Barton Malow Heritage
The Story Tellers
Many people ask who were Barton and Malow? Ben Maibach Jr., Chairman Emeritus, had the privilege of working closely with the founding fathers. Part one of the Heritage Story is his account of the early days and the values that shaped our culture.
Part two was written by Ben Maibach III, Chairman and CEO, who began his career at Barton Malow in 1965. He influenced the most significant growth period in Barton Malow history and remains with the company to this day.
Together, Ben Jr. and Ben III share a heritage story that only people with personal knowledge of the stories behind the story could tell. Please enjoy!
How Barton Malow Started: 1924 - 1934
Carl Osborn Barton was born March 19, 1898, in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. He graduated from the University of Michigan Engineering School, and started his employment with the Detroit Water Board. After a short period he began working for the J.A. Utley Company in the Detroit area. Utley was one of the largest general contractors in Michigan at the time and was the vehicle whereby many later Detroit contractors originally began.
Employed as an engineer on a stamping plant for Fisher Body in Pontiac, Michigan, he met a young carpenter foreman, Peter Darin, and the two of them decided to go into business for themselves. With $500 borrowed capital, Carl left the employment of J.A. Utley with the understanding that Pete Darin would follow after he had taken a honeymoon. However, Pete’s new bride was not at all of a mind that her husband enter into such a risky business venture, so Carl proceeded on his own.
Some years later, Pete Darin left the Utley Company and joined with John Armstrong as founders of Darin-Armstrong Company, which was then purchased by Walbridge Aldinger many years later.
The C.O. Barton Company’s office was at 1609 Washington Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, and Carl, with high ideals, wanted to go first-class. His company was founded on August 4, 1924. Of the 1,000 shares of stock, C.O., as we affectionately called him, owned 998 shares. His sister, Margaret Rose Barton, a school teacher, and Kins Collins, the auditor and one of the founders of Collins, Buri & McConkey accounting firm, each had one share. (We continue to do business with Collins, Buri & McConkey to this day.) The three of them served as the directors. Mr. Barton was President and Treasurer; Rose Barton, Vice President; and Kins Collins, Secretary.
It soon became apparent that they had to reduce expenses and the office was relocated for a short time to the Free Press Building. However, four years later in 1928, the company moved its office again to a building at 1900 East Jefferson Avenue.
The first contract was awarded by Michigan Bell Telephone for some interior renovations. The next 25 work orders were allocated to alterations and repairs for the Hudson Motor Car Company. The volume for the first year was $521,000 with a net income of $1,247.
Early clients that kept the firm profitable were automotive related, and approximately 50 percent of the C.O. Barton Company’s business was for the Packard and Hudson Motor Car companies. Shortly thereafter, the Ford Motor Car Company awarded a contract to C.O. Barton Company for foundations at their River Rouge plant in Michigan, and in December 1927, the first job for the Chrysler Corporation was recorded.
In 1927, the Company fell on very difficult times. The books showed a deficit of $50,000 and C.O., who was an extremely dedicated individual, suffered a nervous breakdown—the result of consistently being underfinanced, spread too thin and working long hours. It was recommended that he consider bankruptcy, but being a conscientious, determined man of excellent character, he did not take that option. Through diligence and commitment the Company survived, and all of the creditors received 100 percent on the dollar. Carl Barton was a man of integrity.
It was the Company’s philosophy from inception that fair play and honesty were the firm’s guiding principals. C.O. believed in taking care of employees and providing superior service to his clients.
During the struggle for survival, Arnold Malow, a native of the area whose father had been a partner in a very prominent Detroit carpenter construction firm and then a principal in the Malow Berry Company, joined forces with Carl Barton. C.O. and Arnold had become acquainted through a mutual friend, Roy Rohrmoser, a plastering contractor at that time. Roy had the intuition to recognize the two would provide a good balance for each other.
Arnold Malow was a financial wizard and loyal to the people he knew. His family roots were local and he had a host of friends. He loved to socialize and was an avid golfer. He and his wife had a little girl named Mary.
C.O., had a quiet nature. He was extremely conscientious, and all decisions were thoroughly analyzed and slowly confirmed. These virtues added balance to the Company. However, C.O. struggled in our business where bid dates cannot be missed and many decisions have to be made quickly.
Arnold Malow brought $25,000 of new capital to the firm, which he borrowed from his brother-in-law, George Fink, President of Michigan Steel Company. It later became the National Steel Corporation, which for many years, was our largest client. Carl continued as president, Arnold assumed the responsibility of Vice President and Treasurer, and Kins Collins, CPA, served as Secretary. Arnold brought to the table a tremendous gift for handling funds. With this new infusion of cash, approximately $7,000 worth of floating checks were made good and the revived Company was off to a fresh start.
In 1929, prior to the beginning of the Great Depression, the firm’s volume doubled to just under $1,000,000 and the year-end showed a profit of $4,471. The following year the volume was about the same and there was a profit in excess of $20,000. In 1931, in the depth of the Depression, there was an additional profit of $14,803. The new team was successful and optimism prevailed.
After the bank crash of 1929, the Company survived because Carl and Arnold had wisely invested a portion of the Company assets and stock in National Steel, which they were able to sell, and through Arnold’s financial expertise, were able to meet their obligations and have cash on hand.
In May 1932, the name was changed to Barton Malow Company. The slate of officers remained the same with the addition of Sylvestor Wolfe who assumed the responsibilities of Chief Estimator and Secretary. Wolfe was a part-time employee earning $1.00 per hour when work was available. The three of them constituted the entire office force and necessarily so because gross sales dropped to $119,000 and operation showed a loss of $3,553, which included a $35 bad debt write off. All were aware that times were difficult but wisely recognized the potential for growth if they persevered.
The Lord provides, and when the Great Lakes Steel Corporation was formed in Ecorse, Michigan, Barton Malow Company was chosen as the prime contractor. My father, Ben Maibach, Sr., was selected to be the leader of this large undertaking.
Ben, Sr., with only an eighth grade education, had started out as a young man building barns in the Bay County, Michigan area for 12-1/2 cents an hour as a carpenter apprentice. He had joined the C. O. Barton company in 1925 as a carpenter, consequently being one of the original company employees.
This new facility rose up out of the swamp next to the Detroit River at the Ecorse location to become one of the most modern and efficient steel-producing plants in existence at that time. This site included open hearth and blast furnaces and rolling mills to be able to produce high quality automotive steel from ore. Approximately 2,000 people were employed on the construction site. The project was successfully completed, which led to future work at the steel company and helped reinforce my father’s positive relationship with Carl Barton and Arnold Malow.
It is hard to understand why the Depression of the 1930’s was called ‘great’ because it was a very difficult period for everyone. Banks failed, even institutions that had been around since the turn of the century. The only thing "great" was the size of the unemployment figures, the losses incurred by individuals and business, and the anxieties and frustrations that were prevalent. It was a harsh time.