DeWitt, Eagle Grip and American Pride

30th June 2022 • Categories: Made in USA, Malco Company

As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July with our friends, family, and neighbors, it’s a great time to reflect on what it means to be an American and to think about all of the hard work, ingenuity, and determination that went into making this country what it is today.

I always feel a great sense of pride on the Fourth of July, and this year, I feel it more than ever knowing that I have the privilege to work for an organization whose main focus is to not only create but to keep jobs on American soil. This mission is the driving force behind how we do business, and furthermore, is one of the reasons we’ve introduced the Eagle Grip line of locking tools.

When I think of the Eagle Grip story and what it means to bring this product to market, I can’t help but think of the people who work at Malco and those that live in DeWitt, Nebraska. You see, the iconic locking handle pliers was created in DeWitt in 1924 and operated in this village of just under 500 residents until it closed in 2008 and moved operations to China. The loss of the business was so much more than a loss of jobs for this community—it was a loss of identity for the people whose history and purpose was so entwined with the well-known tool.

In fact, in an article about the closing of the factory, The Lincoln Journal Star commented on how much the locking pliers had become part of the town’s identity. Take one step in DeWitt, and you’ll see how true that statement is. The tool is on proud display in the village’s history museum, it’s part of a mural painted on the wall of the restaurant, and the village office building was donated by the family of William Peterson, who invented the locking pliers nearly a century ago.

While the closing of the factory could have meant the demise of DeWitt, it didn’t. The hard-working people who lived and worked in this very tightly-knit community were determined that manufacturing would return, and many of them made it their mission to bring good manufacturing jobs back to the community someday.

That vision became a reality 10 years to the day since the factory closed when Malco officially opened its doors to its DeWitt plant in October 2018 with a small-town grand opening community celebration – including a street dance, food catered by the town’s restaurant, ice cream from DeWitt’s grocery store, and a visit from Nebraska’s governor. And the next day, for the first time in a decade, the manufacturing lines in DeWitt began running again with employees from the former manufacturing operations leading the way.

That pride in American manufacturing and demonstration of the American spirit is seen every day in DeWitt and in other towns across this country. It’s seen in people like José Almazan, an engineering/quality manager on Malco’s Locking Handle Product (LHP) team in DeWitt. José shared the story of his father who worked at a local manufacturing plant that built refrigerators and freezers, and how, at a very young age, he could tell that his father not only enjoyed his job, but took great pride in his work. When he’d come home from work, he would tell José and his brothers about the improvements he made or the problems he solved—those were his metrics for a successful day. José credits his father with instilling in him that same drive and sense of pride in working at Malco.

“If I can help keep a plant operational in the U.S., then I have fulfilled my father’s desire for American manufacturing,” says José. “Every morning, I look forward to working with our associates on improving and innovating the product line—just like my father did. But even more than that, I feel a great sense of pride in the connection that the community has with Eagle Grip operations. It is more than a workplace, it is a symbolic place of ‘what it used to be’, but now, with the Malco twist of ‘what it can be’ and a sense of pride in bringing manufacturing jobs back to this country. And that is very exciting.”

Malco associate Kristi Rahe, who also works on Malco’s LHP team, says she feels that same sense of pride when she sees how bringing manufacturing back has impacted other small businesses in the area.

“The restaurant, bar and grocery store in town have seen an increase in business with people going for lunch and stopping by after work,” says Kristi.  “When the original manufacturing facility closed, businesses slowed down and we had this big building in the middle of town that wasn’t taken care of. The parking lots grew weeds, and it was an eyesore. Now, people come to town and are very curious and excited to see the building, and the town come back to life.”

That is what being American-made is all about. It’s about working together and never giving up on a dream or an idea. It’s about community. It’s about doing the hard work. And most of all, it’s about the people.

Authored by Malco President and CEO Rich Benninghoff