In September, IBEW members traveled to St. Louis to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Brotherhood and visit the new Henry Miller Museum. But that’s not the only anniversary – or new museum – commemorating the IBEW this year. Milwaukee Local 494 is also honoring its past with a celebration of its 110th anniversary.
|Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh, pictured right, talks with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele in Local 494’s new museum, part of its 110th anniversary celebration.
Inspired by the museum at the International Office during a visit in 2014, then-Business Manager John Bzdawka thought Local 494 should construct one of its own, said Business Representative Kurt “Cowboy” Jante.
“Our members are extremely proud of their work and we thought this would be a good way to showcase their achievements,” said Business Manager Dean Warsh.
Local 494 members work throughout the Milwaukee area, in motor and sign shops as well as manufacturing and maintenance. Some are municipal employees; while others work as electricians at the Miller Brewery Co. and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
With unanimous approval from the membership, Jante and others began setting up a historical preservation committee to plan and oversee the museum construction. A call to active members and retirees for items to display in the museum yielded more than they can display at one time.
“We have tables full of stuff, some more than 100 years old,” Warsh said. “Our members were very generous.”
The surplus will be rotated in every six months, Warsh said. Donations include vintage power and hand tools, old plugs and outlets, meters, electrical code books, articles, buttons, pins, badges, old contracts and test equipment and even a wooden crank telephone. Photographs are displayed throughout, including a mural of members at a motor shop.
“It was amazing finding everything we did, and being able to see how the industry has changed,” said Executive Secretary Mary Gannon, a 30-plus year employee who helped with the museum planning. “It turned out better than I imagined. We’re still getting donations.”
The preservation committee also commissioned a booklet that takes the reader through all 110 years of the local, from the early days of wiremen making 20 cents an hour to its current standing with more than 2,500 members. Some of those early decisions still reverberate today. The health and welfare plan that was instituted in 1912, then a radical idea, still provides benefits for “A” members.
Visitors to the Henry Miller Museum in St. Louis will see the influence of Local 494 there as well. The local is a major sponsor and one of the 10 IBEW founding fathers was Local 494 founder, James Dorsey.
Local 494 members celebrated their anniversary with the museum opening May 21 – 110 years and 10 days from its founding – with a picnic coordinated by the local’s retirees and RENEW committee. Community members, including from the fire and police departments, attended and a local radio station broadcast from the event.
“We can’t go back in time and talk to Brother Dorsey and thank him for being such a visionary, but we can do this,” Warsh said. “We can show him that his work continues, and that we’re still going strong and moving the industry forward.”
Located next to the local’s main office, the museum is open to the public and has gotten a considerable amount of foot traffic, even from travelers, Gannon said.
“There’s always somebody in there on meeting nights,” Warsh said. “It’s great to see.”
“The ultimate goal is to have local museums all around the country,” Jante said. “We could share items and our histories. It could be a great way to preserve the legacy of the IBEW.”