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A Look Back

By Patrick D. McCarren

The histories of the family business across our country all have a unique story. Some are founded on an invention, others an idea and others, just to make living.

Our company was founded by my parents, William and Alice McCarren and I would like to take this opportunity to share some of their story. My Dad was a man of diverse talents and insight. The McCarren family immigrated to the United States in the mid 1800´s bringing with them their skills as metalists and boilermakers. Originally settling in New York, they continued their westward journey and settled in Northern Illinois - establishing Rockford Boiler Works. This was where my dad learned much about the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. One of his many tasks in the business was the making of wood formings for sand molds that would later be used for casting flues and other various boiler parts. When he wasn´t making forms, he spent his time learning various types of woodworking and finishing. One of the first things he designed and make was “the original walking and quacking duck.” Unfortunately, he just thought it was a fun thing to make and never had it patented. Another thing that he found interest in at the boiler shop were the chemicals used for curing, etching and finishing. This knowledge he would use later.

With the advent of World War II, my dad was assigned to the Rockford Ordnance Plant to keep the boilers operating. The Rockford Ordnance Plant was one of the top plants that manufactured ammunition for the United States. Following the war, with dads´ knowledge of chemicals, he started working as a salesman for a chemical company where he obtained further knowledge that lead to the founding of our company. The first product was a crystal drain cleaner, which was called FLOW-EZE DRAIN CLEANER, and thus our company name. My dad was always thinking and always creating something. As the American landscape changed with the boom of new housing following the war, Dad observed that land was being cleared by surveyors using the traditional sickle. One day while dad was playing golf at Ingersoll Golf course he came up with the idea of replacing the head of the golf club with a flat cutting piece of metal. He returned to the boiler shop and then fabricated the metal part, shaft and cutting blade, then on a lathe turned a smooth gripper handle. And thus “the Swing Line Grass Whip” was invented. Soon these grass whips were being sold to hardware stores throughout the Midwest. Dad would handle the metal forming and turning of the wood handles and my mother would paint the metal and stain the handles.

In 1946 my brother Michael was born and in 1947 I was born. With my older sister Mary Carol, my brother and myself, mother´s time was devoted to family, but she still always found time to help my dad in everything he undertook.

Eventually, as the result of the time it took to make grass whips along with the introduction of the power lawnmower, manufacturing of the grass whip was curtailed and Dad focused on his chemical drain cleaners. Throughout the 50´s and up to his death in 1977 he continued developing new and better cleaning products. At the university of Wisconsin he developed and tested the effects his Root Destroyer and Sewer Cleaner, would have on trees. After he was convinced the product would not endanger the health of tress or the environment, he received EPA approval and applied and received USDA approval. Dad would be on the road promoting and selling his chemical cleaners and mom would label and package each can sold. By 1960, sales were brisk and the company had started ordering lithograph tin cans and silkscreen plastic bottles for the products being made. At this same time, labeling laws were being created by the Food and Drug Administration resulting in the company having to label over the new already printed bottles and can. As a result of label warnings changing so often, my dad decided to start printing directly on the cans and bottles as they were needed. This was to become the beginning of a whole new direction and lead to what our company is today.