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Paul Holley
By Paul Holley

A Racine County farm boy with a knack for engineering developed better ways to doing things from harvesting corn to removing snow.

Joseph Haban (1917-2011) grew up on a farm in Mount Pleasant and trained as a mechanical engineer. In the early 1950s, he hit on the idea of a device that could be attached to any corn picker and enable it to separate the husks and remove the corn from the cob. This device – the husker-sheller – was a big innovation at a time when mechanization was dramatically improving efficiencies in agriculture.

After obtaining a patent on his husker-sheller invention, Haban borrowed $250 from his father to launch Haban Manufacturing Co. in 1954 at 1101 Mound Avenue in Racine.

Joseph Haban - 2 - Gadgets and Geeks
Joesph Haban (1917-2011)

Haban had an international hit on his hands. In addition to U.S. corn farmers, fast-growing agricultural enterprises in Central and South America snapped up the husker-sheller. Haban traveled around the world to demonstrate and promote his creation. But he also kept inventing.

Other Joe Haban inventions included a sickle bar attachment for tractors, lawn detachers, a flail mower and several different types of blades for garden tractors.

The first successful snow thrower attachment for garden tractors was another Haban breakthrough product. That attachment was sold by several equipment brands, including Case, John Deere, Sears and International Harvester. By the early 1960s, Haban Manufacturing was producing 7,000 to 10,000 snow thrower attachments annually. Joe Haban patented further improvements to the snow thrower attachment in the 1970s.

In addition to marketing Haban’s inventions, his company grew by acquiring another firm’s farm equipment product line in the late 1950s and moved the production to Racine. Needing more manufacturing and warehouse space, it bought a portion of the former Horlick Malted Milk manufacturing complex at 2100 Northwestern Avenue and moved there from Mound Avenue in 1974. The company purchased an additional 120,000-square-foot building on the Horlick site in 1983.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the use of larger, self-propelled combines made Haban’s husker-sheller obsolete on many farms in North and South America. But, interest from emerging nations gave the product new life. In the early 1990s, Joe Haban arranged the sale of 110 portable husker-shellers to the Ethiopian government. He also successfully marketed the product during that time to buyers in Guatemala, Peru and Mexico.

In addition to inventing and promoting his products, Haban devoted a good deal of energy to travel, adventure and philanthropy. As part of a trade delegation, he was among the first Americans allowed to hunt Russian brown bear in Siberia in 1969. He also regularly raised funds for the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by riding snowmobiles in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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Haban Manufacturing Co. used a portion of the former Horlick Malted Milk manufacturing complex from the 1970s until 2000.

In 1995, Joe Haban sold his company to the Polaris Group Inc. of Milwaukee and retired. The business was later re-sold and closed in 2000.
Haban, meanwhile, devoted himself to local philanthropy. He donated his family’s 40-acre farm at Spring Street and Borgardt Road in Mount Pleasant for use as a youth sports complex. The property was developed into baseball diamonds and football fields by Racine County and Racine Youth Sports.

When Haban Park opened in 1999, Joe Haban was on hand to throw out the first pitch! He died in January 2011 at age 93.

(Material for this story came from “Invention City: The Sesquicentennial History of Racine, Wisconsin” by John Buenker (Racine Heritage Museum, 1998), 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, July 17, from 6 to 8 p.m.  at The Brickhouse, the Racine County Eye will hold Gadgets and Geeks Trivia Night. Trivia answers will be gleaned from these stories.)

This story is sponsored by:

Frederick Blandin and the phonograph

Rev. John Wesley Carhart and the Spark

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:...