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Standard Light Co. | Founded April, 1919


As post World War I years marked the end of the "Gas Light Era", they also marked the beginning of a dream for four Milwaukee men. In April 1919, David Stern, Morris Stern, David Siegel and Morris Tax formed the Standard Light Co., a manufacturer of lighting fixtures. Since only a very small percentage of the Milwaukee area had electricity at this time, their vision to establish an enterprise that would serve a newly developing marketplace for electrical light fixtures was extremely bold. The company originally began production in a building located on North Water St.

Steady Growth for Standard Light Co.


By 1922, the growing company was forced to seek out additional space and moved to 424 Juneau Avenue. Once again, this site became too small and the company relocated to 1045 N. 5th Street in 1927, and remained there until moving to it's current Milwaukee facility in 1986. By the mid-twenties, it became apparent to the company's founders that their customers' electrical needs were growing. The company met these needs by adding small, portable appliances and electrical supplies to its product mix. In addition, Russell Beckerman, a young pharmacist by training and nephew of David and Morris Stern, joined the company as a purchasing agent.

U.S. Economy Collapsing

1930 to 1934

The collapsing economy of the early 1930s was an imposing threat to the dream that started the Standard Light Co. The company's founders would not let the faltering economy affect their growing enterprise, so they simply refocused their efforts. The recognition of their changing customer and an increased concentration as a full line electrical distributor brought about the company's current name: Standard Electric Supply Co. This name was adopted at the end of 1930 and the manufacturing of light fixtures was ultimately discontinued.

Industry Boom

1937 to 1939

The end of the 1930s marked a sales boom for the industry as whole. New home construction created a fresh demand for electrical goods and Standard Electric Supply Co. stood fully prepared to meet those demands. The company's product mix changed to include large appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, radios and water heaters, as well as small appliances, apparatus and supply products and lighting.

Expansion in Sales and Product


Building on the growth of the late 1940s, the company expanded its sales force throughout the state of Wisconsin during the 1950s. The company's reach extended from Milwaukee to Kenosha, Madison, Rhinelander and the Fox River Valley. The apparatus and supply portion of the business continued to expand, but this time more technically advanced products like switches and panel boards were added. In addition, non-technical items like cookware, glassware and utensils became part of the product mix. The major appliance group was expanded to include ranges, TVs, air conditioners and garden equipment. Standard Electric also expanded its industrial and commercial lighting product offering to combat new competition from predecessors of today's big box retailers in the marketplace. In 1950, a new two story warehouse was added to the company's facility to accommodate a growing inventory. Adolph Stern, son of David Stern, joined the company in 1950, working in the warehouse.

Advancement in Technology

1950 to 1959

In the 1950s, Standard Electric installed its first data processing system for order entry purposes. It was an IBM system 1401 punch card unit. Five years later, the company purchased a vacuum tube computer made by IBM. It was used for an integrated payables system, sales reporting, minor purchasing functions and order entry. It was one of the first integrated payables systems in the country. The use of the latest in computer technology remains a significant part of the company's culture today. Emerging technologies increase the efficiency and accuracy of the company's business. Continued growth of customers during this time led to significant business expansion.

Meeting Customer's Needs

1960 to 1969

The company's product lines kept expanding further into industrial related items such as fuse blocks, lugs and terminals. At the same time, the housewares and appliance product areas continued to grow, and each product grouping had its own separate sales force and parts department. Milwaukee's industrial base began to change in the 60s to include heavy equipment manufacturers, foundries, tanneries and machine tool manufacturers, among others. The company was ideally positioned to serve this growing market by providing the correct product mix and personnel to meet the industrial customer's needs.

Serving the Local Marketplace | Milwaukee

1960 to 1969

During the 1960s, industrial growth in the Milwaukee area began to creep toward Waukesha, but the company chose to stay in downtown Milwaukee. The development of the freeway system during this period made it easier for the company to remain in Milwaukee while serving a growing customer base. As a result, the company once again expanded its facility in 1963 by adding on additional third story warehouse space.

Industrial and Commercial Lighting and Supplies

1970 to 1979

In addition to adding more apparatus and supply products to its offering, Standard Electric placed a growing emphasis on industrial and commercial lighting and supplies, and focused less on residential. In the late 1970s, Standard Electric's residential lighting showroom closed, and the company started to move away from major appliances due to the fragile nature of the franchises in this market. Major appliance suppliers were focusing more on regional warehousing and less on distribution. In addition, big box retailers started selling major appliances and purchasing directly from the suppliers.

Thriving in a Recession

1980 to 1982

The early 1980s presented the economy with a deep recession. This was the start of the "Rust Belt" era and the rising tide of foreign competition. Many companies fell to the wayside, while others transferred resourses to the production of high-tech medical products. Standard Electric, again, had the vision and resiliency to change its product mix to meet the needs of this changing market. Standard Electric began to focus its attention on automation and OEM products like motor controls, PLCs, sensors, drives and value added services to better fulfill the needs of its industrial customer base. During this time, the company maintained strong inventories. Though strong inventory went against conventional wisdom, it proved to be a valuable asset once customers started looking to Standard Electric for products that were otherwise scarce. As the economy started to improve, the company was there to meet pent-up demand.



Along with expanding inventories, the company again expanded its Fifth Street location in 1982 to provide for more storage area and shipping and receiving space.

Gateway to Downtown

1986 to 1989

The company moved to its current location at 222 North Emmber Lane in 1986 in order to allow for construction of the [BMO Harris] Bradley Center. The company worked with the City of Milwaukee to establish a new modern, highly efficient distribution facility in the Menomonee Valley, now a vibrant industrial area, home to a number of the company's customers. 1989 marked the continuation of the family business to a third generation with Larry Stern, son of Adolph Stern, joining the company.

New Locations

1992 to 1999

1992 marked the beginning of new expansion beyond Milwaukee with the successful opening of the company's facility in Appleton, Wisconsin, supporting sales in the Fox River Valley. The initial expansion was followed by opening facilities in Madison and Stevens Point, as well as starting up Standard Electric's sister company, Vision Control & Automation, to further expand the company's market presence and meet customer needs throughout the state of Wisconsin. To improve productivity, enhancements to the company's computer system and the adoption of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) occured. Standard Electric finally converted to its current ERP computer system, Eclipse, in 1998. This new computer system, along with becoming ISO certified, enabled the company to further improve operational capabilities and meet the increasing demands of a growing industrial base.

Enclosure Modification Facilities


In 2001, Standard Electric and the Rittal Corporation teamed up to build an Enclosure Modification Center in Sheboygan to provide faster lead times and local enclosure modification expertise. Initially, the company's services were limited only to assembly, but due to customer demand, cut-out capabilities, improved hand punches and painting services were added. Today, the company's enclosure modification center has grown to not only provide an extensive enclosure inventory and a quick turnaround, but also unmatched local capabilities including accessory installation, component mounting and a Flexibar Work Center.

Expansion Into Illinois

2003 to 2004

In 2003 and 2004, Standard Electric began its first expansion outside Wisconsin with the acquisition of two distributors in Northern Illinois. To better serve customers in this market, the company opened new locations in Chicago and Rockford.

Introducing SE Automation

2004 to 2008

SE Automation was started in 2004, becoming the second sister company to Standard Electric. Initially, SE Automation worked with customers in Eastern and Central Wisconsin. In 2007, SE Automation expanded, along with Standard Electric, into Eau Claire. In 2008, a new location in Appleton was built to accommodate the growing warehousing needs and engineering capabilities of both Vision Control & Automation and SE Automation.

Automation, Plant Maintenance and Safety Solutions | Automation Express


In 2007, Standard Electric hosted the first Automation Express trade show at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The now bi-annual trade show, was an instant success, featuring automation, plant maintenance and safety products and solutions, along with free seminars that give customers hands-on training and experience.

Celebrating 90 years with Continued Expansion


In the same year that Standard Electric celebrated 90 years of providing exceptional products and solutions to its customers, we also opened our first Indiana location in Warsaw, IN. The expansion allowed us to develop new relationships, which in turn led to the acquisition of another distributor in Indianapolis in 2010. In 2012, growth continued. That year, we continued our Illinois expansion with a new location in Champaign, which allowed us to extend service to the Central Illinois Market. In 2012, we also achieved our longtime goal to become one of the 100 largest electrical distributors in North America.


Continued Innovation and Expanded Solutions


With continued growth across three states, Standard Electric took a large step in 2012 to ease the ordering process for our customers by introducing a new eCommerce website. This innovation provided an invaluable resource to existing customers and also allowed us to cast an even larger net across the world wide web. Due to the momentum from Illinois and Indiana expansions, we also celebrated our 95th Anniversary in 2014 by opening another Enclosure Modification Center in Chicago Ridge. This new site was made most notable by the installation of a CNC Machining Center, which allows us to further enhance our enclosure modification capabilities.

In 2015, we began construction of a new building in Madison, WI to service our expanding customer needs. We also began expanding our Milwaukee location that we had finally outgrown after 30 years.