CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill.— Back in the early days of the 20th century, folks with sheet metal or heating needs could go to the phone and dial 235 to reach the John Maier Co.

Now in the early days of the 21st century, there are more digits to dial (708-755-0235), but the last three digits are still the same, and the company to call is still the John Maier Co.

In fact, the company marked its 100th year in business in 2002, all of that time in the Chicago suburb of Chicago Heights. There is now a third generation Maier acting as a consultant and a fourth generation Maier serving as manager of the sheet metal department.

Lest anyone think there is a magic formula for staying in business for 100 years, consultant William Maier says simply, “We’ve got good contacts with customers. And we are committed to taking care of them.”

There may be at least one other key to longevity, and that is the fact that — dare we say it — there are those in the John Maier Co. who actually find ways to have fun in this business. One need only consider a miniature Eiffel Tower, a full-size locomotive engine, and a whole bunch of birdhouses that have come out of the sheet metal department.

In The Beginning

John Maier started in the business in 1902 with his partner, Frederick Hessler. “He just got into the heating business,” said grandson William. “And he did all kinds of sheet metal work.” Within a few years, the business was officially the John Maier Co., and jobs included metal radiator shields and furnace repairs. John’s son Frank joined his father in the business at a young age, but a back injury shortened his tenure. William started out cleaning the shop and then working as a sheet metal apprentice in the late 1940s.

“My grandfather was a tough guy to work for,” he recalled. “But I enjoyed making things out of metal.”

After more than 50 years as a sheet metal man, John Maier sold the company to outside interests in 1955. In 1978, William Maier and partner Robert Heinz purchased the company. In 1993, William and his wife Joy regained full control of the company. With William’s desire to retire and spend more time traveling, the company was recently sold to Mike Garney and his partner, Jim Himmel. Garney is president of All-Tech Heating & Air Conditioning of nearby Crete, Ill. Plans are for William to stay on as a consultant while Todd Maier, the fourth generation in the family to work at the company, manages the sheet metal operation. Garney oversees the HVAC work. All-Tech has moved its HVAC operations from Crete to the John Maier Co.’s 12,000-square-foot building in Chicago Heights. As the transition plays out, the plan is to retain the 100-year-old Maier name.

A Nice Fit

Garney said the two companies have a nice fit. “I started All-Tech seven years ago as basically a residential and commercial service business for heating systems. The John Maier Co. is more construction and industrial sheet metal contracting. They had been hiring us out as subcontractors and we used their products on a lot of jobs. This merger allows us to handle just about any part of the heating and air conditioning business.” Garney primarily uses Bryant products on residential jobs and Carrier equipment on his commercial projects.

The John Maier Co. has moved to several facilities over the years, always in Chicago Heights. One move had to be made due to space limits and because larger trucks delivering raw materials had to periodically block a major highway. The present plant at 1101 Washington St. is just off U.S. 30, a few miles west of the Illinois-Indiana border. It has ample room for deliveries and growth.

“There is no reason to consider relocating,” said Garney. “We like it here.”

About 16 people are employed at the facility, which does about $1.5 million a year in business.

One way the John Maier Co. has stayed in business has been to add high-tech equipment. Eight years ago, a plasma-cutting machine was added. William Maier regularly attends trade shows to keep up with the latest technology.

Shop workers at the plant are members of union Local 73. They go through a four-year apprenticeship program. “It is hard to find good sheet metal workers these days,” said Garney. “We get good ones, but we don’t get enough of them.”

The Tower And The Train

Oh yes, about the Eiffel tower, the train, and the birdhouses. Folks at the John Maier Co. find enjoyment and satisfaction in taking a flat sheet of metal and creating something out of it.

Most of the time, that something goes into the ductwork of an office or factory. But at times, creations have a bit more whimsical flavor.

William Maier recalls making a miniature Eiffel Tower as a youngster that ended up spurring him to commit to a career in the sheet metal business.

A full-size locomotive engine was fabricated and painted in the 1950s in the Maier plant and mounted on a truck chassis to be used by the local American Legion as an eye-catching vehicle in parades. The photo archives show a remarkably lifelike locomotive coming out of the shop onto a city street.

The birdhouses are a more recent example of how some skillful hands can create works of art from sheet metal — when they aren’t making the ductwork needed for hospitals, schools, and factories.

Publication date: 01/27/2003