Probably one of the premier manufacturing companies in LaSalle in the 1850’s to the 1970’s was the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company. This was founded by Edward Hegeler and Friederich Matthiessen. These two men met in Germany while attending the Freiberg Mining Academy in Saxony. They were trained as mining engineers and metallurgist. They recognized the potential opportunities for the Zinc Industry in the United States. With this potential business plan in mind, they migrated to the United States in 1856.
In 1858, Matthiesen was studying the zinc industry in Wisconsin. Hegeler was in LaSalle investigating coal opportunities. They eventually chose LaSalle as the site for their Zinc smelting plant. Several factors affected their decision: 1) nearby transportation modes ( the railroads, the Illinois Michigan Canal, and the Illinois River). These were needed to provide access to the ore and to deliver their finished product; 2) Accessible coal and zinc ore deposits.
Construction began in December of 1858. The smelting foundry was completed in 1860. In their process, they used a Belgian type smelting furnace. In 1866, zinc rolling mill was built to produce sheet zinc. They incorporated as Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company in 1971.
In order to process zinc ore, large quantities of coal were needed. It was because of this need that the company purchased coal rights in the areas around their plant. They also brought experienced miners from England, Scotland, Wales, and Austria to work the mines.
In 1881, Edward Beveledr developed a furnace that trapped the sulfur fumes and generated sulfuric acid. This was an efficient system that decreased coal use. Thus the company also became a producer of sulfuric acid.
Matthiessen Hegeler became a big player in the zinc industry. It held this position for years.
They also were known for the positive relations that they had with their employees.
In 1924, the Hegeler Carus family bought out the Matthiessen family. Like many other local businesses, they were negatively affected by the depression. It was not until the 1950’s that there was a resurgence in the business. M and H obtained interests in eastern states. They purchased two large processing and manufacturing plants. Money problems and foreign competition had a negative affect on the business. In 1961, zinc smelting was ended. Sulfuric acid manufacture ended in 1968. Their was a brief unsuccessful attempt to switch to aluminum manufacturing in the 1970’s. However, the company ceased operations in 1978.
A black mark on the facility in later years is a designation as a site of contamination by the EPA.