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Our History

Started at the Docks, Now We're Here

The fascinating All-American roots of our company sprouted in the booming commercial shipping industry during the mid-1800s. Throughout the many years of war, mergers, acquisitions, and innovations, the company has served countless clients and industries.

The Nineteenth Century

In 1844, when Wisconsin was still only a territory, an early settler named Greenleaf D. Norris opened G.D. Norris & Co., a ship chandlery and sail loft, on the banks of the Milwaukee River in what would later become the City of Milwaukee. Norris and his employee, Andrew M. Joys, supplied cordage, covers, oars, tackle blocks, fittings, oils, paints, pitch, and provisions to commercial sailing vessels.

In 1875, Andrew Joys and his brother John assumed ownership of the company and renamed it Joys Brothers Co.

Meanwhile, in 1887 the R. Laacke Co. was founded by Richard T. Laacke, an 18-year-old steeplejack, sign hanger, and awning manufacturer.


Richard Laacke concentrated on sign work,  prospering to the extent that in a few years the Laacke Company was erecting all signs in the Milwaukee area. By World War I the company had expanded into making canvas products and became a U.S. military supplier.

In the 1930s the R. Laacke Company expanded into manufacturing awnings. Richard Laacke acquired the Magic City Awning Company (of Miami, FL), the Canvas Products Corp., Fond du Lac Awning and Tent Co., Northrop Tent & Awning of Janesville, and the John Johnson Company of Detroit.


During WWII the R. Laacke Company supplied extensive canvas products to the armed services. Tents, truck covers, and canvas water tanks were the primary commodities.

Richard Laacke served on numerous congressional committees throughout the war. In addition, he was a founding member of the National Canvas Association, known today as the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI). The IFAI is now the largest, most comprehensive trade association serving the international specialty fabrics industry.


In 1957 R. Laacke Company purchased Joys Brothers Co. and merged the two companies, which became the Laacke & Joys Company.

H.C. Woehr, a son-in-law of Richard Laacke, was President and principal owner of the new entity for 22 years.


The Laacke & Joys Company moved to 1433 N Water Street in Milwaukee in 1961.

The company expanded it's family camping, tent, and awning business to include large circus-style tents. They also sold their own line of pop-up campers.


Laacke & Joys Company supplied the large circus tents for the earliest years of Summerfest at the Milwaukee lakefront.







Laacke & Joys was purchased by Ralph J. Wollmer, a long time Laacke employee, and Sargeant E. Joys, the fourth-generation family member working within the company.

During this time, the manufacturing division of the company expanded it’s customer base to include many OEMs in southeastern Wisconsin.


The company changed ownership again in 1996 when it was acquired by the current owner and managing partner, Marsha Mather.






2000 - Today

We updated our design capabilities with AutoCad, SolidWorks, and computerized cut-and-sew equipment. 

In 2012 we acquired the Concept Seating brand name and took over all design, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing processes. In a few short years were able to double the brand's sales revenue and increase market share and visibility. 

In 2014, after many decades in a downtown Milwaukee facility, we moved into a 56,000 SF, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Brookfield, Wisconsin. This new headquarters gives us the space to expand and better serve the needs of our clients and their custom products.