Three generations of Toeppes leading Wisconsin Plating Works

Michael G. Toeppe, the founder of Wisconsin Plating Works

Robert Toeppe, the second owner, kneeling beside aviator boot and parachute that took shells intended for him

Robert and Jeffrey Toeppe, co-owners until 2008

Jeffrey Toeppe, current owner of Wisconsin Plating Works

100+ years of quality workmanship, reliable service, and accurate coating recommendations

Jeffrey Toeppe is the third-generation owner of Wisconsin Plating Works, a family-owned commercial and industrial metal finishing business. His grandfather Michael G. Toeppe founded the metal finishing company in 1919. In 2005, Wisconsin Plating Works bought Racine Plating, a 78-year-old, family-owned company, and grew from 12 employees to 44. Racine Plating’s focus on large quantity runs merged well with Wisconsin Plating’s ability to handle smaller, specialty orders. Today Customers continue to benefit from Wisconsin Plating Works’ capacity to handle both large quantity runs and smaller specialty orders requiring quick turnaround.

After the buyout, Wisconsin Manufacturers Association recognized Wisconsin Plating Works with a special “Employee and Environmental Stewardship” award when the buyout saved 30 inner-city jobs. In addition, environmental compliance and stewardship were recognized in the areas of waste minimization and pollution prevention.

One of Wisconsin’s first metal finishing job shops to become ISO certified, Wisconsin Plating has implemented lean manufacturing initiatives and instituted a metrics program that enhances productivity. Energy conservation continues today with more efficient boilers, lighting updates, and better management and control practices.

Robert Toeppe, Sr. diaries and metal from WW II

Robert Toeppe, Sr. diaries and medal from WW II

Wisconsin Plating Works – A Century of Survival Stories

Wisconsin Plating Works is a “family company” offering quality, commercial, and specification metal finishing in small to large quantities for over 100 years.

Any company celebrating its 100th anniversary has proven its ability to survive. Wisconsin Plating Works has done just that—from the first Toeppe family member’s involvement in 1919 through Jeffrey Toeppe, the current CEO. Combining a tough German work ethic, technical expertise, and a bit of luck, three generations of Toeppe’s have guided the organization to its current success as a superior metal plating company.

A century ago, Michael Gebhardt Toeppe, a skilled metal polisher for Simmons Mattress in Kenosha, had already survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, escaping with just a tea set and the pajamas he was wearing. A strike at Simmons Mattress encouraged him to leverage his metal polishing skills elsewhere, so he joined the two founders of Wisconsin Polishing and Plating (later became Wisconsin Plating Works) ultimately polishing and plating bed frames for his previous employer. After three years, Michael bought out one owner and continued to plate parts for Racine companies that included: J.I. Case, Nash, Hamilton Beach, and Oster Manufacturing— all mass producers of consumer goods, all flourishing after WWI.

But by the 1930s things had changed. The Depression hit and Robert Joseph Toeppe, Michael’s teenage son, had to work part-time in the family plating business to ensure it survived. He also sold toilet paper and household supplies door-to-door to save for college. By 1942, with the US one year into WWII and Robert two years into his college career, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, trained as a pilot and navigator on B-24 Liberators, and survived 36 missions over Europe. A treasured diary reclaimed years later from a dumpster, recounts (see photo) one mission when he leaned over to pick up a pen and narrowly escaped a shell that would have killed him but struck his parachute instead.

Honorably discharged in 1945, Robert returned to Racine with two Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Eventually, he joined his father Michael at Wisconsin Plating Works. Production had shifted from pre-war commercial goods to war materials support, then back to commercial goods. Recent advances in technology and organic additives produced plating with bright, smooth, fine-grained deposits—spin-offs from the war effort that would enhance plating in the years to come.

When his father passed away in 1952, Robert assumed full ownership, moving Wisconsin Plating Products to 1405 16th Street then to 801 Silver Street a year later. By now InSinkErator, Jacobsen Manufacturing, and A&E Manufacturing were major customers. This growth required relocation to the current Carroll Street plant with decorative chrome plating the mainstay, along with copper, nickel, chrome & zinc.

When Robert died at 56, sons Robert, Jr. and Jeffrey Toeppe, the current owner, made sure the family business survived—incorporating in 1979, adding plant locations on Carroll St and Hamilton St, performing electroless Nickel and Electropolishing on stainless steel, and acquiring Shephard Plating Company in 1988.

In 2005 Wisconsin Plating Works quadrupled in size by purchasing the assets and equipment of a failed Racine Plating Company. According to Jeffrey, “RCEDC really worked with us, providing us with a low-interest loan. We were able to hire everyone (32 employees) and maintain their salary levels, benefits, and accrued vacation time.” With the addition of a second plant, which focused on large quantity runs while Wisconsin Plating handled smaller, specialty orders that required a quick turnaround, lead times shortened.  Within a year Racine Plating Company was profitable and the Toeppes were poised to deal with challenges to come with the 2008 recession. “We’ve learned how to survive the economic hiccups,” says Jeffrey, who has seen his employees rise to the occasion, doing what’s needed to be done, no matter the challenge.

Following Robert’s retirement in 2014, Jeffrey Toeppe assumed full ownership. His survivor skills (like his ancestors) have been tested by everything from recessions to a fall from a ladder at work that resulted in knee surgery two years ago. “I believe how we respond when there is an issue is our opportunity for growth. Couple that with treating everyone with respect—doing right by all—and you pretty much have what we value most at Wisconsin Plating Works.” Not a bad recipe for survival.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; thought they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 ESV