Simonson Brothers got its start with Bock Water Heaters. Bock Water Heaters opened its doors in 1929 when Oscar Bock (an engineer from Chicago) moved to Madison, WI, to market his invention of an automatic feed oil burner retrofitted for coal-fired furnaces. Harry Simonson (born in 1914) approached Oscar Bock for a job in 1934 at Bock’s plant in Madison, WI.
Harry Simonson lived and went to school near Bock’s plant (a garage on Winnebago St.), and Mr. Bock, as Harry always referred to him, was impressed with the young man’s boldness and hired him on the spot.
In a few short years, Simonson became supervisor of the line but, more importantly, was asked to do installations and repairs at night and on weekends. The likable Harry proved to be quite the salesman and was getting many referrals and sales of the new invention. The very intuitive Oscar Bock knew that Simonson was a much bigger asset as a salesman than a line worker, so he offered him Pennsylvania as a sales territory.
Pennsylvania had a large population base, and oil was becoming a very popular fuel source, so the potential was almost unlimited. However, Harry did not want to leave his friends and family in Madison, so he declined. Bock still wanted Harry as a salesman, so he offered him Wisconsin as a sales territory and set him up in the basement of Bock’s new plant on their present site of Dickinson Street, not far from the original location.
Harry had the potential, but he needed some help, so he talked his favorite brother (Edwin) away from a good-paying job to gamble on this new career. Hence, the Simonson Brothers started sales and service of Bock water heaters in the early 1940s.
In 1949, they pooled all the money they had to buy a chunk of land on Madison’s east side of East Washington Avenue and Hwy 30. They were then able to split the property and sell half to a truck company. With the extra money and escrow, they were then able to get a bank loan and build a building in 1950—our present location at 3106 Commercial Avenue.
Almost immediately, the Simonsons were able to expand their water heater offerings with lines from other manufacturers to feed the housing boom in Madison and all around Wisconsin. Population growth meant increased home building, apartment buildings, and schools—commercial applications where Simonson Brothers excelled.
Jeff Simonson (born 1950) was the youngest of Harry and Hazel’s three children, the only boy. After a 2-year enlistment in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam era, Jeff went on to the University of Wisconsin – Stout. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Technology, majoring in Technical Sales and Service—an education that melded into the business of selling and supporting water heaters.
Simonson Brothers incorporated in 1976 as Simonson Bros. of Wis., Inc., designated Jeff as president, and started the retirement process for Harry and Edwin. Edwin died in 1982 of emphysema, which probably resulted from the working conditions of his factory job prior to working with his brother.
Harry Simonson was known as Bock’s Wisconsin representative for water heaters but is better known for his golf prowess and achievements. Inducted into the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame in 1968, Harry had a long list of championships throughout the state and beyond. A short list included five wins of the coveted Madison City title, three state runner ups, three state best ball partner championships, a national senior championship in Ohio, and a mini-tour win (against the pros) in Minneapolis, where he was given the winner’s jacket like they do at the Masters. Harry was playing and winning at golf almost right up to his death in 1990 at age 75.
Simonson, the water heater distributing company he founded way back in the 1940s, is still flourishing and has mapped its future with a 3rd generation, with Harry’s granddaughter Amy and her husband John (our President) at the helm. Young, fresh ideas adding new products and technologies make for a promising future.