Marathon Electric’s History of Bright Ideas

Marathon Electric is a company deeply rooted in the act of invention. It has developed new products and explored new technologies since 1913. From humble beginnings, the company began its operations on an island in the Wisconsin River to produce ¼ hp washing machine motors. Today, it manufactures products using next generation power motor technology. Marathon Electric has indeed run a long race – and isn’t stopping any time soon.

Founding fathers of Marathon Electric

 

Back in 1913, two persuasive design engineers from Chicago traveled to Wisconsin and convinced several members of the Wausau Group to provide financial backing for their new company called Marathon Electric. The company found the perfect spot for its new venture on Plumer’s Island in Wausau, Wisconsin taking over a former logging mill from the 1800s. Marathon Electric struggled for several years until a brilliant inventor named Austin Kimble was brought in as General Manager. Kimble revamped the company by introducing new production methods and a whole range of new products many of which were based on his own patents. Soon, the company was manufacturing a wide variety of fans and something that was called a “drive of a million speeds.” In the 1920s the creative genius continued for Marathon Electric with experiments with the Voice-a-Phone which was an attempt to participate in the early talking-movie boom and a metered washing machine (similar to coin-operated machines in today’s laundromats) which proved to be 30 years ahead of its time.

Marathon Electric 1918

That spirit of invention has stayed with Marathon Electric for more than 100 years. Today, the company continues to build on this legacy of innovation by combining magnetics and motors into a single leading technology. The use of Magnology has led to the development of the next generation of technology in motor efficiency and performance called the SyMAX motor. The SyMAX permanent magnet AC motor offers unprecedented performance and unmatched efficiency realizing a very cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and assure a cleaner environment.

Unusual Inventions and Experiments Bring New Relationships

Although the company’s experiments with the Voice-a-Phone and other unusual inventions were not successful, it did lead Marathon Electric to form relationships with companies that would become long-standing customers, including Speed Queen and Rockwell International (formerly known as Delta Company). In 1931, the company was reorganized as Marathon Electric Manufacturing Corporation and under the new leadership of James J. Wall, the company finally became profitable. In 1932, even during the Great Depression, Marathon Electric began to turn a profit, although only $1,500, and continued to grow for the next eight years. By 1940, Marathon Electric left its facility on Plumer’s Island and built a new plant at its present location in Wausau and still on the banks of the Wisconsin River. The new plant had more than 72,000 square feet of floor space and a foundry was added in 1945. By the late 1940s, Marathon Electric produced more than 300,000 electric motors annually.

To continue on its path of growth, Marathon Electric diversified its product offerings to include generator manufacturing. The company purchased Burke Electric in Pennsylvania which became Marathon Special Products and quickly thereafter became the standard for manufacturers of durable industrial and consumer products. By the 1960s, all generator production was consolidated at the Wausau facility and throughout the next 30 years, the company continued on its path of invention – creating new and improved motor and affiliated products year after year.

1950 Marathon Electric assembly

Marathon Electric’s success caught the attention of another company. Regal Beloit, also headquartered in Wisconsin, purchased Marathon Electric in 1997. Regal offers a wide range of products that are found in many conveniences we use every day. From home furnaces, pumps, elevators, conveyors to x-ray machines, office equipment, and power stations, Regal products are an important part of these and thousands of other technologies.

Joe Butler, Marketing Manager – Distribution Channel for Marathon Electric, explains: “As a company, we are in the midst of simplification. While our customers know us best by our individual brand names, within our company we are one Regal, operating with a single vision and common initiatives. We are consolidating our product lines, standardizing our computer systems and streamlining our product brands – all with the ideas of making it easier for customers to do business with us. Together, the company operates with a single vision of becoming a dynamic enterprise that is continuously innovating and growing to reach more people in more markets around the world.”

Continuing the Tradition of Innovation for the Next 100 Years

Marathon Electric’s headquarters remain in Wausau, Wisconsin with approximately 550 employees. The company’s customer care team is located there along with engineering, finance, human resources and accounting. The facility is located on 38 acres along the Wisconsin River that is nearly a ½ million square feet in size with most of that dedicated to manufacturing large frame motors and generators. Marathon also has its own foundry where it produces castings for the Wausau plant and its other manufacturing plants throughout the U.S. and Mexico. A state-of-the-art test and sound lab is also located in the factory.

Arial View of Marathon Electric 2012

As a proud flagship brand in the Regal family of companies, Marathon continues its focus on innovation and is also committed to serving the Wisconsin community the company has called home for more than a century. As a result of their efforts, Marathon has won many awards over the years, including:

  • Plant Engineering Magazine
    • 2000 Finalist Award, Electric Motor, Drive and Controls, Blue Chip Series
    • 2001 Gold Award, Electric Motor, Drive and Controls, microMAX
    • 2013 Product of the Year, XRI Hazardous Duty BCP Series
  • State of Wisconsin 2005 Large Employee Award in appreciation of efforts in hiring and promoting disabled and other veterans

“Winning awards helps us share the recognition with the entire staff at Marathon Electric,” said Butler. “As an industry leader, we will continue to invest in technology and people to drive the motor market to even higher levels of performance and energy efficiency, meeting our customers’ needs around the globe. But we cannot forget our roots and the people of our community so we remain actively involved with local charities and causes.” Recently, Marathon Electric gave back in a big way – by donating nearly 3,000 feet of their property fronting on the Wisconsin River to the City of Wausau for the new River Edge Parkway walking trail. The City plans to further develop the path and has encouraged other businesses along the river’s edge to follow the example of Marathon Electric.

With today’s global motor market evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry, Marathon Electric stands dedicated to provide next-generation technology to the industry while at the same time continuing its focus on people, community, and efficiency. This philosophy hasn’t changed in more than 100 years. So as the talented and persuasive designers and inventors did at the founding of Marathon Electric, the company continues running as it always has by harnessing new technology to create innovative products along the banks of the Wisconsin River.

 

Learn more about Marathon Electric here