Artstone celebrating 100 years

NEW ULM – American Artstone Company turns 100 years old this year, and is hosting an open house to celebrate this milestone and express its gratitude to the community for its support.

The company will be hosting an open house on Wednesday, June 25, from 1 to 6 p.m. Visitors can enjoy a presentation of the company’s history and tour the plant. Food and refreshments will be served.

In addition, in order to commemorate its 100 year anniversary and further express its gratitude to the community, Artstone’s Board of Directors has approved a donation of the cast stone identified in the German Park Amphitheater Feasibility Study, with an estimated value of $30,000 to $40,000. The project will build hillside seating to replace the grassy hillside that in recent years has started to slope more.

The company was founded by George Saffert under the name “Fairfax Cement Works” in 1914 in a garage in Fairfax. Saffert, an immigrant from Germany, was approached by a contractor and architect who were seeking white cast stone for the foundation and trim for St. John’s Lutheran Church, which they planned to build in Fairfax. The company was able to provide the elements in the church, which became Artstone’s first project.

In 1916 the company was incorporated and changed its name to “Saffert-Gugisberg Cement Construction Company” and moved to New Ulm. A few years later the company name was simplified to “Saffert Cement Construction Company.” In 1932, following years of company growth and attaining a reputation for producing the highest quality cast stone, the company name was changed to American Artstone Company.

Since 1914, the company flourished through Prohibition, two world wars (in fact, about two dozen German POWs from the nearby prisoner camp worked at American Artstone during WWII), the Civil Rights Movement, and the end of the Cold War. In 1998 the company moved into its current state-of-the-art production facility at 2025 North Broadway in New Ulm.

The company has produced many different designs and products since its inception including products like rainbow brick, decorative stone houses, silos, and tile, but always has remained true to its core value of producing the finest cast stone and architectural precast products in the country. American Artstone product adorns many buildings in New Ulm, including the rainbow brick houses, the original public library which now houses the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, the Vogel building and J.C. Penney building (now the New Ulm Telecom building) in downtown, the St. Mary’s Catholic church and probably the most identifiable building in New Ulm the windmill-shaped New Ulm Oil Company building at 5th North and Broadway.

Not only is American Artstone well known in the New Ulm area, but it has also gained a national reputation as producing the finest cast stone in the industry, earning its tag line “Setting the Standard Since 1914.” Some high profile projects include the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul, TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, and the Renaissance Square Building in downtown Minneapolis. American Artstone has won 11 prestigious Cast Stone Institute Excellence Awards over the past eight years, include two coveted Architects Choice Awards.

“American Artstone owes a great deal to its founder George Saffert,” said American Artstone President Larry Thompson. “He truly was a visionary. But the company would not be where it is today without its highly skilled and dedicated employees.”

Thompson said the company’s workers, from the carpenters who build the molds to those who pour and finish the product, are the company’s quality control officers. “They don’t like to let a piece go out if it’s not right, or has a blemish.”

The company’s carpenters work several years before they are entrusted with the more intricate projects, said Thompson. They can work weeks to create a mold for a special piece, building it to exacting specifications. The pieces they create have to fit together with little room for error.

The company can take an architect’s or designer’s ideas and make them a reality.

“We sometimes get orders where we say, ‘You can’t do that,’ then we’ll think about it and make it work,” said Thompson.

Thompson said the company has weathered the ups and downs of the building industry, thanks to its investors and board of directors, who “are interested in more than the bottom line. The product is as important as the profit,” he said.

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