Original publication date: August 1992
Heurikon Historical Highlights
A series of articles for The Horizon
by Jeffrey Mattox
Over the years, Heurikon has had seven homes. We started out in the basement of Chris’s house, at 621 Sheldon Street. That’s just off Monroe Street near Wingra Park. Most of the operation, including a circuit board photo and fabrication area, was in the basement. The business phone and answering machine were on a small desk in a hallway. (That original desk is still in use; it is in the telephone equipment room.) Although some business was conducted on the dining room table (which had a good view of the kitchen sink), our most important decisions were made at the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street.
Chris and his family lived upstairs in the house, along with John Burdick (one of Heurikon’s other founders), and an attractive university coed who would occasionally walk through our dining-room office wearing only her bathrobe. Years later, we heard from one of our vendor’s representatives that he visited us often just for the chance to see her parade around.
Another notable resident of the house was Chris’ dog, Brandy. She would get real excited whenever a visitor came into the house, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to end up piddling on somebody’s foot. The old story about my foot once being a target is untrue — it was John’s. He just calmly stood there and smiled.
It was easy for our neighbors to recognize Heurikon’s visitors. While searching for the “factory,” confused visitors would often drive up and down the street in their expensive cars before realizing the old house at 621 was the correct place.
621 Sheldon Street — 1972-1974
One day in 1974, a city building inspector came around to check on the plumbing. The inspector appeared uninterested in the business in the basement, but he reported us to the city’s zoning department. Soon, we got a letter from the mayor’s office saying we were in violation of city ordinances and that we better get the business out of the neighborhood or else.
From One Basement to Another
After a short search around Madison, we found a low-rent office in the basement of an apartment complex at 700 West Badger Road. The rent was low, in part because the space didn’t have any heat — most of our heat came in through the ceiling from the apartments above. We rarely had any problems with the other tenants — expect for the time one of them plugged up their tub and let the water run over the top. That afternoon, the ceiling above our drafting area started to sag and then it gave way with a torrent of water. The water also ran down the ceiling support rods and dripped onto our benches and desks.
700 West Badger Road — 1975-1979
Our original office furniture was a decrepit sofa and chair that we scavenged from the apartment’s utility room. We built our desks from an assortment of table tops and legs we bought around town. And, it was a big event when the telephone man installed our first two-line telephone — a simple “hold” button significantly elevated our business status.
One thing we didn’t have were private restrooms. The “facilities” were part of the apartment’s recreation room, and to get there we had to find our access key, unlock a door and walk down a long, dark, spooky corridor. Frequently, one of us would accidentally take the key home, thus causing hardships for a day or two. To prevent that mistake, we attached the restroom key to a bulky toy hippopotamus, which became our mascot. Dennis Paton still has custody of our precious hippo.
John Burdick in the shop
While at West Badger Road, we cleaned circuit boards with an old toothbrush outside in the parking lot, installed our first burglar alarm after being hit one night for our power tools, hired our first receptionist and secretary (she was also a part-time assembler — she had to put down her soldering iron to answer the telephone), and we continued an old tradition by doing important business over beers at Vitale’s Lounge.
West Badger Road suited us nicely until 1980. By then we needed more space which we found just across the Beltline, at 3001 Latham Drive, in the rear of Vondra Engraving’s new building. We had 3,000 square feet — and heat and restrooms and carpets, and even a hallway (luxuries absent from our Badger Road offices).
There were a few undesirable features, however. The metal roof was not well insulated, and when it rained, it would be so noisy we’d have to shout to be heard. On cold winter nights, condensation would freeze on the metal ceiling, which would slowly melt during the day, causing water to drip all over the benches in the shop. The air conditioners were so loud that Deanie had to turn off the one above her desk whenever she wanted to talk on the phone.
By the end of 1982, we needed more space, so, with Vondra’s permission, we cut through an interior wall and expanded to 4,500 square feet (a tenth of what we have now). We had our 1982 Christmas party in the new space (the decor was “primitive unfinished warehouse”). We grew steadily during our years at Vondra. And, we got our first copy machine, wave solder machine, and Gen Rad tester. The Bombay Bicycle Club was only a short walk away, so that served as our business bar.
3001 Latham Drive — 1980-1984
The First Digs of Our Own
By the middle of 1985, we were about to burst our walls, so we committed to the first building of our own, and moved a few blocks up the hill to 3201 Latham Drive. Much of the move was done by simply putting our equipment and furniture on carts and rolling it up the hill. From the air, it looked like a line of ants moving along. New amenities included a loading dock, break area, and conference rooms.
In late-1987, to make room for our continued growth, the marketing, sales, accounting, and administration departments moved downtown to 121 East Wilson Street. Also, for a few years, we leased two trailers and attached them to the building through the outside exit of the break room. The trailers were home to cost accounting, customer support, and a few other people who managed to squeezed in. The acoustics were horrible. As you walked around in the trailers, your footsteps would resonate throughout the space.
We had planned on staying at Latham Drive for ten or more years, but when we needed to expand again, we decided to move to a neighborhood more suitable to our business. The Latham Drive area was an unplanned conglomeration of warehouses, stores, and factories. There was a meat-packing plant on one side of us and a junkyard on another. It just didn’t seem like the right locale for the long-term.
3201 Latham Drive — 1985-1990
After we made the decision to build at Old Sauk Trails Park, our employees at the Wilson Street offices went on ahead to the First Wisconsin Bank building at 8000 Excelsior Drive. That was in 1989. The rest of the company moved into our current building at 8310 Excelsior Drive in August, 1990, and we finally combined all of our operations in May, 1992.
8310 Excelsior Drive — 1991-present
This month marks Heurikon’s 20th anniversary. And, we’re still looking for a good neighborhood bar....
This concludes the Heurikon Historical Highlights series.
UPDATE July 2009: In actuallity, Heurikon/Artesyn/Emerson had operations in many more locations. My perspective was from engineering, but other departments occupied other buildings. Here's a good list submitted by Bruce Dittmer: