Charlie’s first exposure to the electric business occurred in 1899, when he was 20 years old. He worked for the Union Lighting and Power Company (Union Electric) in St. Louis, Mo., and was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He spent most of his time in the boiler room shoveling coal in order to generate steam for their power system.
In 1903 he worked with hundreds of other electricians installing the electric system for the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Known for its “Palaces of Electricity,” $2 million was spent at the fair just on manufacturing and distribution of power. In 1913, at the age of 34, he landed a sales job with WESCO in St. Louis and sold electrical products throughout the Midwest. In his new endeavors Charlie did not discourage easily. He often recalled returning home after his first week of travel, having sold only one sewing machine motor.
In 1916 Charlie struck out on his own selling small power generating plants to municipalities, which he would design and build himself. After WWI, municipalities began to buy power directly from larger utilities, and Charlie became a manufacturers' representative, selling watt-hour meters for Sangamo Electric, and meter enclosures for Superior Switch and Device. Charlie recognized that there were many products that his customers needed that no one was making, and he began building them himself. He soon parted ways with Superior and founded Milbank Manufacturing Company in 1927. The late 1920s were tough times to start a new business, but his vast experience as a utility laborer, distributor, sales representative, power plant designer and builder gave him keen insight into the electrical market. Over the next 15 years, Charlie grew his network and slowly and steadily built a thriving manufacturing business. In 1928 Charlie married Martha Ann Martin, adding yet another resolute and intelligent partner to the company. He also employed his two sisters, Emma and Alice, as sales secretary and bookkeeper.
Business really picked up during the 1940s when Charlie got involved in manufacturing landing mat clips for the war effort. These clips were used to hold runway mats together for plane landings on temporary airfields. At the end of WWII, Charlie directed the company's resources toward building enclosures for A-base watt-hour meters. With the postwar building boom in full swing, these products were in high demand by utilities across the country.
In the early years Charlie and Martha Ann drove from coast to coast selling the Milbank name. They were well loved by their customers and affectionately known to many as “Uncle Charlie” and “Auntie Ann.” Most friends and acquaintances remember Charlie Milbank as a personable man who had a talent for selling. He conducted himself as a gentleman and his word was his bond. Charlie believed that if you make a customer happy, they would come back for more, and the way to make them happy was to sell them a quality product that met their needs.
Today Milbank is an industry leader in the design and production of electric meter sockets. Through a national network of manufacturers' representatives, Milbank provides quality electrical products for the utility, contractor, industrial and OEM markets through electrical distributors. As meter standards have changed, Milbank has been successful in adapting its product line to these changes.
More than 500 employees in three manufacturing facilities allow Milbank the flexibility to schedule, produce, and ship orders quickly. Currently, Milbank manufactures more than 16,000 unique items, and the list continues to grow. Today, Milbank’s product offering includes residential and commercial meter sockets, meter pedestals, RV/mobile home power supply systems, enclosed controls, switches, hubs, generators and energy management solutions.
Milbank is a third-generation family-owned company with headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.