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Paul Holley
By Paul Holley

An ambitious toolmaker — with a better idea — has made it possible for people and animals to look their best for nearly 100 years.

Matthew Andis (1883-1976) emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1908 and arrived in Racine in 1912. After working as a toolmaker at Mitchell Motor Car Co., he opened a tool and die shop in 1918 with partners John Oster and Henry Meltzer. The shop’s work included tooling to produce blades for a hand-operated hair clipper.

Around 1921, Andis developed a hair clipper powered by a small electric motor. He sold his share of the existing business to his partners and launched the Andis Magnetic Clipper in 1922. This small, hand-held electric clipper was lighter and delivered high performance.

Operating from rented space on Lake Avenue, Andis sold his clippers door-to-door to Racine area barbers. The product quickly caught on.

Gadgets and Geeks - wk 5
An early model Andis electric hair clipper from the 1920s. (Racine Heritage Museum archives)

Andis opened a new manufacturing plant on Layard Avenue in 1925 and incorporated as the Andis Clipper Co. in 1928. Matthew Andis continued with more innovations introducing an electric animal clipper, a beard-specific trimmer and an electric trimmer for finishing haircuts.

By the 1940s, Andis Clipper had grown to become one of the world’s leading producers of professional barber tools. Separate product lines were created for livestock grooming and pet grooming. Innovations continued, including a rechargeable, battery-powered cordless clipper in 1968.

At age 76, Matthew Andis was recognized by the Patent Law Association and the U.S. Commissioner of Patents for his ingenuity and outstanding contributions to society as an inventor, designer and development engineer. He remained active doing experimental work into his late 80s, and was awarded his last patent in 1976 for a massage device.

The Andis Company is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and management. In addition to hair clippers, the company produces hair dryers, curling irons, curling brushes and related items sold in 90 countries around the world. In 1997, the company moved to a 108,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing plant at 1800 Renaissance Boulevard in Sturtevant.

(Material for this story came from “Invention City – The Sesquicentennial History of Racine, Wisconsin” by John Buenker (1998 – Racine Heritage Museum), Racine Heritage Museum archives and Wikipedia.)

Gadgets and Geeks is an ongoing series of stories that highlight inventions from Racine County. Pay close attention, because on Wednesday, May 29 from 6 to 8 p.m., the Racine County Eye will hold Gadgets and Geeks Trivia Night at The Brickhouse, 316 Main St. Trivia answers will be gleaned from these stories.

Check out the other Gadgets & Geeks stories here:

Arthur B. Modine and heat transfer

John W. Hammes and the garbage disposal

Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...