Sunday, March 27, 2005

News About our Products

Founding of Wells-Engberg

The company was founded by Bill Engberg, whose life was drastically
changed during World War II. He served in the army in France with Audie
Murphy, where he was wounded by friendly fire and became a paraplegic.
After spending a year at the VA hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, he
came back to his life in Rockford, Illinois.

While trying to adjust to his disability, he found the small hand control
industry lacking as to his needs. He was working as a draftsman at
Woodward Governor and teamed up with Bill Wells, who was a fellow
employee at the company. They designed and built a hand control that
was easier to use than what was available at the time, and they decided to
form a company to sell them. The hand control parts were made at
various machine shops in Rockford and the sales and assembly was done
in the Engberg home and garage until the early 1970's. It was a total
family affair. What Bill wasn't able to do, his wife, Norma, son and
daughter, Dale and Sue, took over. Many an evening was spent in front of
the television, putting together sub-assemblies, making boxes, crinkling
newspaper, wrapping parts, doing final assembly, etc. I joined this merry
bunch in 1967 when Dale and I were married, and was quickly drafted into
the hand control business.

In those days, we would sell hand controls to anybody who was able to
find our phone number. I still remember being awakened by the
telephone at three o'clock one morning by a man wanting to place an
order. He expected to be connected to an answering service. Of course,
there weren't magazines to advertise in, so all sales were due to word of
mouth. Customers were left to find their own installers, and that system
worked very well for us for many years. With not much obstruction inside
the automobile, all that was required was a steering column and some
hose clamps, and voila! It was amazing to just about everybody that a
person without the use of his legs could actually drive a car. And once
installed, the hand controls became a huge part of a disabled person's
rehabilitation. They were put back on the road instead of trapped at
home, looking out the window at the world going by.

Around 1970, Bill and Norma decided to move full-time to their home in
Phelps, Wisconsin, so Dale & I moved into the family home in Rockford to
carry on the business. We took over all the physical aspects of the
business, while Bill still did the accounting. Bill passed away in 1973 at
the age of 54 from cancer. At that time, Dale and I took over the business
completely and shortly after that we moved it out of our home. It was a
part time business for Dale until the late 1980's, as we also owned a
company that went into prisons to set up sheet metal industries. In 1988,
Wells-Engberg became a full-time job for both of us. Our son, Marc,
started helping us when he was a young child, and now at the age of 34,
works for us on a part-time basis. Marc's son, Jason, age 3, likes to come to
the shop and pound on whatever he can get his hands on, and move
screws and nuts from one bin to another. Hopefully, it won't be too long
before he can do something constructive around here. Bill would be very
proud to know that his great-grandson is involved in the business.