Countdown to our 100th Anniversary: The Early Years of Crescent as a Family Business

Over the next year, we're celebrating the Countdown to our 100th Anniversary by sharing our stories from our past. The history of our founder, Titus B. Schmid, and all those that impacted him, play a vital role in the creation of Crescent Electric Supply Company. Join us as we take a stroll down memory lane in preparation for our Centennial celebration in April, 2019!


Story 6: The Early Years of Crescent as a Family Business: The Tom Schmid Era

By the mid 1940’s, Titus had decided to offer an opportunity for his sons to join him in the business. The time came in 1945 when his son, Tom, returned from military service:

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And, so it was, in 1945 Crescent Electric Supply Company officially became a family business.

Titus was very pleased that his sons planned to join him in business. He mentions in his book a joke told the first time he was at an industry conference with three of his four sons:

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Jim and John, like their older brother Tom before them, had to learn about the electrical supply business. Above is a photo of Jim and John Schmid at the General Electric Lighting Institute in March, 1948.

Titus stayed connected to the business but made sure to allow his sons some leeway in determining the future of the company. Titus speaks to one of the first endeavors recommended by his sons (and the financing for the project from a Chicago bank):

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Welcome to Creslanes! (‘58)

These photos are from a 1958 newspaper advertisement announcing the opening of Creslanes Bowling Alley in Dubuque, Iowa.

“The Midwest’s Finest Bowling and Recreational Establishment.”

Although Crescent Electric Supply Company officially became a family owned company in the late 1940’s, everyone who has had a mother or father running their own business knows that the business is family “run” from its start. Crescent was no exception. All seven of the Schmid children worked at the business at some point, often from a very early age. We captured on video three of Titus’ children (Bill, John, and Janet) describing their first jobs at Crescent:

As you have heard from Janet, Tom Schmid was the oldest of the Schmid boys and a “true gem.” Tom led the company as President from 1966-1974. We captured Tom’s siblings, Bill and Mary, talking about their brother, Tom, on this video:    

This is a picture of Tom at his desk at the Dubuque headquarters of Crescent Electric (circa 1955), and his business card from the same era:

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Tom Schmid’s business card. (‘55)

Titus was “promoted” to Chairman of the Board in 1966 when he named Tom as President of the company. Below is a picture of one of Titus’ Chairman of the Board business cards, circa 1980:

Titus’ Chairman of the Board business card. (‘80)

Tom Schmid’s new business card with the title of President in 1966.

“Thomas B. Schmid - from America’s heartland to NAED’s helm.”

Electrical Wholesaling (June, 1968).

Many family businesses struggle with hurt feelings and jealousies between family members. This memo, sent by Tom Schmid to his siblings, demonstrates the Schmid brothers were not immune to some of these challenges. Tom sent this memo after the company produced a new brochure, likely shortly after the article highlighting Tom as President of Crescent appeared on the cover of the trade magazine Electrical Wholesaling in 1968.

“Dear Bill,

Attached is a copy of the company brochure, which in general I think is very good. My picture has more prominence than I wanted and could be a sensitive point. I feel an explanation is in order. The advertising agency, rightly, felt Dad’s picture should be in it as part of our history. They felt the current President’s picture would be used to update the company image. I had suggested to them that they use a picture of all the officers. They felt strongly that this would make the brochure look like a family album rather than a corporate presentation piece. I accepted their judgment and hope in doing so I don’t have any wounds. Personal aggrandizement was not the objective.

- Tom”

But if there were any hurt feelings, the Schmid brothers worked it out. The following year (April, 1969) Business & Industry did an article about Crescent Electric during its 50th Year Celebration. No surprise, this time around all four Schmid boys were featured on the cover! The link to the entire article is included here if you are interested in reading it.

Iowa Business & Industry (April, 1969). Read the full article here.

Thomas B. Schmid

We know that the early Schmid ancestors and Crescent’s founder, Titus Schmid, were very active in their communities. It is not surprising to learn that Tom Schmid also was very active in giving back to his community and his profession. While we will publish a separate vignette on Civic Engagement by the Schmid family later this year, it is worth sharing here a quote from Tom that appeared in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald article “Dubuque Firm’s Growth is a Family Affair” (October, 1971):

“Tom Schmid attempted to serve his community whenever the opportunity to do so opened up. Stating recently that “there are always places where one can serve“, Schmid said that “involvement in civic affairs is an obligation for every young man who wants to make a career in a city.” Schmid concluded this assertion by stating “of course, one never finishes one’s civic responsibility.”

1971 newspaper article in the Telegraph Herald.

Tom’s commitment to giving back extended to his profession by serving as President of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED).

Electrical Wholesale Magazine (February, 1972). Read the full article here.

In February of 1972, Electrical Wholesale Magazine ran another cover story on Crescent Electric showing Tom and his brother Jim, along with Howard Schuster, on the cover. If you are interested in reading this article, click here for the link.

Not surprisingly, Titus was actively engaged in the business throughout his life. While he had confidence in his sons, he did not want them to lose sight of the many challenges he faced, and his sons would continue to face, in keeping the business growing and profitable.

Titus spoke about these challenges in a letter to his daughter, Jeanne in 1973:

“12/13/1973: …You all will never know of the effort and heart aches that I have had during the growth of this company… It’s a great company and thank goodness my boys, who must carry on, are doing so with great skill. The grandsons who wish to follow into this business should be made to appreciate the tremendous opportunity they have but it must be because they want to enter this game, not because they are forced into it…”

Tom was a great leader in the business and the family. During his fifteen years as President of Crescent Electric Supply Company he built a culture of transparency and hard work that he exhibited every day in his work with employees, vendors, customers and his own family.

Sadly, Tom Schmid died of cancer in July of 1974, leaving the Schmid family to carry on without their beloved son, brother, husband, father and uncle.

At the September 1974 Board meeting Titus announced the election of officers. His son, Jim, became the next President of Crescent Electric Supply Company. In the next vignette we will talk about Jim’s role in successfully leading the company for the next 26 years.

1974 Board Meeting officer announcement.


About the Project as explained by the Author:

Author Mary Schmid Daugherty is a third generation Schmid family member. Content for this Project, a historical narrative, was selected from the personal archives of many members of the Schmid family. A special thanks to the Tom Schmid family for their voluminous archives of materials of the early years of the Schmid family beginning in 1856. The narrative itself required the author to cull and categorize hundreds of pieces of information (old newspaper articles, photos, interviews, movies and physical memorabilia). She then fit the pieces together to share this story of the Schmid family and Crescent Electric over the past 100 years. The resulting Project is a series of vignettes, of which this is one. She hopes you enjoy reading and watching these vignettes.

To learn more about the Author’s professional qualifications visit her website:

https://www.stthomas.edu/business/faculty/directory/daugherty-mary.html

© Mary Schmid Daugherty May 2018


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