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Digging Up the Dirt

A history of The Frank G. Hough Company.

If you ask a longtime Libertyville resident, “Do you know someone who worked at The Frank G. Hough Company?” The answer will undoubtedly be, “Yes.” Patch.com reader Lou Small Jr. writes, “I worked there in engineering in the 60s and 70s.”

Fellow commenter Bonnie Quirke adds, “My husband worked there as did many Libertyville residents.” To this day, our citizens enjoy the benefits provided by Mr. Hough and his company.

According to The Frank G. Hough Co. guidebook, “The idea of moving bulk materials in large quantities with hydraulically operated, mobile equipment was conceived by Mr. Hough in 1920.” By 1933, his company was incorporated and operating out of Chicago. Six years later, Hough established manufacturing and services facilities in Libertyville and the Model HS “Payloader” began production.

War Efforts

During WWII, Frank Hough dedicated his company's services to the manufacture of a small loader and sweeper “for use on aircraft carriers.” An Independent Register article noted that, “Hough was awarded the Army-Navy “E” in 1943” with an additional three stars added later “for continued excellence in the production of war equipment.” At the war's end, he made it his policy to hire only returning GIs. With over 90% of his employees having served in the war, the state acknowledged him with another award for this outstanding practice.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, The Frank G. Hough Co. was an industry leader designing the first four-wheel-drive tractor-shovel and the first “distributed weight balance” crawler tractor-shovel. By 1952, the company became a subsidiary of International Harvester Co. and was later bought out by Komatsu Dresser Co. The factory remained in Libertyville until 1996.

The name of the company came about in an interesting way. One day, Industrial Relations Manager Jack Forney asked Mr. Hough what his middle name was, as he was always curious about the elusive “G.” Mr. Hough confessed that he did not have a middle name, but felt “Frank Hough Co.” did not sound professional enough. At a recent Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society meeting, a member shared Mr. Hough's insistence on getting the name right. Apparently, if any piece of mail came to the business bearing anything less than “The Frank G. Hough Co.,” the sender would receive a letter informing them of the proper company name.

Community Involvement

Hough's employees enjoyed many recreational activities including bowling leagues, basketball and baseball teams, and the mixed chorus. In addition, workers and their families attended dances and parties. The summer picnic was a highlight for many children. Patch.com reader Ken Foy Jr. shared this memory of the event, “One of my favorite photos from my childhood shows my little brother on a park swing wearing a T-shirt with a picture of the Payloader and the wording: "I'm a little Payloader".

Outside of his company, Frank Hough was very involved in the community. Around 1949, Hough said to Jack Forney, “We ought to do something about Downtown Libertyville.” With a strong interest in roses, Hough suggested planting a rose garden in front of the library. Forney, a member of the Village Board at the time, brought the idea before his fellow trustees. While many were in favor of the garden, the village lacked the funds to bring it to fruition. Mr. Hough volunteered to finance the project, as long as someone else maintained it. Under those terms, the Men's Garden Club agreed to plant and manage the rose garden. Mr. Hough consulted with landscape artists and floral experts to create the beautiful garden Libertyville residents enjoy today. 

After the rose garden was completed, Mr. Hough decided, “We have to do something about our own neighborhood.” The area he was referring to was Copeland Manor, located adjacent to The Frank G. Hough Co. He introduced a beautification contest providing a cash reward of $50-100 and a bag of fertilizer to the resident with the nicest lot. The program continued for many years.

Frank Hough also made his mark at Libertyville High School. When he and Jack Forney were having trouble finding draftsmen and secretaries, they looked to the high school. Mr. Forney went to the principal, Mr. Underbrink, asking if something could be done to train students for those positions. At the time, the school was focused on preparatory courses which readied pupils for college. Mr. Underbrink admitted LHS did not have the funds to support such a program. Mr. Forney reported this to Mr. Hough who, in turn, agreed to provide the finances for drafting and typing classes. He also promised jobs to graduates of the courses.

Frank Hough was both an industry and community leader. His legacy remains today at the parks and schools of Libertyville, as well as in the hearts of his former employees.

The Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society is mourning the passing of a great friend and member of our Board of Directors, Janet Aemisseger. She will be truly missed.

For more on local history, please visit libertyvillemundeleinhistoricalsociety.org.

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