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Tecumseh Products Leaves Hometown

After 74 years in Tecumseh, Michigan, refrigeration compressor-maker says its global headquarters, employing about 300 people, will move to Ann Arbor.

TECUMSEH, Mich. (AP) -- When the last employees leave Tecumseh Products Co.'s East Patterson Street location later this year, it will mark the end of an age for the city of Tecumseh and the company that bears its name.

Tecumseh Products says its global headquarters will move to the Valley Ranch Business Park in Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor. The decision follows an announcement in November that the company, which makes refrigeration compressors, would shut down its local manufacturing operations this year, moving the work to other plants in North America.

The company's exit from its longtime home was not the death blow it would have been in years past. The company no longer dominates Lenawee County's economy the way it once did; its work force has dwindled to 300 or so people, most of them in its corporate office.

But for Tecumseh residents who remember the Products' heyday, its departure is still reason to mourn.

''I think Tecumseh Products was probably the mainstay of our community,'' said Vera Gardner, a former mayor of Tecumseh who spent 12 years on the city council. She noted that the company employed around 5,000 people at one time, many of whom shopped downtown and pumped money into the city's economy. Entire subdivisions were built to house Products employees.

And even though the company's presence shrank over the years, it remained a source of pride for the city, which became known as the refrigeration capital of the world.

''I'm just disappointed that they felt they had to leave Tecumseh,'' Gardner said. ''It's the end of an era.''

Tecumseh Products got its start in Hillsdale in 1930 when Ray W. Herrick joined forces with machinist William Sage to start the Hillsdale Machine and Tool Co. At the time, Herrick was the superintendent of Alamo Engine Co. in Hillsdale, but the company was struggling.

Alamo went into receivership in 1933, and Herrick arranged to lease its facilities for his business. But when the lease expired, according to a 1984 biography by John Dawson, he was unable to raise enough money to buy the plant. Meanwhile, Tecumseh's only factory -- H. Brewer and Co. -- had gone bankrupt, and Herrick took over its East Patterson Street plant, changing the name of his company to Tecumseh Products.

The struggling community welcomed the new company with open arms. About 200 men volunteered to help fix up the plant, supported by groups of local church women who turned out to serve them meals. Production in Tecumseh began on Oct. 30, 1934.

When World War II arrived, the company quickly shifted its focus to military equipment. And in the postwar boom, Tecumseh Products would become the country's leading manufacturer of refrigeration compressors.

A brochure published by Tecumseh Products in 1954 shows the extent of the company's growth in its first 20 years. From 1934 to 1954, its Tecumseh plant grew by an order of magnitude, from 49,700 square feet to 493,621. Its net worth grew from $13,000 to $13.4 million, and its force of 302 production workers ballooned to 3,900 employees.

Larry Jenkins of Raisin Township, whose father worked in the Tecumseh Products machine shop, remembers growing up in the 1950s at a time when it seemed like nearly everyone had some kind of connection to the company.

''Everybody's dad was at the Products,'' Jenkins said.
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