Story by Amy Loch, Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar
Without winning the college in 1890, Stillwater wouldn’t have been able to grow into the place that it is today. What began as a small Agricultural and Mechanical College has grown into a major University, helping to transform the town from a rural community to major education center. From shortly after the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College’s founding until World War II, the College was a key player in the town’s economy. As the school shrank, with many young adults being called into service, it became clear that the town needed to expand its economic base. During World War II, community leaders helped to avoid disaster by attracting twelve military training programs to Stillwater, which brought almost 40,000 people to the town during the war years.
After World War II ended, students returned to Stillwater and class sizes grew to record numbers. However, the seeds of change for Stillwater had already been planted and were beginning to grow. In 1949, Arthur B. Alcott was elected Mayor, and he proved to be instrumental in post-war development. Under his leadership the Boomer Lake power plant was constructed, streets were modernized with traffic lights, and a new wing was added to the hospital.
In 1951, the Industrial Foundation was formed to promote Stillwater as a destination for industrial development. William Wright was added as Executive Director of the Industrial Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce opened doors to encourage new industries to consider Stillwater. Many early manufacturing developments along Perkins Road can be credited to this organization. In 1966, Moore Business Forms took the lead, opening on Perkins Road and bringing 200 new jobs to Stillwater.
Throughout the 1960s Stillwater grew into a real city with an increasingly diverse economy and suburban expansion. Between 1945 and 1969 Donaldson and Manning Lumber Company built approximately 1,000 new homes on the northeast edge of town, with other housing and commercial developments popping up along the other outer edges, as the community’s population boomed. In 1954, Highway 77 west of Stillwater was paved, making it easier to transport goods and people, and in 1962, Interstate I-35 was completed, making the connection to Oklahoma City easier.
By the 1970s Stillwater was on the map as a welcoming home for industry and retail development. In 1973, Mercury Marine announced it would build a $28 million plant, with National Standard, a leader in tire bead wire and welding wiring, following in 1974. Combined, these to two companies brought another 1,000 jobs to Stillwater. In 1975, Stillwater was selected as the home for the Indian Meridian Vo-Tech School, now Meridian Technology Center, and Stillwater Medical Center opened in 1976. All of these developments contributed to Stillwater becoming an increasingly desirable place to live and work.
Since this time, Stillwater has continued to grow and change, with many new businesses establishing themselves in Stillwater. In 1973, Peggy and Ed Shreve launched a small part-time engineering company called Frontier Engineering, Inc. Today that company has grown into a nationwide supplier of electronic equipment and technical services for the US government.
Another global company was started in Stillwater in 1996, when Behfar Jahanshahi started doing networking for any client he could find. Today his company, InterWorks, employs over 200 employees worldwide with a major presence across the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Their work is incredibly varied, but they still take pride in serving local Stillwater businesses, who have been customers from the start, as well as Fortune 100 clients.
From humble beginnings in 2015, Iron Monk, founded by Dave Monks & Jerod Millirons, has grown into the second-largest brewhouse in the state. Their beers are available statewide, with Kansas distribution coming soon. Stilly Wheat is one of the most recognized and purchased beers in Oklahoma.
Today there are many great resources available for those wanting to open a business in Stillwater, from Meridian Technologies Start Up Stillwater Accelerator & Center for Business Development to OSU’s Patent and Trademark Resource Center and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, and of course the Chamber of Commerce is always looking to bring economic development to Stillwater.
As you can tell, Stillwater really is a place that is “Still Pioneering” long after the land runs ended and the dust settled more than one hundred years ago. Today Stillwater is a diverse city, which is still striving to bring new ideas and businesses to life. The Still Pioneering exhibit at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar will open to the public on March 7th and will provide a glimpse into Stillwater’ dynamic development, from the end World War II until the present. It will tell the story of how Stillwater became an economically diverse city and will highlight several of the businesses that still continue to pioneer today.
The Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is open to the public free of charge Tuesdays through Fridays from 11-5 and Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4. www.sheerarmuseum.org
Editor’s Note: Also founded in 1973, Steve Irby began KICKER hand-building professional speaker systems in a one car garage. Irby developed the original KICKER, a full frequency-range speaker box designed specifically for cars and trucks. Today, 200 KICKER employees work in a 280,000 square foot facility on the northeast side of Boomer Lake where they continue to innovate the audio-design industry. KICKER estimates its products are sold by 1,200 authorized dealers in the U.S. and export sales are managed through a network of distributors serving 2,000 more dealers in approximately 50 countries.