burke manufacturing playgrounds in the 1920s
Long before John Edward and Ethlyn Burke built playgrounds, they farmed the fruitful land at 660 Sheridan Drive (now know as Van Dyne Road) in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin -- the same property where the BCI Burke company stands today. In fact, John’s “pony shed” is still used as a storage facility today.
Although John was a farmer by occupation, he was an inventor and entrepreneur at heart. He began a weather-stripping business in one of the farm’s outbuildings and incorporated it as the J.E. Burke Company in 1920. Soon, the business expanded into designer radiator furniture. From the beginning, the J.E. Burke Company was known for exceptional quality and innovation. While J.E. dedicated his time and talent to creating products, Ethlyn also had an active role in the business, creating catalogs and advertisements while maintaining the books for the start-up business.
Business flourished, and in 1926, a state-of-the-art sheet metal manufacturing plant was built on the farm property. It featured an indoor showroom, a virtually unheard of feature at the time. A new modern family ranch home was built next to the factory, and that’s where the family raised their three children -- William John, John Edward Jr., and Patricia.
In the mid-1920’s, a family friend who lived on the shores of Lake Winnebago asked J.E. to fabricate a slide. J.E. loved to invent and design new products, and the slide was the first of many to come. He began spending the majority of his time creating, designing, engineering and manufacturing playground equipment, including slides, see-saws, swings, carousels and chinning bars. Soon, playground orders far surpassed the radiator cover business, and the showroom featured swingsets and slides. During warm weather, playgrounds were even showcased on the lawn, and it was not uncommon to have curious passersby stop to investigate and let their children play on the playgrounds.
BCI Burke History 1930s