Not many renderers can brag about being around for 160 years, but an Ohio rendering company has accomplished just that milestone.
It all began in 1848, when at the young age of 14, Charles (Karl) Wintzer arrived in Wapakoneta, OH, from his homeland of Germany to assist his uncle in the hide business. Back then, oak bark was used to tan the hides in about 60 days, and chicken manure removed the hair. In 1857, two years after his uncle died, Wintzer bought the business from his aunt and renamed it Charles Wintzer Tanning. The company produced strap leather from the processed hides, selling its wares from the brick building the family also lived in.
In 1860, Wintzer’s brother, Gus, arrived in the United States and was “hired” by Charles to fight in his place in the Civil War, something quite common in those days. But tragedy struck when Gus was killed at Vicksburg while serving with his German-speaking infantry from Ohio. Charles honored his brother by naming his son Gustave (Gus), who eventually joined his father in the company.
The Wintzers got out of the tanning business around 1900 and became hide brokers until 1920, when the company began rendering operations with a single 3-1/2’ x 3’ open-top cooker. At this point Gus and his son, Carl, were running the family operation and changed the company’s name to G.A. Wintzer and Son Co., which is still used today.
Tragedy struck a second time when Carl, at the age of 48, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1945. Carl’s wife and the plant manager took over operations of the business while Carl’s son, Fred, was serving in the Navy. During World War II, the rendering company participated in the war effort of collecting used cooking oil from residents to make glycerin, which was used in explosives.
In 1946, the company suffered another disaster when the plant, located north of town, completely burned down. After scouring various locations, and fighting a legal battle with area farmers who didn’t want the new facility in their backyard, a site with railroad access was chosen south of town and a new plant was built by 1948. The new facility housed one of the first wastewater treatment plants in Ohio and contained three cookers for fat and bone rendering. By this time, Fred had returned from his military service and was running the company.
Under Fred’s leadership, production grew about five percent a year until 1970. Plant capacity also grew to accommodate the increased material, from three cookers to five, then to seven cookers, including the addition of feather cookers to service the growing laying hen industry.
In the early 1970s, a Duke 1800 system with a 10-inch press was installed, encompassing the entire plant and forcing the company to expand the building. In the mid-1970s, the beef industry switched to prepackaged and boxed beef, causing a decline in Wintzer’s beef material. However, around the same time, the restaurant industry began to grow, filling in the gaps the beef industry left behind.
The fifth generation of Wintzers, Fred’s sons Gus and Carl, began working in the family business right after graduating high school. Starting in 1970, Gus worked summers while attending college and eventually law school. He began working full time in 1977. Carl did the same beginning in 1973, until he came on board full time in 1978 after his college education. The two brothers worked in all facets of the family business to learn the entire operation.
During the 1980s, G.A. Wintzer and Son acquired several small businesses, including a fertilizer operation and three rendering plants, closing each operation and moving production to its Wapakoneta plant. It was also during this time the rendering industry went through quite a bit of consolidation due to lower commodity prices. Although G.A. Wintzer’s production held steady, by the late 1980s, the company was forced to downsize from a 24-hour per day, five day a week operation to just two shifts. To help further offset expenses, truck maintenance was done in-house. But the downturn didn’t last for long.
In the early 1990s, the plant began continuous operations of its poultry processing and started separating the poultry meal from meat and bone meal. The plant also went back to operating three shifts, which continues today.
Fred officially retired from the family business in 1989 at the age of 67, turning control over to his two sons, who still guide the company today. Not one to sit idle, Fred then helped another son, Jim, establish a metal fabrication business, which Jim still operates today. A fourth son, Chris, is a physician in Tucson, AZ. Fred passed away in September 2008 (see “People, Places” on page 32).
G.A. Wintzer and Son has seen a lot of change and challenges in its 160 years, but one thing has remained the same: the commitment the Wintzer family has to the rendering industry. One example is its involvement with the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation (FPRF). G.A. Wintzer and Son was one of the first contributors to FPRF when it was founded in 1964, with Fred making a $17,000 donation to get the research group up and running. Today, the company continues to be one of the foundation’s top eight contributors.
Fred also served on various National Renderers Association (NRA) committees and as a director, something Gus continues to do himself today. Carl has held positions with the Animal Protein Producers Industry, including as chairman during its transition as a stand-alone organization to a committee of the NRA. He currently serves as FPRF vice chairman.
As for the company’s products, those too have changed. G.A. Wintzer and Son still collects and salts hides, but leaves the tanning to someone else. And while fat and bone from the beef and pork industry are still collected and processed, poultry processing is now a large part of the operation. The company also now provides animal fats and recycled cooking oil to the emerging biodiesel industry.
To be able to continue operating and remain under family ownership for over one-and-a-half centuries is a testament to the dedication of the entire Wintzer family. Here’s to another 160 years!
Newsline – December 2008 RENDER | back