1908 was the second consecutive year the Cubs won the World Series; William Howard Taft won the presidential nomination in the Chicago Coliseum; the pinnacle of Chicago’s influence on the Jazz Age throughout the United States and Europe.
The Beginning of One Meade
It was also just two decades after electrical service had been inaugurated in Chicago and six years after the city’s public transportation systems began to operate with electrical power.
Thomas O. Meade–a young man selling lamps in the Chicago area–and Charles Dempsey–a bill collector–each put up $225 in capital and joined forces to form Dempsey and Meade Electrical Contractors.
Working out of a rented storefront on Madison Street near Spaulding, Dempsey and Meade converted gas lighting to electric lighting in neighborhood buildings.
The need for an electrical switch was evident, and in 1913 Dempsey and Meade invested $6,000 to develop a “make-or-break” switch that was later sold to an electrical parts manufacturer.
In August of 1916 a second business was launched when Thomas Meade announced the opening of the Dempsey Ford Automobile Agency. Meade and Dempsey dissolved their joint business interest in 1919, with Meade taking over the electrical business and Dempsey the automobile agency.
The decade following World War I was a period of growth and prosperity in the United States.Chicago’s first radio station, KYW, began broadcasting and electric refrigerators were introduced by Commonwealth Edison.
In 1920, Michael J. Boyle organized 400 electricians at Commonwealth Edison into the Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #134. Commonwealth Edison discontinued electrical installation service for its customers and the newly organized electricians went to work for contractors throughout the city.
Edward R. Hansen, a general construction foreman at Commonwealth Edison, joined Meade Electric as head construction supervisor in 1920. He made the acquaintance of Joseph Lizzadro who, at the age of 22, had already been employed at Meade for four years.
Recognizing the potential of these young men, Thomas Meade brought Lizzadro and Hansen into the business as minority stockholders. Each man borrowed $3,000 to purchase shares, and the company was incorporated as Meade Electric Company, Inc. on September 9, 1922.
Meade was low bidder for a modernization project that would illuminate the Garfield Park Conservatory, other park buildings and the West Side boulevard system, which encompassed Douglas, Jackson and Washington Boulevards. Meade received a $500,000 contract. In the absence of power tools, trenches were dug by hand and Lizzardo took over the supervision of the project working far into the night.
Throughout the ’20s Meade secured additional contracts such as the Graemere Hotel, the Midwest Athletic Club and the Golden Dome Building in Garfield Park.
On January 25, 1929, 21 years after he started the company, Thomas Meade was killed in an automobile accident. Lizzadro and Hansen continued managing the firm, ably assisted by Meade’s sister, Jessie, who was the firm’s secretary.
On October 29, 1929, the stock market collapsed. At Meade Electric, management curtailed unnecessary activities and reduced expenses. Little work was contracted until 1933. Lizzadro and Hansen each drew $15 per week.
In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt closed all banks in the US. Banks where Meade had major funds were never reopened and working capital was virtually depleted. Only one small bank, where Meade had limited deposits, reopened with the support of the First National Bank of Chicago.
Efengee Electrical Supply Company, a long-time supplier, agreed to deliver materials needed for any jobs Meade could secure and to extend credit until Meade had received payment from its customers. Its gesture of good faith helped Meade survive the Depression. Lizzadro and Hansen purchased all outstanding company stock from Thomas Meade’s widow and sisters.
As part of the Public Works Administration program established by Roosevelt, Meade successfully bid on an electrical contract for the 17-story Cook County Nurses Home being built next to Cook County Hospital (now John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County). To the lean and hungry Meade Electric Company of 1932, this was a bonanza. The contract was for $100,000.
On the lakefront, the Chicago World’s Fair “Century of Progress” prepared for its opening and Meade secured contracts for the electrical work at the fair’s Italian Village, Italian Winery, Venetian Glass Blower’s Building and Hollywood Island.
Meade has proudly kept this vintage Ford Truck 1936 in pristine condition. The Meade Truck has appeared at numerous festivities including the famed Chicago Auto Show and was recently spotlighted on the Ford Commercial Truck Calendar.
The federal government introduced the Rural Electrification Act (REA) to provide electricity to more farm communities and create an opportunity for rural electric line construction. Meade established an office in Petersburg, Illinois, providing an outlying base of operations to handle this business.
Lineman were paid 90 cents an hour and a superintendent earned $50 a week. The cost of the entire 30-man payroll at Meade was approximately $650 a week. Many of the experienced journeymen who joined Meade were former Commonwealth Edison employees, and their skills enhanced Meade’s reputation in the electrical construction field.
By the end of the decade, fluorescent lighting had moved and 90 percent of new homes had either electric or gas refrigerators.
Much of this decade was driven by World War II. Although much of the world was in ruins when the war ended, America was still strong. Men were returning eager for work and, as a patriotic gesture, the electrical unions opened their doors to all former servicemen who wished to become apprentice electricians. The conversion of massive wartime productive capacity to peacetime goods and services initiated an era of growth and prosperity.
Meade expanded into the traffic signal maintenance field. In addition to the State of Illinois Public Works maintenance contract, Meade also installed the area’s first vehicle-activated traffic signal in Downers Grove, Illinois.
Meade estimated its first job for U.S. Steel Corporation’s sheet and tin mill plant in Gary, Indiana. The work required the construction of an electrolytic tinning line to increase the production of tin cans used to package food for the U.S. Army during World War II.
With the assistance of Robert Magnetti of U.S. Steel, Meade acquired other jobs from the U.S. Steel headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This knowledge and training led to better coordination with the steel company’s engineering staff and, ultimately, to numerous steel plant, oil refinery and other heavy industrial projects in the Gary-Hammond area.
Within a short time, Meade had two large customers in the Hammond area: the General American Transportation Company and U.S. Steel. The need for a regional office became apparent.
The world was still at war in 1944 when Hansen and Joseph Lizzadro incorporated Meade Electric Company of Indiana, Inc. Meade was now the major electrical contractor for the huge steel plants and a small office was opened in Hammond.
Meade was called in by companies with government contracts, such as Binks Manufacturing, General American Transportation, Grebe Shipyards and Groen Manufacturing, to help increase their electrical capacity to meet the requirements of war-production commitment. Meade worked to install new motors and rewired equipment and presses for the additional power needed to meet this increased emergency production.
Among the ex-servicemen who joined the Meade ranks were Joseph “Pat” Condon in 1947 and Kenneth E. Heinz in 1948. It was also in this postwar period that another ex-serviceman, Edward E. Hansen, son of Edward R. Hansen, came into the company and began learning the electrical contracting business.
In Hammond, the rapid growth of the company required larger office space. Land was acquired to erect permanent quarters containing both office and shop space. In April 1949, Meade Electric Company of Indiana moved from the Calumet Bank Building into its new building at 1825 Summer Street in Hammond.
Steel soon became readily available for automobile production, and gasoline rationing ended. New cars were once again on the road in large numbers and a decade of expressway construction began. Substantial arterial and residential streetlight construction work of more than 30,000 streetlights and in excess of 4 million feet of cable was done for the city of Chicago. Meade took on the Edens Expressway lighting system and highway work. It soon included all state routes in Cook, Will, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake Counties in Illinois.
Much of the Chicago construction work in the ’50s involved converting downtown office buildings from direct current to alternating current. These jobs included the Daily News, Builders, Fine Arts and Pittsfield buildings.
Meade continued to do electrical construction work for many major corporations, such as General American Transportation, which built a bulk storage tank terminal on prairie land in Argo, Illinois.
When Binks Manufacturing moved its operation from Chicago to Franklin Park, Illinois, Meade wired over 300,000 square feet of space for the new production and engineering operations.
Meade was awarded a contract to light the Illinois Toll Road at interchanges and service areas from the Indiana state line to Lake Cook Road. A helicopter was purchased to better oversee the operation. It was also used in the Maintenance department to check out emergency calls in congested areas.
The prosperity of the early ’60’s brought not only an abundance of work for Meade, but created opportunities for growth and diversification.
Inland Steel Company opened the way to more heavy construction work for Meade in 1962, with a contract covering its 80-inch hot strip mill in East Chicago, Indiana.
Meade Electric Company of Indiana began construction of an 84-inch hot strip mill for U.S. Steel in Gary. The project employed more than 400 electricians, the largest number of tradesmen used to date on any single Meade contract.
While on this project, Meade became involved in on-the-job fabrication of special heavy-metal junction boxes and support brackets. As the tradesmen became more skilled at their tasks and the work continued at an increasing tempo, Joseph Lizzadro created a separate department to provide metal fabrication for the steel mill work.
The M.E. Electrical Companies, Inc. was formed to handle a large construction project for the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company in Hennepin, Illinois. Jones and Laughlin planned to build a steel mill with completely integrated steel production capabilities. To provide housing and a headquarters for its staff working on the project, Meade purchased and operated the 100-room Kaskaskia Hotel in nearby LaSalle, Illinois.
A separate electronics department was formed when the Indiana Toll Road Commission awarded Meade the contract for maintaining a two-way radio and microwave communication network across the state of Indiana. By the late ’60’s the shop had diversified to include the sale, installation and service of closed-circuit television systems.
Success in Indiana and in Hennepin, Illinois, prompted other expansion plans, including two new out-of-state contracting offices that provided estimating and engineering service. The first was in Pittsburgh, where an industrial economic based promised many construction opportunities. Another was in Cleveland, Ohio, where work was contracted with Republic Steel. However, the demand for electrical construction quickly diminished and the Cleveland office was closed three years later.
Early in 1968 work at the Jones and Laughlin project in Hennepin was nearing completion when M.E. Electrical Companies purchased Norris Electric Company in Joliet, Illinois, to strengthen its position in the growing Joliet market.
About the same time, Meade Electric Company purchased Braley Electric Service, Inc. of Westmont, Illinois, from Lewis Unsbee. Braley’s experienced personnel, active in the area, enabled Meade to pursue light industrial work throughout DuPage County.
In September of 1972, the company and community were saddened by the death of Joseph Lizzardo Sr. By the time of his death at 74, Lizzardo, who began as an immigrant laborer, had become a respected industry leader and patron of the arts and charitable organizations. Succeeding his father, Joseph Lizzardo Jr. became chairman of the board of Meade Electric Company, and Edward E. Hansen continued as president.
In January, Meade Electric Company, Inc. and Meade Electric Company of Indiana, Inc. became Meade Electric Company, Inc. Edward E. Hansen was president and the corporate headquarters were established at 5401 Harrison Street, Chicago.
The thriving motor and magnet repair operation in Hammond added a new shop facility in Boardman, Ohio.
Growth in the electronics field also provided expansion opportunities and Meade opened an electronics shop in Chicago at the Harrison Street facility.
Construction work in Hammond moved at a brisk pace with jobs for the Arco Refinery, Bethlehem Steel, U.S. Steel, Inland Steel and Northern Indiana Public Service.
The mid-’70s found Joseph Lizzadro Jr. and Edward E. Hansen looking to the future. They instituted plans to decentralize the rapidly growing corporation, and the Meade departments were reorganized into four divisions: construction, electronics, motor/magnet and highway maintenance.
The Construction Division in Chicago was involved in high-tech computer science. Meade was invited to bid on a pilot project for the railroads, which used color-coded panels on the sides of railroad cars that could be optically scanned and monitored to report the cars’ location and movement at any time. Meade maintained the scanners and computers.
The Hammond fabrication shop doubled its volume and outgrew its space.
The Highway Sign Division was opened in Joliet to erect and maintain highway and auxiliary road signs.
The early 1980s brought a worldwide recession. As Meade Electric Company neared its 75th year, unemployment in the United States exceeded 10 percent. By 1983, however, there seemed to be signs of recovery and the promise of economic growth as the stock market reached an all-time high with Dow Jones topping 1200 for the first time.
The Construction Division in Chicago was involved with projects for Elmhurst Memorial and Resurrection Hospitals as well as the rehabilitation of existing landmarks including the Santa Fe Building in downtown Chicago.
The Hammond office continued to service the steel industry. Major projects, including construction of blast furnace #13, the largest in the Western hemisphere, for the U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, and Inland Steel’s mammoth 42-foot-diameter furnace completed in 1980, had earned Meade a favorable reputation in the heavy industrial market.
In Joliet, the Construction Division applied its expertise to the design, engineering, software and installation of closed-loop fire detection systems for Commonwealth Edison at its fossil-fueled generating plants in Joliet, Chicago and Peoria.
At the Highway Maintenance Division, extensive development and innovation in software for computerized traffic signal control systems enabled Meade to monitor operations and make adjustments by telephone interconnect. State-of-the-art programmable controllers and microprocessors introduced an era of advanced automation in traffic signal maintenance, with Meade in the forefront.
The Chicago office in 1984 was deeply involved with the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medical Center. Construction and telecommunications crews began the relocation of the computer and data center, including all underground cable.
After 34 years at 5401 Harrison Street, the Chicago office of Meade Electric Company moved to Westmont, IL,, tripling the office space and placing Meade closer to its expanding client base in DuPage and Lake counties.
Among the notable projects from Meade’s recently formed Building Automation and Life Safety Department was the Chicago Freight Tunnel, which utilized the abandoned underground system. Meade installed the state-of-the-art fiber optic system that used 100 percent digital technology capable of transmitting 1.7 billion bits of information per second over a single pair of glass fibers and provided links to many major Chicago buildings.
Meade partnered with Johnson Controls to convert the Chicago Field Museum’s pneumatic temperature control and automation system to high-tech digital equipment, using thermostats, aqua stats and freeze stats to monitor temperatures for the delicate artifacts and special exhibits, and for temperature curtains between rooms.
The community mourned the deaths of retired presidents Edward R. Hansen at age 102 and his son, Edward E. Hansen, at age 69. Meade’s successful Total Quality Management program was instituted, and the mission statement was established. Despite an uncertain economy, rapidly changing technology, and strong competition, Meade more than held its own in the 1990s.
Actively pursuing more government work, Meade was named electrical contractor for the new 750,000-square-foot U.S. Post Office in Carol Stream, Illinois. This project included power distribution, lighting, computer room installation, wiring of conveyors, and the lighting system for the helicopter pad as well as all voice and data cabling.
A citizen’s group in Gary formed the 9th Avenue Reclamation Group in 1992 to clean up, with EPA funds, an area of hazardous waste that plagued a neighborhood each time it rained. Meade installed pumps and filters to clean and relocate the groundwater. This job required OSHA training classes, special uniforms and monitoring for toxic exposure.
Mobil Oil Corporation’s Joliet Refinery expansion was the largest contract in Meade’s Joliet office, with more than 150 electricians working seven days a week for six months to complete it.
Meade began its three-year contract for construction of the 1-million-square-floor Chicago U.S. Post Office, replacing the existing building with a state-of-the-art- general mail facility.
Ten years after completing work for the opening of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange lower trading floor, Meade once again was on hand for the opening – this time of the upper trading floor – when the CME became “the World’s Largest Marketplace.”
Telecommunications began playing a larger role in the ’90s. Meade retrofitted voice and data cabling at Helene Curtis’ Research and Development Lab, now Unilever Home and Personal Care USA, in Chicago and at Inland Steel’s Loop office.
Projects for diverse organizations continued – from the Qwest Communications’ Midwest regional telephone switch at the Lyric Opera House to Kraft Foods’ new cold storage plant in Kane County to providing underground duct banks for high voltage cabling in Commonwealth Edison’s Oak Brook and Rolling Meadows switch yards.
Northern Trust Bank contracted with Meade Electric Company to install its disaster recovery computer room–a mirror image of its main computer room located in a remote site. The installation provided seamless computer operations to the band and its customers, assuring continuous service in case of flood, fire or other catastrophe.
An important project – and an usual one – was the Buffington harbor River Boat Casino facility in Gary, IN. Meade was involved with its many aspects, from relocating power lines and distribution to hanging the chandeliers. Meade is responsible for electrical maintenance of the boats themselves.
An interesting project for Mobil Oil was the installation of a two-mile-long, German-designed continuous-tube conveyor belt that encloses coke, the coal-like waste from the oil-refining process, by forming a tube around the dusty material. That tube then transports the coke one mile to the river where it is loaded into barges for shipping. The new process eliminated continuous trucking of the coke and it much more environmentally responsible.
Frank J. Lizzadro was named CEO of Meade and the reorganization of Meade Electric Company began. Meade’s revenue volume has tripled since 1999. Today there are more than 1,600 people in the field, an administrative staff of more than 200 – and Meade Electric Company continues growing. Electricians now earn a total package of $70 an hour including benefits, insurance and pension.
During this decade, Meade celebrates its 100th Anniversary Year (2008) and greatly expands its capabilities and geographic scope of work. Major projects were undertaken for very large utility, pipeline, industrial, commercial, transportation, infrastructure companies and government units with a continuous focus on Safety, Quality and Performance and the Environment for its customers and employees.
Meade’s Utilities and Pipeline Group, based in part on 100 years of work and a 1984 merger of Meade’s sister company, Contracting and Material Company, becomes a major best in class provider of gas transmission pipeline and distribution services: including WE Energies / Peoples Gas and Light gas pipe installation and replacement programs and several large transmission expansion projects into eastern Wisconsin.
Meade performed electrical, instrumentation and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) work on numerous types of transportation projects, including the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad Catenary Rebuild; and Dan Ryan Expressway Communications System Rebuild.
After decades of providing electric power plant, substation, electric transmission and distribution services to Nipsco, Meade started to provide gas transmission and distribution upgrade projects. This work is still ongoing.
After 6 years, Meade completed work on the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project (a multi-billion-dollar project to expand the refinery to process Canadian crude oil), which included over one thousand Meade employees performing electrical and instrumentation installation services in three units utilizing lean construction techniques.
Meade’s storm restoration reputation has been steadily increasing in the past decade and is heavily engaged in off-systems gas and electric storm restoration efforts for many utilities. This work spanned responses to Hurricanes as well as summer and winter storms in the upper Midwest, East Coast and New England.
Meade continues to focus on and develop new initiatives, to remain a customer preferred service provider, in the areas of safety, quality, project cost and schedule controls, project management training, and IT systems.
Helped in the development of the Edward Elmhurst Hospital, Main Campus. Implementing the Planetree Model, the new Integrated Healthcare Campus promotes medical efficiency and effectiveness without compromising the welcoming and easy-to-navigate environment including expansive green spaces and sparkling ponds, prairie-style architecture, extensive use of natural light, rooftop healing gardens, convenient means of way-finding and public and private waiting areas.
This state-of-the-art, 42-acre campus project includes a replacement hospital, addition to the Center for Health and an energy center, which allows inpatient, outpatient and physician offices to be located together on an accessible site. Outpatient services included both diagnostic and testing services and other support services.
Transportation projects are ongoing including O’Hare and Midway Airport Electrical and Civil Projects; Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Wilson and 95th St. Stations and Loop Track Renewal Projects.
Completed the Illinois Tollway I-90 Managed Lanes project.
Meade was contracted by Parsons Transportation to be the installing contractor for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) new Positive Train Control (PTC) system. The new system will monitor and control trains running between Chicago and South Bend on their electric commuter line.
Major additions are made to vehicle and construction equipment fleet, including acquisition of large scale Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDDP machines) with up to 1 million pounds of pullback capacity for large diameter pipeline projects.
Meade performed the electrical core and shell construction at the new Fortune 500 company headquarters in Chicago. Beginning on 1/15/17, this project used the unique “Top Down” construction approach, with the upper concrete floors being poured first, then the lower two floors were excavated. This “Top Down” approach saves time for the building construction, but compresses the electrical and mechanical installations. This project had additional challenges with the utility vault being on lower level, as well as the main switchboard room and life safety generator. All feeders had to be brought up through the 10-story building to feed the tenant bus ducts on Floors 2 through 8, and the mechanical and electrical area on the 9th floor. Meade rose to the challenge and the building was ready for move-in on 4/27/18.
Electrical utility work for many customers is ongoing, frequently in highly populated and congested areas, for infrastructure modernization cable replacement, electrical system upgrade, and 345kV underground electric transmission projects. ComEd's work on the Illinois Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) included the installation, boring and / or replacement of more than 600 miles of cable, 31,000 feet of 9-12 duct with casing installation, 600 URD transformers, 5000 vault / manholes, 22 box tunnels, and 5000 high voltage joints, and restoration of pavement in the City of Chicago and Northern Illinois.