history of Madison brass works

What happened in the Brass Works building is more historically significant than the building itself. The Madison Brass Works fabricated brass fitting and bronze and aluminum castings, including the plaque mounted on Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus, which proclaims that “…the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the Truth can be found.” You can find these plaques on every University of Wisconsin campus.

Henry Vogts started the Madison Brass Works in partnership with Edward Schwenn in 1907. Henry was a German immigrant who came to the US at age 14. In 1895 he moved to Madison and met Edward Schwenn who became his brother-in-law. The two learned the foundry trade in Beloit, WI and Milwaukee before Henry decided to “see the world” by traveling “out west”.  He was in San Francisco when the earthquake hit there in April 1906. “I was so scared by the earthquake, I decided the best place for me was Madison.” 

Ed died in 1918 from the influenza epidemic. Henry reorganized the Madison Brass Works as a partnership with his son, Harry in 1936.  Ed’s son Elmer eventually became general manager and worked alongside Harry. Henry died in 1968 but the Brass Works remained open under Harry’s leadership until shortly before his death in 1994. 

The firm was the only brass foundry in Madison, and continued in business until 1994. Tom Pankratz bought the property in 1995. His foundry produced custom metal castings of brass, bronze and aluminum as well as iron forging. Goodman Community Center purchased the building in 2015.

Architecturally, the Madison Brass Works building is considered an irregularly-shaped, utilitarian building with three sections: foundry, office, and storage. The Goodman Community Center will preserve the historic appearance of the oldest section of the exterior, which will be restored and repurposed.

There were six additions to the original 1918 building as the business grew. Some of the most architecturally interesting features from the 1918 and 1936 portions of the foundry are the segmental-arched roofs with steel-framed metal monitors in the main room. Those features will be replicated to enhance the beauty of Goodman’s new, large community room.

Thanks to Elizabeth L. Miller, Historic Preservation Consultant and Sarah White, First Person Productions and Co-Founder of the East Side History Club for contributing to the historical content shared on this page.