from the June 1996 issue of the
Sparta Economy Engine News
by Glenn Karch
Today, when you drive east from Highway 37 into the village of Sparta, Michigan, a very attractive sign will greet you.
The village, as it is called, is located some 15 miles north, northwest of Grand Rapids. According to the clerk in the village office, there were 3,968 people in Sparta for the 1990 census. The 1910 census listed 1203 people living there during the time that the following story takes place, 1908-1913.
Then, as now, communities were looking for ways to attract new industries and businesses. The Business Men's Association in the village of Sparta was no different. They had come up with a way to raise funds to use as an incentive to prospects. They would bond the village for $20,000 for an electric light plant. That apparently was legal. However, everyone knew that the money would be used otherwise. On August 6, 1908 a referendum was held and the bonding issue passed 234 to 23. A two-thirds majority was necessary so it passed easily. Actually, the money raised would be used for cash and facility incentives to prospective industries.
In August of 1908 the Luens Pump Company of Dayton, Ohio was interested in locating in Sparta; however, they had demanded too much incentive from the village and they were turned down.
The Business Men's Association in Sparta must have been busy looking for new industry. On September 8, 1908 it was announced that the village had a proposition for a factory from a large company. There was concern that the proposition was too great for the Association to handle. The proposed business would build gas engines, marine engines, automobile engines, cream separator engines, pump jacks and wood-sawing outfits. It would also make a full line of concrete machinery including block making equipment and molds for porch columns, tile, posts, silos and ornamentals. Concrete mixers would also be made. These products would be marketed through Sears, Roebuck & Company. There was fear that the modest $20,000 the village had available would not be enough to land such a concern.
By October, 1908 the village had three prospective new industries. They included a chair factory, a canning factory and a machine company.
On October 30, 1908 came the announcement that a new factory had been landed. The earlier proposal apparently was scaled down to fit the capabilities there at Sparta. Construction would be starting in two weeks. The new firm would manufacture a large line of farm machinery, all of which were to have ready sale through Sears, Roebuck & Company. The man behind this new company was Peter J. Holm, a 57-year-old Swede from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who was named general superintendent. Among his references were William M. Tippet, who was a machinery and equipment buyer, and J. F. Skinner, general merchandise manager for Sears, Roebuck & Company. HoIm's Machine Manufacturing Company was the name of the new factory.
Peter Holm was director and superintendent at the Northwestern Steel and Iron Works of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He had 30 years of experience as an inventor, designer and mechanic. Northwestern was involved in the gas engine business and manufactured concrete machinery. The latter was marketed through Sears. This is where the Sears-Holm connection was. It was likely through Sears' urging that Holm went to Sparta and established the HoIm's Machine Manufacturing Company. Holm brought with him two sons. H. C. Holm was to be in charge of the machine shop, and W. C. Holm was to be in charge of the factory and pattern shop. For further information about Peter J. Holm and the Northwestern Steel and Iron works, see the article on page 12 of the September 1995 issue of Gas Engine Magazine.