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A History of Industry in North Omaha

From the beginning of the community in 1856, there have been countless light, medium, and heavy industries in North Omaha. Food production, railroads, vehicle manufacturing, and many other industries have all been important, and many others. This is a history of industries in North Omaha.

From the Beginning

There were industries in North Omaha from it’s beginnings, and perhaps even earlier. As early as 1810, the fur trading industry was operating in present-day North Omaha under the leadership of Manuel Lisa at his Fort Lisa. His Missouri Fur Company acted as an important ambassador for American interests in the Indian Territory, and paved the way for its successor that arrived a decade later. In 1822, John Pierre Cabanné of the French Company opened a post on the Missouri River that stayed open for almost 20 years. Other trappers came through the future Omaha area in those decades, and the fur trading industry was important in many ways.

Regular industry including shipping and grain production started early in the community’s history. One of the first recorded developments was the Saratoga Brewery, run by an English immigrant at North 16th and Commercial Avenue in the town of Saratoga in 1857. This business was sold a few times and eventually became the infamous Storz Brewery. There were other industries at Saratoga, including a milling operation and shipping warehouses on the Missouri River at Sulphur Springs.

The railroad industry in North Omaha took off in 1865, when the Union Pacific shops opened in the North Downtown area. The Omaha and Grant Smelting and Refining Company opened a major facility on the riverfront in North Downtown starting in the 1870s, and in 1889 the American Smelting and Refining Corporation or ASARCO bought it, operating the facility for the next century. Despite this concentration downtown, there were industries all over North Omaha. Woven through the fabric of the community, plants, warehouses, factories and shops existed from Florence to East Omaha, the Near North Side to Walnut Hill, and beyond.

For instance, starting in 1921 for a week in April every year the Imperial building played host to the North Side Activities Club Industrial Exposition. With the slogan “Forward, North Omaha!”, products from industrial plants and commercial stores around North Omaha were displayed at the event, and entertainment and speeches were given, too. This type of event went on in the building for almost 20 years, and was also called the North Omaha Merchants Exposition or the North Omaha Trade Expo. In the first year the event had 30,000 visitors and in the second year annual expo in 1922 drew in 40,000 visitors and cost $10,000 to stage.

Dozens of industrial operations reliant on the Belt Line Railway throughout North Omaha. Started in the 1880s as a commuter railroad connecting the neighborhoods in the city’s farthest reaches, in the 1890s the Belt Line became a freight line for vehicle production, household goods manufacturers, coffin builders and monument makers, and more. While the railroad was taken out in the early 1980s, its legacy is still intact today with many light industries filling in or sitting next to it’s pathway throughout the community today.

On the south end of North Omaha, a section of land was recently acknowledged by the National Parks Service for its industrial contributions to the growth of Omaha by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places. The Nicholas Street Historic District is bound by North 11th Street, Izard Street, North 14th Street and a line just north of Nicholas Street. This area is packed with former plants and warehouses, with more than 15 total buildings included in the district.

Following is just some of the information available about historic industries in North Omaha.

Omaha Motor Car Company, 2411 Florence Boulevard, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is an architect’s drawing of the Omaha Motor Car Company factory that was planned to be built at the southeast corner of the intersection of Ames Avenue and Florence Boulevard.

Historic Vehicle Industry in North Omaha

Historic Food Manufacturing Industry in North Omaha

Belt Line Railroad crossing at North 45th Street and Cuming Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the Belt Line Railroad crossing over Cuming Street at North 45th Street in 1907.

Historic Railroad Industry in North Omaha

Historic Public Transportation in North Omaha

Talbot’s Ice House was located on the Omaha Road railroad at the Florence Water Works when this 1901 Sanborn Fire Company insurance map was made.

Historic Household Products Industry in North Omaha

Historic Housing Industry in North Omaha

Healthcare Industry in North Omaha

Death Industry in North Omaha

Other Historic Industries in North Omaha

This is Thomas Frank Stroud, Omaha industrialist, from a 1909 edition of the Omaha Bee newspaper.
This is Thomas Frank Stroud, Omaha industrialist, from a 1909 edition of the Omaha Bee newspaper.

Historic Industrial Figures in North Omaha

North Omaha Industry Today

With dozens of industries thriving in the community for more than a century, its important to understand North Omaha’s legacy in the entire city. These plants provided good paying working class jobs that allowed hundreds of thousands of residents to become stable and successful, if not upwardly mobile. This happened from the launch of the city in 1854 and continues today.

Although there’s no North Side Activities Club Industrial Exposition this year, who knows what next year holds? Maybe the community will become a great hub for substantial work again. In the meantime, perhaps the community will launch an industrial history tour and feature major sites, or more. Only time will tell…

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Manufactures Building, N. 19th and Pratt Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This then and now image of the Manufactures Building shows it was located at N. 19th and Pratt Streets. Today, the same space is covered three house lots, part of a street, and the tennis courts at Kountze Park.
Nagl Manufacturing Company, 2126 Cuming Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the original Nagl Manufacturing Company building at 2126 Cuming Street in 1946.
U.S. Mills Uncle Sam cereal boxes
These are Uncle Sam cereal boxes from 1908 to 1999, when the breakfast food was manufactured in North Omaha.
History of vehicles made in North Omaha, Nebraska comic
North Omaha Chronicles, 12/11/19, by Adam Fletcher Sasse. All rights reserved.
The East Omaha Factory District existed circa 1894-1936. Shown here are the Omaha Box Company, Carter White Lead Company and the Omaha Alfalfa Mill.
The East Omaha Factory District existed circa 1894-1936. Shown here are the Omaha Box Company, Carter White Lead Company and the Omaha Alfalfa Mill.

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