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Rocklin Manufacturing

Rocklin Manufacturing last year completed a refurbishing of a 1912 building, shown above in downtown Sioux City, which founder I.J. Rocklin purchased in 1942. The structure, which was originally used by the Albertson and Company, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

SIOUX CITY -- A 107-year-old downtown Sioux City structure that played major roles in helping the U.S. and its allies win two world wars is now officially one of Iowa's most treasured historic buildings.

The Albertson and Company/Rocklin Manufacturing building in Sioux City has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1912 at 110 S. Jennings St. in Sioux City, the building originally housed the Automatic Valve Seating Machinery Company until 1914 when it reorganized and became the Sioux City Machine and Tool Company, producing spark plugs and tire valves, according to a news release from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Four months later, the company failed and its shop foreman, Swedish-born Frans Oscar Albertson (1882-1958), founded Albertson & Company, which took over the plant. When World War I broke out, he secured a four-month Canadian wartime contract to supply 6,000 piston rings and repair tools for munition plants.

While Albertson never owned the building, his company occupied it until 1920 when it moved into a new and larger two-story plant at Floyd Boulevard and 31st streets. That year, the company produced 11 different tools and generated more than $500,000 in sales, according to the building's National Register nomination form.

Albertson went on to become the world's largest producer of portable electronic and air tools. Known as Sioux Tools Inc., a division of Snap-On Tools as of 1993, it remained at its Floyd Boulevard site until 2001 when it relocated to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the original building underwent numerous owners and uses from 1921 to 1942 when the Rocklin Manufacturing Company took it over.

Originally, the Rocklin family was in the flower business and claimed to have the largest greenhouse complex west of the Mississippi River during World War I. But Isadore J. "Rocky" Rocklin (1908-1993), son of floral partner Michael E. Rocklin (1881-1976), wasn't destined for the floral trade.

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Isadore Rocklin spent his formative years working with radios and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1930 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He spent several years working in numerous industries – radio and communications, air conditioning and furnace sales – gathering a broad range of skills that led to future success with his own company.

In 1941, Rocklin's company was located at 2700 Hawkeye Drive and a year later, it moved into the former Albertson building. The company's products included water-level regulators for stock tanks, pump jacks, corn pickers, hydraulic pumps and tractor-powered saws and mowers that improved efficiency and safety on the farm.

When World War II began, Rocklin responded by manufacturing equipment for Chrysler Corporation, International Harvester Company and Allis Chalmers Company while supplying the Chicago Ordnance District, the Detroit Arsenal and the Tank Automotive Center in Detroit with products. Rocklin would eventually play a key role in providing spring and shock mounts for the national missile defense system, the nomination form said.

In 1944, the company received the rare and coveted Ordnance Corps flag from the U.S. Army for outstanding contributions in the field of ordnance production. Iowa Gov. Bourke B. Hickenlooper and Sioux City Mayor Forrest Olson attended the presentation ceremony and watched Rocklin present 400 of his employees with certificates and ordnance pins at the Hotel Martin ballroom.

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"The company was one out of 17 firms selected to take on a 'special ordnance assignment' out of 2,200 applicants," the nomination form said. "Rocklin was one of 13 war production firms that received the Ordnance banner in recognition of its distinguished and meritorious production record."

After the war, Rocklin Manufacturing moved into other structures, leaving the two-story brick building mostly abandoned and increasingly derelict over the next 50 years.

By 2017, however, the company had outgrown its post-World War II space and looked to its original 8,000-square-foot building to house a product showroom, conference room with video-conferencing technology.

The project used historic preservation tax credits and included historically accurate windows, exposed beams, columns and flooring that recaptured the building's original late 19th and 20th century architecture while retaining a two-story non-historic exterior mural (2005) that honors the company's past.

"(The) feeling of association is rooted in the confidence that the historic personages associated with this building could readily locate and identify it today," the nomination form said. "The descendants of I. J. Rocklin further attest to this feeling of association by virtue of their interest in preserving and continuing to share this building's and their family's histories."

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