsin Bureau of Civil Defense and was placed under the ultimate authority of the governor. The governor was the newly established chairman of the State Civil Defense Council. He would appoint the council members, which would consist of more members than before. He could determine and direct other state agencies to aid in civil defense. He could also allocate materials and facilities for the use of civil defense. [x] The passage of these state laws in 1955 and 1959 did a lot to boost the role of state government’s involvement with civil defense.

Civil defense organizing in Wisconsin experienced significant expansion and change from 1951 to 1959. It picked up momentum because of the threat the Soviet Union posed, but more significantly, civil defense organizers were solidifying the concept that the program was essential for public safety. Officials were consistently trying to maintain creditability and power to influence public perception about the program. Civil defense had to maintain the strength to legitimized deterrence and assure the public perception that survival was possible when thermonuclear weapons would be used.[xi]

[i] The Wisconsin Blue Book 1952, 285.

[ii] Wisconsin Legislature. “Act 443, Laws of 1951.” Wisconsin Legislative Documents.

[iii]Harrison E Salisbury, “Soviet Announces a Test Explosion of Hydrogen Bomb.”(New York Times, August 20, 1953, p. 1. ProQuest (112576823)).

[iv] Wisconsin Legislature. “Act 377, Laws of 1955.” Wisconsin Legislative Documents.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] State of Wisconsin Civil Defense News Bulletin Vol. II. No. 2, February 1961. WBCD, Series 1715, Box 9, Public Information folder, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.

[vii] Wisconsin Legislature. “Act 377, Laws of 1955.” Wisconsin Legislative Documents.

[viii] “Stevens Point Now Warning Center for CD.” Milwaukee Sentinel, November 23, 1959, sec. 2, p. 1.,1720850&dq=stevens-point-now-warning-center-for-cd&hl=en

[ix] “Alert Tests Emergency Wis. Capital.” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 1, 1958, sec. 2, p.1.,443861&dq=alert-tests-emergency-wis-capital&hl=en

[x] Wisconsin Legislature. “Act 628, Laws of 1959.” Wisconsin Legislative Documents.

[xi] Guy Oaks, The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 7.

Allis Sanborn Maps

The American Geographical Society Library at the  University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee has an amazing collection of Sanborn maps of Milwaukee from 1894 and 1910. The E.P. Allis Reliance Works and Allis-Chalmers Company are among the maps in this collection. Each picture below will take you to the page where they can be viewed up close.

Reliance Works-1894

(North End of Reliance Works)From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

(North End of Reliance Works)
From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

(South End of Reliance Works)From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

(South End of Reliance Works)
From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

 (Reliance Works Foundry)From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

(Reliance Works Foundry)
From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

West Allis Works-1910

 (West Allis Works)From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

(West Allis Works)
From the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

Construction of the West Allis Works

The merger of E.P. Allis Company, Fraser-Chalmers Works, Dickson Manufacturing Company, and Gates Iron Works formed the Allis-Chalmers Company in 1901. Following subsequently after was the decision to expand the Milwaukee Works. The E.P. Allis Company was operating out of a dated shop near Walkers Point.

Location of the E.P. Allis Co. Factory Prior to 1901

The company made an offer on 100 acres of land in North Greenfield located west of Milwaukee. The company bought the land in 1901 for $25,000.00 and began building the new factory complex. The area was renamed West Allis, presumably after the company that moved there. Ads in local newspapers said that West Allis would be the “iron manufacturing center of the Northwest.”

An article called “The Great West Allis Plant” in Machinery magazine gave the details of the construction of the new West Allis Works. The article said that the new factory was not built to meet the company’s present needs, but that is was built with the expectation of future growth and expansion on the grounds. Edwin Reynolds was credited with the insight to see that the company would need room to grow. Reynolds wanted to avoid a haphazard layout, so he designed the factory in units, or what the article described as “filing cabinets and book cases.”

West Allis Works Layout

The foundry building, running north and south, was 220 ft wide and spanned approximately 535 feet with room to extend northward. The building was constructed with divided bays. The center bay stood higher than the two outside bays to allow sunlight to pour in on each side. The foundry was served by a railroad line to move material in and out of the yard. There were also a series of elevated tracks that ran adjacent to the foundry to help dispose of sand and other material.

Crane used to moved material in and out of foundry.

Crane used to moved material in and out of foundry.


Foundry and Machine Shop No. in background

Machine shops No. 1 & No.2 and the blacksmith shop ran east and west. Each approximately 120 feet wide and spanned 575 feet. Machine shop No. 1 had a 65 foot-wide central crane system with two cranes with a 80,000 lb lift capacity. The crane system in shop No 2. and the blacksmith shop were different from No. 1. The majority of the heavy work was done in shop No. 1 which contained the huge machining tools. The building’s floor plate was 24 feet wide by 200 feet long, and it was embedded in a thick slab of concrete. The massive portable machining tools were placed onto the floor plates. The floor plate was built to last a long time, but should it have fallen out of alignment, the floor could be adjusted and leveled by cranking on giant cast screws to bring the floor plate back into a level position.

Inside Machine Shop No. 1

Inside Machine Shop No. 1

Between the machine shops and the blacksmith shop ran transporting cranes to move equipment back and forth from the shops to the foundry. All of the cranes installed in the West Allis Works were built by Pawling & Harnischfeger of Milwaukee.  In the blacksmith shop were four steam hammers, the biggest had a 12,000 lb capacity. There was room left on the end of the blacksmith shop for the addition of a power plant and engine room.

Cranes that run between machine shops.

Cranes that ran between machine shops.

The erecting shop was 115 feet wide and spanned 560 feet , north and south. The building was arranged into two bays, one with 25′ head room and the other with 60′ head room. The smaller bay was used to collect the parts and prepare them for assembly. The larger bay in the shop was utilized to assemble the massive vertical and pumping engines before final shipment.

Erecting Shop

Erecting Shop

Over the years extensions were added on to the original buildings, which is how they were designed.  More buildings were constructed elsewhere on the property to make room for the other lines of equipment Allis-Chalmers produced. The construction of the West Allis Works was the first step in solidifying the future for Allis-Chalmers’ ability to design and build the massive industrial machines that they did. Remnants of the old West Allis Works stand as a reminder of the industrial powerhouse the this company was.

** Information presented here was acquired from Machinery, February 1903.

D-10 Series II Restoration

(If you would like to see some of our other restorations, click here.)

Our D-10 was the 4th and most recent restoration job that we worked on. I had done some various work on it in it before the painting part of the project. My brother and I took the head off, only because the head gasket went out, and had the head gone over and honed the piston sleeves before we put it all back together. There used to be a Woods 5′ mower deck mounted under it, and we used it for mowing the acres of grass on our farms. This made a great mower because this model has an independent PTO on it, unlike earlier models.

I believed we bought this tractor in the winter of 2007. It was at a small restoration shop in a town up the road from us. It was in pretty rough shape when we got it. I can’t remember what the price tag was on it, but we ended up trading in our Allis-Chalmers CA and paying couple hundred dollars yet for this tractor. There is a story about my Allis-Chalmers CA as it relates to the D-10, but I will cover later.

We used the mower in the condition it was in for 2 years.  We were having issues with the rear axle seals leaking and the brakes didn’t work as a result of it (oil was dripping on the pads and wouldn’t grip). So I initially tore that all apart and put some installed new seals in Fall 2009. That took care of the leaking issue and the break issue. In Spring 2010 we started taking the tractor all apart and prepping the metal for paint. We didn’t have any mechanical issues to fix, because I had addressed those the previous year.

By the end of that summer, we had the tractor painted and back together. The only thing we are missing yet, which we didn’t have to begin with, is the snap coupler mechanism for the drawbar. We have actually looked into putting an aftermarket 3pt hitch on, that might make it a little more useful.

The D-10 is a super-sweet little tractor. We would like to get its twin sister, the D-12, and have them both fixed up together. They are fun to putter around with and take out for photo ops every now and then.

John Deere Letter About Allis-Chalmers


Here is some tractor history that Allis-Chalmers and John Deere enthusiasts can get interested in. The word in the AC world  is that John Deere was rather pleased when Allis-Chalmers finally stopped making tractors on December 6, 1985. Rumor has it that John Deere was so thrilled that it (whoever “it” was at Deere & Co.) sent out a letter to the dealers shortly after. What did this letter say verbatim? That is the million dollar question. Allegedly it had essentially said that John Deere could finally breathe a sigh of relief that its orange competitor was out of the game.

I have looked into this before, and I came up empty-handed. I contacted John Deere and asked them if any such document was sent out. They said they had no record of it. I am opening the case back up for further investigation. I have my own thoughts about this letter.

When I first heard about this letter a few years ago, I had to grin. I am an AC enthusiast and to hear that John Deere was afraid of Allis-Chalmers until the very end was music to my ears. Since I began investigating this again today, I am starting to have my doubts about it. I can believe that JD sent out some sort of letter, but I have my doubts that it was about one competitor shutting down. It just doesn’t add up. Why?

  • John Deere was ahead of Allis-Chalmers- why would they worry?
  • Other names, bigger in the tractor market than AC, were going out! What about International Harvester?
  • Would John Deere REALLY send out a letter about this?
  • Why have we not seen a document yet or heard more about this?

I don’t want to discredit the letter, but I do have my doubts. We need more substantial evidence then just some hearsay information. I have emailed John Deere about this subject again. I have also emailed some John Deere dealerships and asked them if they recall a letter or have any information about it. I will follow-up with any information I find out about this. The John Deere dealership owners should know or remember this. I am really looking forward to solving this rivalry mystery. If you have any information about this, please comment.