After moving to Milwaukee in 1846, E.P. Allis quickly established himself in business, eventually buying the Reliance Iron Works at a sheriff’s sale in 1861. The firm quickly grew from 75 employees to over 1,500. Reliance eventually became the Edward P. Allis Company, which supplied the water pipes and pumping stations for Milwaukee’s first public water system. In 1888, they built a pump for drawing water from the lake to “flush” the Milwaukee River. (That pump can still be seen at Colectivo Coffee on Lincoln Memorial Drive — the original flushing station.)
By the time E.P. Allis passed away on April 1, 1889, the company he started was internationally known as a manufacturer of heavy industrial machinery, and the largest producer of sawmills, flourmills and steam engines in the world prior to 1900. The company’s equipment powered New York City’s first electric intra-urban train and subway systems, and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
In 1901, the Edward P. Allis Company merged with Fraser & Chalmers, Dickson Mfg. Co., and the Gates Iron Works — all of Chicago — to form the Allis-Chalmers Company. The combined companies made numerous products for heavy industry, including blast furnaces for smelting, roasting, and refining metal ores; crushers; conveyors; engines; mills and more.
Charles Allis became the first president of Allis-Chalmers. Under his leadership, a new plant was completed southwest of Milwaukee to keep up with expanding operations. It was referred to as the “West” Allis Works, to distinguish it from the original factory located just south of the city. The community that grew up around this new plant adopted that moniker, incorporating as the village of West Allis in 1902, and the city of West Allis in 1906.
It wasn’t until 1914 that Allis-Chalmers began producing tractors and machinery for agriculture, a sector in which they would be come a world leader. (In 1929, as a way to set their tractors apart, Allis-Chalmers began painting them Persian Orange — making them instantly recognizable around the globe.)
By 1916, Allis-Chalmers employed over 8,000 men, with branches in ten American cities as well as four international locations.
The company ran into financial difficulties in the 1980s and was forced to sell many of its business lines. Allis-Chalmers closed its doors for good in 1999, just under 140 years after E.P. Allis’ first foray into Milwaukee’s industrial expansion.
But the Allis family legacy lives on, both in the suburb that bears its name and at the corner of Royall Place and Prospect Avenue — the Charles Allis Art Museum.