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J.W. Speaker celebrates 80 years
Eileen Schmidt
Eileen Schmidt

For 80 years, J.W. Speaker Corporation has had a presence in the Milwaukee area. Founded by John Speaker in July of 1935, the company got its start in radiator fronts, car mirrors, repair kits and automotive lighting. In the decades following that launch, the automotive market has undergone major transformation and J.W. Speaker has changed with the times while remaining a family-run business.

“It's exciting to think about how far the business has come,” said Tim Speaker, co-president of the company, in a statement on the business website released to mark the 80th anniversary. “J.W. Speaker has progressed from a small parts automotive manufacturer into a global manufacturer of cutting edge lighting technology,” he said.

Today, J.W. Speaker specializes in LED and other emerging lighting technologies; designing manufacturing and assembling products out of its Germantown, Wisconsin location.

J.W. Speaker serves the following markets: agricultural, automotive, commercial trucking, construction, industrial, marine, material handling, mining, off-road 4x4, power sports, railroad, specialty vehicles, truck and bus. The company is a supplier to well-known companies like Linde, Yale, Crown, Nissan and Toyota, to name a few, and also has a worldwide aftermarket business in original equipment manufacturer parts and consumer products. It is a growing segment of the business.

J.W. Speaker's global footprint was emphasized this fall when the company announced a new business arrangement with J. Fuehr, GmbH out of Hamburg, Germany. The announcement, released in late October, said J. Fuehr will serve as J.W. Speaker's distribution partner and order fulfillment center for products sold into the European and Middle Eastern industrial aftermarkets. Tim Speaker said the new arrangement will “elevate the longstanding partnership” between the companies. “We're excited about the prospects of jointly growing our business with J. Fuehr,” said Speaker, in the release.

J. Fuehr, a distributor of material handling vehicle lighting, switches and accessories and a provider of systems for original equipment manufacturers and aftermarket customers, has previously represented J.W. Speaker with select manufacturers in the overseas material handling market. Now J. Fuehr will operate as an extension of J.W. Speaker; it will serve as a designated distribution partner for products sold to certain European and Middle Eastern manufacturers and a fulfillment center for American-based distributors who export industrial-related lighting products.

J. Fuehr's Alexander Fuehr said J.W. Speaker has been a reliable partner for the German company. “Their willingness to develop new, innovative products has helped us grow and differentiate ourselves from the competition. We are happy to further intensify this partnership and raise it to a new level,” said Fuehr, in the statement.

J.W. Speaker's history includes other moves to meet economic and market conditions. During World War II the company manufactured a miniature portable stove and can opener for use in the armed forces. By 1960, the shift was back to the automotive market. At that time, J.W. Speaker was under the leadership of John Speaker's son, Jack. The company expanded into lighting for lawn and garden, and golf and turf tractors.

In recent years as LED lighting has grown, J.W. Speaker has invested in that technology and the aftermarket.

Now in its third generation of family leadership, those heading up J.W. Speaker say the company will remain flexible in efforts to grow and service customers.

“We are committed to continually evolving to meet the needs of our customers, just as we've done for the past 80 years,” said Jamie Speaker, company co-president, in a statement.

Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email or visit to contact Eileen.