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H. Barkow Co., F. Barkow Co.
H. Barkow Wagon Works, 1879-1914; H. Barkow Co. Inc., 1914-1986; F. Barkow Co., 1986-present; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Associated Builders
Clifford Brooks Stevens

The H. Barkow Company was one of a handful of heavy truck and wagon manufacturers active in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. Unlike the bulk of his competitors, Barkow’s offspring successfully adapted the business over to manufacturing bodies for auto trucks and today H. Barkow Inc. is a leading supplier of specialty transport equipment for the glazing industry. Operated nationally with four branches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Upland, California; Norristown, Pennsylvania; and Lancaster Texas.

Its founder, Herman August William Barkow, was born in November of 1844 in Kammin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany to Johann and Sophie Fredericke (Damstreich) Barkow. Trained in the Friedrich Krupp works as a wheelwright and wagon maker, he emigrated to the United States in 1869 and took a position with a currently undiscovered Milwaukee wheelwright and wagon builder.

In 1872 he was united in marriage to 21-year-old Wilhelmine aka ‘Minnie’ (Schmidt - b. Jul.1850-d.1924) another recent German immigrant. Over the next two decades their union was blessed by the birth of eleven children: William F. (b.1873-d.1947); John P. (b.1875-d.1936); Frederick Carl (b. 1876-d.1934); Henry Martin (b.1878-d.1957); Herman Arthur (p.1880-d.1917); Arthur (b.1883-d.1885); Edwin Gerhardt (b.1885-d.1934); Wilhelimine (aka Minnie, b.1887-d.19??); Martha Elisabeth (b. 1890-d.1893); Erwin Richard Paul (b.1893-d.1894); and an un-named female (d. at birth in 1896) Barkow.

On February 12th, 1879, Herman August Barkow started manufacturing heavy and light wagons, trucks, steel wheelbarrows, and coal carts on his own accord at 193-197 Milwaukee Street. The original wooden structure was destroyed in the Great Milwaukee Fire of October 28th, 1892, but it was soon rebuilt as a two-story brick structure 60 ‘x 125’, and within a matter of months was back in operation.

An 1896 history of Milwaukee provides the following description of the Barkow Works:

“HERMAN BARKOW Wagons; Nos. 193 to 197 Milwaukee Street

“A branch of industry which has attained extensive proportions in the 'Cream City' is the manufacture of wagons, and among the number engaged in this line there is perhaps not one more widely known than Herman Barkow. He turns out very excellent work, and sustains a reputation second to none in the business. He is a manufacturer of heavy and light wagons and trucks, steel wheelbarrows, and coal carts, and the vehicles built by him are unsurpassed for strength, ease of draft and workmanship. He is also manufacturer of Barkow's patent Axle and skein support, and Barkow's patent coupling lock for tanks and tubs, and his productions, which possess distinctly meritorious features, are in use all over the United States. Mr. Barkow, who was born in Germany, has lived in this city since 1868. He is a practical wheelwright and a man of untiring industry, as well as of skill and experience, and is a popular and respected citizen. He started in business February 12th, 1879, at the present location, and was burned out here in the great fire of October 28th, 1892. Although he sustained a loss of over $10,000, he applied himself at once to the building of a new shop, and in a month or so was again in full operation. His factory is a two-story brick structure, 60x125 feet, and is well equipped. He employs a number of skilled mechanics, and is assisted in the business by his two sons, both of whom are practical workmen. Estimates are furnished by him on application, and complete satisfaction assured.”

Fred C. and William F. were the two sons mentioned above, and in 1910, the year they constructed their first auto truck body, the US Federal Census listed four Barkows as being involved in the wagon works:

“Herman A. Barkow (65yo) wagon works; wife, Minnie S.(59yo); Gerhardt E. (24yo); Minnie E.(22yo).

“Herman A. Barkow jr. (29yo) painter at wagon works; wife, Clara J. (25yo); Armond G. (4mo old).

“Fred C. Barkow (33yo) wagon works; wife,  Alvina (29yo); Alvin (4yo);August (2yo)

“William F. Barkow (37yo) wagon works; wife, Ida (36yo); Helena (12yo); Hilda (9yo); Walter (5yo);Edna (3yo).”

Shortly thereafter Barkow constructed their first known glazing body (sheet glass carrier) on an unknown circa 1910 truck chassis. Although this early body was constructed using a wooden framework, Barkow would later expand into the manufacture of glazing bodies and trailers constructed of steel, stainless steel and aluminum.

Like its competitor Charles Abresch Co, Barkow also built numerous commercial bodies on Kissel truck chassis. The January 1914 issue of the Hub announced the firm’s incorporation as a stock company:

“The H. Barkow Co. has been incorporated at Milwaukee, Wis., to handle wagons, carriages and automobiles, capital $15,000, by Louis Lee, M. J. Lippert and Louis F. Koenig.”

The June 1, 1917 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal announced the passing of the founder's youngest son, Herman A. Barkow Jr.:

“Herman A. Barkow, Jr., of the H. Barkow Co., Milwaukee, Wis., died on April 25th.”

A 1919 directory lists the firm’s officers as:

“Herman A. Barkow, Sr., pres.; “William F. Barkow vice-president; Fred C. Barkow, treas., sec. and pur. agt.”

Later that year, on October 29, 1919, the senior Barkow died and his eldest son, William F. Barkow, assumed the presidency. Longtime employee John A. Giebish was elected vice-president and Fred C. Barkow retained his opposition as secretary-treasurer.

The three principals were profiled in a 1922 History of Milwaukee as follows:


“William F. Barkow is engaged in the manufacture of automobile bodies in Milwaukee and his business is the outgrowth of one of the old-time enterprises of the city, a wagon manufacturing concern that was established in 1879. Mr. Barkow has always been a resident of Milwaukee, his birth having here occurred February 10, 1873, his parents being Herman and Minnie (Schmidt) Barkow, both of whom were natives of Germany. The mother arrived in Milwaukee in 1858. It was a decade later when Herman Barkow came to this city and here he established a wagon shop in 1879 at No. 195 Milwaukee street. He began the business in a small way, owing to his limited capital, but was progressing nicely when the third ward fire occurred and destroyed his plant. This was in 1892 and his losses were so heavy that he was again forced to establish his business on a small scale. Gradually, however, he built up the trade and the nature of the business was changed to meet the demands along the lines of automobile sales rather than wagons. In 1914 the business was incorporated under the name of the H. Barkow Company, builders of automobile bodies, with Herman Barkow as president; William F. Barkow as vice president; and Fred C. Barkow as secretary and treasurer. Upon the death of Herman Barkow, October 26, 1919, William F. Barkow became president. Their plant covers a ground space two hundred and forty by one hundred and twenty feet and they are enjoying a notable trade, their sales having rapidly increased year by year. The business is capitalized for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and their output is sent to all parts of the United States and Canada and to various sections of the world through the automobile and truck manufacturers.

“In the year 1897 Mr. Barkow was married to Miss Ida Meschke, a daughter of Charles Meschke of Hubbleton, Wisconsin, and they have become the parents of eight children: Helen, the wife of A. J. Hess; Hilda; Esther, who has passed away; Walter; Edna; Arthur; Lydia; and Carl. The religious faith of the family is indicated in their connection with the Nazareth Lutheran church.

“In politics Mr. Barkow has always been a republican since age conferred upon him the right of franchise, but the honors and emoluments of office have had no attraction for him, as he has never been an aspirant for political preferment. He belongs to the Association of Commerce and through that agency supports all those forces and plans which make for public progress and improvement. His cooperation can at all times be counted upon to promote the public welfare and as a business man he has contributed in substantial measure to the material development of Milwaukee.”


“Fred C. Barkow, secretary and treasurer of the H. Barkow Company, manufacturers of automobile bodies and tops, was born in Milwaukee, September 17, 1876, his parents being Herman and Minnie (Schmidt) Barkow, who were natives of Germany. The mother arrived in Milwaukee in 1858. It was a decade later when Herman Barkow took up his abode in this city, where he was afterward connected with industrial activity. In 1879 he established the Barkow wagon shop at No. 195 Milwaukee street and this constituted the nucleus of the present enterprise, of which Fred C. Barkow is one of the owners. The father began business in a small way but was making gratifying and substantial progress when in 1892 his establishment was destroyed in the great third ward fire. This left him with comparatively little capital, so that he was again forced to begin business in a restricted way, but he gradually built up the enterprise and continued its further development, eventually transforming the output from wagons to that of automobile tops and bodies. In 1914 the business was incorporated under the name of the H. Barkow Company and as such has since been continued. The father, however, died October 26, 1919.

“Fred C. Barkow obtained his early education in the parochial schools of Milwaukee but put aside his textbooks when only thirteen years of age and entered his father's shop. There he learned the carriage making trade and since that time he has been continuously connected with the business At the time of the incorporation in 1914 under the name of the H. Barkow Company he became secretary and treasurer and has since occupied this official connection with the enterprise The company has a large plant two hundred and forty by one hundred and twenty feet supplied with the latest improved machinery for the building of automobile bodies and the business is capitalized for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars Their output is sold to automobile and truck manufacturers and in this way reaches to all parts of the United States Canada and various sections of the world The vice president of the company is John A. Giebish who has been superintendent of the paint department for eighteen years He learned his trade with the house and became vice president at the death of Herman Barkow It was in the year 1905 that Fred C. Barkow was united in marriage to Miss Alvina Rose a daughter of August Rose of Milwaukee and they have become parents of five children Alvin August Elizabeth Minnetta and Herman The parents are members of the Bethany Lutheran Evangelical church Mr. Barkow votes with the republican party and on the whole endorses its principles yet does not consider himself bound by party ties He is ready at all times to support any project of progressive citizenship and stands loyally in support of those interests which are a matter of civic virtue and of civic pride.”


“John A. Giebish is the vice president of the H. Barkow Company builders of automobile bodies in Milwaukee He was well trained for the duties and responsibilities which now devolve upon him for in his youth he learned the carriage painting trade and has gradually advanced with the increase of his powers and experience He was born in Milwaukee on the 8th of June 1879 and is a son of Frank and Theresa Thoman Giebish, the former a native of Austria while the latter was born in Milwaukee. On leaving his native land Frank Giebish came to the new world and proceeded into the interior of the country settling in Milwaukee where he engaged in the liquor business to the time of his death. John A. Giebish obtained his education in the thirteenth ward school and in the Catholic parochial school and when his textbooks were put aside he learned the painter's trade In 1904 he entered the employ of the H. Barkow Company as a painter and has been associated with the business continuously since, working his way upward to the position of superintendent of the paint department while upon the death of Herman Barkow, the founder of the business, he was elected to the vice presidency of the company which position he is now filling. His practical knowledge of the trade enables him to direct the services of many of the employes of the house which is now enjoying an extensive and growing business. On the 8th of June, 1904 Mr. Giebish was united in marriage to Miss Amalia Gormiller, a daughter of Casper Gormiller of Milwaukee. They now have two children Edward and Victor. The religious faith of the family is that of the Catholic church and Mr. Giebish also has membership with the Catholic Order of Foresters, the Catholic Knights of Wisconsin and St. Joseph's Benevolent Society. Fraternally he is connected with the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and politically he maintains an independent course. The activities of his life however have been concentrated upon business and today the major part of his time and attention is given to the management of the interests of the H. Barkow Company. He has fifteen high class painters under his supervision in the paint shop doing expert work and the company enjoys in this regard a reputation second to none.”

During the Depression the firm manufactured small wood-bodied convertible travel trailers, and in the late Thirties converted regular and COE truck cabs into crew cabs.

The Schlitz Beer Company maintained a small fleet of insulated 1938-1939 Dodge Airflow delivery trucks whose bodies were constructed by Barkow and the firm later constructed a series of streamlined trucks bodies for Miller Beer and Oscar Mayer. Designed by Milwaukee resident Clifford Brooks Stevens, the unusual ice bodies constructed for Oscar Mayer were described in a 1939 article in Ice and Refrigeration:

“Streamlined Ice Delivery Trucks Tell story of Modernized Service

“Said the Wisconsin State Journal recently regarding this latest edition to the Mayer fleet of 20 ice trucks operated in Madison:

'Both figuratively and literally speaking, Oscar Mayer’s ice service has gone streamlined!'

“With the addition of a new custom built ice delivery truck, the Oscar Mayer Ice Service of Madison, Wis., has definitely taken another step toward providing its customers with a completely streamlined service. The new truck, of which illustrations are reproduced below, has already attracted attention both locally and nationally. The truck was constructed by the H. Barkow Co., of Milwaukee, and designed by Brooks Stevens of Milwaukee, industrial designer in collaboration with officials of the ice company. The unit, according to Glen F. Weld, ice service manager, was designed for maximum eye appeal and while the streamlined appearance is extreme, no sacrifice in capacity was made. The careful handling of curves, mouldings, fenders and paint scheme, helped to create the streamlined appearance and to give the truck an illusion of length and decreased height over its short 99-inch wheel base. Chromed side lights, wheel discs, and mouldings, together with white-walled tries and careful balancing of the paint and lettering scheme, give the truck a distinctive, refined appearance.

“Unusual Design Attracts

“According to reports from Joe Iverson, driver of the new streamlined unit, which made its initial appearance on Madison streets early in December, the new truck attracted much attention:

“‘This streamlined ice-delivery truck sets a new pace in modern customer service,’ says Joe Iverson, driver of this new International, which made its appearance on the streets of Madison, Wis., last November.

“'The truck’s unusual design and its striking color combination must be the attraction that causes people to gather around whenever I stop to make an ice delivery,' Iverson said. The short wheel base and cab-over-engine chassis gives him clear vision and enables easy turning of the truck even in crowded areas.

“The new unit was designed and built over an International cab-over-engine 99-inch wheelbase truck. The body is insulated with a 2-inch Dry-Zero blanket in the walls and a corkwood and welded metal floor. The telescopic covering is effected through a rolled water-proof canvas cover over the streamlined tail which folds up to a three-piece, sliding wood cover over the flat area on top. This enclosed area will keep the ice clean and well preserved during delivery. The body has a waterproof veneer interior and is equipped with side rails, floor racks and a drain.

“Because the walls and floor are heavily insulated, and because of the efficient cover design, they find that they have the effect of a completely closed job, yet giving them the accessibility of an open top truck. There is enough headroom in the body to carry block ice covered with a tarpaulin, and bushel cube containers, or fifty and one hundred pound crushed ice containers stacked on top of the ice. The average daily load at the present time, consists of about 4,400 lbs. of block ice, 1,000 lbs. of crushed ice and approximately six bushels of cubes. This body design gives practically the same results as are obtained with a sliding top ice chest. The color scheme is carried out in two shades of green, aluminum moldings, spun aluminum wheel discs and running lights. The folding canvas, which is connected to the last sliding top panel, follows the contour of the rear and is so designed that it will stay put at any position desired.”

Fred C. Barkow’s son, Alvin H. Barkow (b. Feb. 12, 1906-d. Aug. 4, 1888), assumed ownership of the firm during the Second World War. In 1947 his brother, August G. Barkow (b.1908), resigned to establish his own firm that specialized in the manufacture of shipping boxes and containers.

The August G. Barkow Mfg. Co., 2230 S. 43rd St. Milwaukee, Wisconsin later engaged in the manufacture of refrigerators – ‘Ben Bar’ – and air conditioning units – although export packaging & international freight forwarding remained their primary focus. A 1980 listing provides the following officers: President, Richard C. Barkow; Vice President, R. F. Barkow; Export Manager, Joseph A. Visintainer; Purchasing Agent,- Jack Lindstrom.

Alvin H. Barkow’s son, Tom Barkow, took the helm following his retirement in 1973. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in electrical engineering, Tom Barkow enlisted in the Navy for four years before joining his father in the family business, starting in production before eventually working his way into management. In 1973 he became the third generation owner/president of H. Barkow. The company’s name changed to F. Barkow after it was sold in July of 1986 to its current owner, John R. Weise. Barkow’s latest president was mentioned in a speech given by then-President George W. Bush on October, 3, 2003:

“Big John Weise is with us today. I say ‘Big John’ because he’s a big guy. His business is called F. Barkow, Inc. He helps get glass windows safely to factories and construction sites. This company has been doing this for 125 years. They have gone from horse-drawn carriages to now make products for trucks to move glass.

“He told me as a result of the tax plan passed by Congress, now in effect, that he is going to purchases a turret press to replace the one that his company has had in place since 1971. Somebody is going to have to make that turret press for him. There’s somebody who’s getting a job because John has decided to make an additional purchase because of a tax relief plan.”

Today Barkow glass carriers and their exclusive glass holding system, featuring patented BARKLEATS®, BARPADS® and STAKE-LOC®, are specified and shipped around the world.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for








Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

William George Bruce & Josiah Seymour Currey - History of Milwaukee, City and County, Volume 2, pub. 1922

Raymond H. Merritt,& Carol L. Snook - Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, pub. 1980

Don Butler - 1939 Dodge Airflow Truck: Streamlining Goes Heavy-Duty, Special Interest Autos No. 104, pub. April 1988

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States; Administration of George W. Bush, Oct. 3, 2003 Speech
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