In Chicago, milk was still being delivered to customers’ homes in horse-drawn milk wagons. The employees of Bowman Dairy were in the habit of hitching rides to work by jumping on the running board as a wagon went by. One day Emil Sternberg did just that.
Unfortunately, a new-style running board was on that particular wagon and Sternberg slipped, fell to the street and broke his leg.
In those days, before workman’s compensation and modern medical treatment, this accident meant that the Sternberg family would be without an income for several months. Some way had to be found to earn a living.
Sternberg’s father-in-law was a wheelwright and experienced in working with wrought iron, as he made and repaired wagon wheels. Young Sternberg had learned to work with iron, so he started making bird cage stands (our first candy-cane poles) and planters that were popular home decorations.
So, broken leg not withstanding, he boarded a streetcar from home on the northwest side of Chicago, went downtown to Marshall Field’s and convinced them to carry his wrought iron products.
Working in his father’s garage, Sternberg created wrought iron objects, including railings and fences. When working with long lengths of iron required cutting a hole in the garage door so the end of the iron rod protruded into the yard, it became apparent that the business had outgrown the garage.
The two Sternberg wives painted the stands in the basement of their home and most important, they added Verde green along with other antique finishes.
Sternberg moved the business into a 6,000 square foot building at 4510 West Addison. The company known as Sternberg Manufacturing Company, continued working in wrought iron for many years. They had some unusual jobs during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s including an ongoing project where they cut new Studebaker automobiles in half for display at several Chicago Auto Shows. Their reputation and abilities as craftsman capable of handling custom projects grew.
Sternberg introduced its first commercial cast aluminum poles and fixtures in the 1940’s. In 1968 Emil sold the company to Bruce Haines. He and the company’s four employees developed new designs, finishes and the business prospered. Bruce led the company for over 30 years. He retired in 2003 as Chairman of the Board.