CHICAGO - Kroeschell Inc. is a number of HVACR stories rolled into one.

It is a classic American success story of four sons of a German immigrant who went into the boiler and piping business only a few years after the Great Chicago Fire.

It evolved into an ice machine company using carbon dioxide (CO2) as refrigerant.

It has had a hand in the development of some of the most significant and historic buildings in Chicago.

In a city where heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration firms go out of business, move to other areas of the country, or are bought up by outside firms, it still remains a privately held firm located in Chicago, bearing the name of its founder.

In 2004, the company will celebrate its 125th anniversary.

Kroeschell supplied the air conditioning system for the Tribune Tower.

Back To The Beginning

In 1879, four sons of Herman Kroeschell started Kroeschell Brothers Co., a boiler manufacturer and piping contractor, on what was then known as Michigan Street (now Hubbard) near Wells.

The Great Fire of eight years earlier actually pushed the city into a commitment to progress, and Kroeschell was, as company officials said, "in the right place at the right time" with the manufacturing and installation of boilers, tanks, stacks, and steam separators.

In 1896, the brothers purchased the Julius Sedlacek Austrian patents for special stuffing boxes required for high-pressure (roughly 1,200 psig) CO2 equipment. That same year, one project that piqued the brothers' interest and precipitated the formation of a new company was the installation of refrigerated coils on the wall of the chocolate dipping room in the Joseph B. Funke Co., a candy factory in La Crosse, Wis.

A complete machine shop was installed for the newly organized Kroeschell Brothers Ice Machine Co. The brothers were pioneers in designing, manufacturing, and installing refrigeration compressors using CO2. Thus, Kroeschell is considered to be the first company in America to use CO2 refrigeration equipment in sizes from 1 to 250 tons capacity, including horizontal compressors, vertical compressors, condensers, chillers, and CO2 collecting plants.

In 1906, Kroeschell Brothers Ice Machine Co. contracted with the Congress Hotel in Chicago (today, the Congress Plaza Hotel) to design, build, and install a cooling system that the company said was "the first recognized air conditioning system in America." The 150-ton refrigerating unit was in operation continually until 1941. At the same time, Kroeschell Brothers Ice Machine Co. became a leader in gas collections and liquefaction, chlorine liquefaction, and general low-temperature work.

In 1922, the two Kroeschell companies merged with the Brunswick Refrigerating Co. and formed Brunswick-Kroeschell Co., with factories in Chicago and New Brunswick, N.J., manufacturing carbon dioxide and ammonia equipment for both land and marine applications.

In 1930, The Brunswick-Kroeschell Co., Carrier Engineering Co., and York Heating & Ventilating Co. of Philadelphia merged to form Carrier Corp. Two years later, four executives - including Robert and Paul Kroeschell - resigned from Carrier and organized what is today known as Kroeschell Engineering Co. According to the brothers, the new venture "was dedicated to the design, manufacture, installation, service, and maintenance of commercial and industrial air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, and related piping systems."

Pictured from Kroeschell are (from left) Richard A. Pruchniak, vice president of Kroeschell Inc. and president of Kroeschell Engineering North Inc.; Daniel E. Burrows, vice president of Kroeschell Inc. and president of Kroeschell Engineers Co.; Sidney Frisch Jr., assistant secretary/recording secretary of Kroeschell Inc.; Katherine M. Santangelo, assistant vice president/secretary of Kroeschell Inc.; and Edward A. Swietek, president and CEO of Kroeschell Inc.

Changing The Skyline

The first major job awarded to the newly formed company was the air conditioning of the Tribune Tower in Chicago. The 32-story office building was cooled with a 600-ton, steam jet refrigeration system, supplying chilled water to 387 space air conditioners furnished by Westinghouse. In a sales telegram to its dealers dated Jan. 4, 1934, Westinghouse claimed this to be "one of the largest unit air conditioning installations in the world."

Kroeschell added many familiar names to its list of clients over the years, including the Wrigley Building, Jewel Tea Co., the Morton Building, the old Chicago Daily News building, the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, Curtis Candy Co., Portland Cement, and Cantigny in suburban Winfield, the historic home of Robert McCormick, former publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

In addition to commercial and industrial buildings, Kroeschell has been involved in the installation of refrigeration systems on some of the largest ships in the world at the time they were built. These include the battleships USS Ohio and USS Arizona, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, and the passenger liner SS California.

Kroeschell has worked on many of Chicago’s historic buildings over the years, including the Wrigley Building, pictured here.

More Growth

In 1959, the company ventured into the HVAC service business, and it has built one of the largest service companies in the country. Kroeschell Engineering Service Inc. has developed a customer list that includes major companies throughout the Chicago area.

Kroeschell Engineering embarked on a buildings operation business in 1968 and Kroeschell Operations Inc. serviced a number of Chicago's largest office buildings, manufacturers, universities, and hospitals. A computerized preventive maintenance program was developed in 1979.

Kroeschell embraced the concept of "one responsibility" for total system service, and, to further that objective, it purchased a plumbing contracting and service firm, O'Callaghan Brothers Inc., in 1982.

To capitalize on the growing market for the installation and design of power distribution and control systems, Kroeschell formed an Electrical Power & Controls Department in 1985. Since that time, it has developed a large clientele and is now part of Kroeschell Engineering Co. Kroeschell is a National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) licensed contractor, as well as a signatory contractor with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

In 1992, Kroeschell expanded its base to Waukegan, Ill., opening Kroeschell Engineering North Inc., providing the same HVAC services for the Lake County area.

Today, Kroeschell Inc. and its four subsidiaries - Kroeschell Engineering Co., Kroeschell Engineering North Inc., Kroeschell Engineering Service Inc., and Kroeschell Operations Inc. - employ about 350 people, are currently members of 16 business and industry associations, and have an affiliation with 16 collective bargaining units.

According to Edward Swietek, president and CEO, "We have maintained our position by assembling one of the finest engineering departments in the country and providing additional services required for excellent performance in all phases of our work.

"The pioneering spirit and professional expertise successfully practiced for more than 125 years continues to be the cornerstone of Kroeschell's present-day business philosophy. As the future unfolds, we will continue to pioneer new solutions that meet the needs of a constantly changing marketplace."

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Publication date: 12/01/2003