120 Years of More
Mendota Hearth is a family-owned, privately held company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where we’ve been for more than 120 years. We’re proud to carry on the century-long tradition of crafting and assembling our products by hand in the U.S.A.
In 1901, Charles Johnson founds the Johnson Gas company in St. Louis. The company mostly makes gas lamps (electrification did not reach most Americans until the 1920s) and irons for the laundry business.
Johnson moves the company and its production headquarters from the teeming metropolis of St. Louis to the rapidly expanding young city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Soon, the company would add the products that comprised its primary offerings for the first half of the 20th century — industrial furnaces for factory settings and smaller furnaces for vocational education in metallurgy.
Hard Times and New Ownership.
Facing stiff economic headwinds from the effects of the Great Depression, Charles Johnson sells the company to Cedar Rapids attorney Charles O’Donnell. O’Donnell soon quits the legal profession to focus on bringing the company back to profitability full-time.
Back in Business
O’Donnell helps Johnson Gas introduce furnaces for a new market — agricultural stock tanks. Johnson Gas furnaces heat farmers’ large stock tanks during the cold winter months and prove to be a hit. Stock tank furnaces become one of the company’s core offerings in the decades to follow.
The Next Generation
Charles O’Donnell’s son, Barnes, takes over as company president.
New Challenges and a Brave New World
Johnson Gas faces two new challenges during this decade. First, vocational education trends toward auto repair and computer programming and away from metalworking, reducing demand for Johnson Gas’ educational furnaces. Second, the farm crisis devastates the market for stock tank furnaces. O’Donnell searches for new applications for Johnson Gas’ expertise in manufacturing top-notch gas burners and finds two. The first application is a new, instant steam machine to rapidly cure concrete blocks for industrial and construction use. The second, well, you may have heard of.
As part of Barnes O’Donnell’s visionary plan to expand Johnson Gas’s offerings into new markets, the company acquires Minneapolis-based Mendota Forge Corp., a manufacturer of wood-burning furnaces and multi-fuel home furnaces. Soon thereafter, production is moved to Cedar Rapids and a ready-to-install multifuel (wood and gas) fireplace was developed.
Hit the Switch for Instant Heat
In an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Barnes O’Donnell previews his company’s future, saying, “We also plan to manufacture the Mendota Hearth with gas logs for those who don’t have a place to store wood or don’t want to carry it up three flights of stairs. You’ll be able to come home at night and hit the switch for instant heat.” The company spends these years developing its gas fireplace offering, a product designed to be “the Cadillac of the fireplace business,” according to Barnes in another 2006 interview with the Gazette.