In 1844, Wisconsin was still a territory. Milwaukee had one of the best harbors on the Great Lakes and the confluence of three navigable rivers. The emerging city of 1,700 people was growing and so was lake commerce. Greenleaf D. Norris, an early settler, opened a ship’s chandlery and sail loft at the corner of Water and Erie Streets.
It was an era of ship building supported by dense forests of near by oak. Norris and his employee, Andrew M. Joys, supplied cordage, covers, oars, tackle blocks, fittings, oils, paints, pitch and provisions for the commercial sailing vessels. One of the ships built in the Davidson Shipyard at the foot of Greenfield Avenue was the Alice B. Norris, a three mast 189 ft. schooner named for Norris’ wife. It was first commanded by Captain John Joys.
The Joys brothers assumed ownership of the company in 1875.
The R. Laacke Co. was founded in 1887 by Richard T. Laacke, an 18 year old steeplejack, sign hanger and awning manufacturer. Tent making led to the R. Laacke Company’s growth as a camping outfitter. For many years the company was located at 1025 W. Walnut.
The firms merged in 1957 and moved to the present site at 1433 N. Water Street in 1961. H.C. Woehr, son-in-law of Richard Laacke, was president and principal owner for twenty-two years. In 1982, Laacke & Joys was purchased by Ralph J. Wollmer, a long time Laacke employee, and Sargeant E. Joys, the fourth generation member of the Joys family in the firm.
In 1996 the company changed ownership and is still locally owned and operated by the managing partner, Marsha K. Mather. Laacke & Joys is the oldest manufacturer and retailer in Milwaukee, and precedes most present firms and organizations of any kind in Wisconsin. Quality continues to be the mainstay of our business, both in the merchandise we sell in the stores and the products we make in our factory. We didn’t get to be over one hundred and sixty years young alone. Our loyal customers have been the most important factor in our longevity.