A Thought To Remember: For years, Highland’s steam whistle declared the time, sounded the alarm
“HISTORIC WHISTLE WILL BE PLACED AT HIGHLAND’S POWER HOUSE”
was the headline of the story in the Highland News Leader on May 3,
1938, page l.
The story about the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.
whistle, followed: “It was with pleasure that we learned yesterday
morning from Mayor Clarence (Tabby) Stocker, that the historic old
Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. whistle has been turned over to the city of
Highland by National Dairies Inc., and the whistle will be blowing
again. It is a far-reaching and pleasing sound, which can again be
regularly heard by Highland people. (It will be installed at our
Electric Light Plant, on Eighth Street, as we have the available steam
to blow the whistle.)
“The historic whistle was first purchased by
the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. about 1887, when that factory was
located where the Moulton-Bartley Shoe Co. now operates. (Today it’s the
location of the U.S. Bank.) It was manufactured by the Crosby Steam
Gage and Valve Co. of Boston, Mass., and bears the patent date of Jan.
“From 1887, which is more than a half-century, that
whistle let Highland people know it was 6 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m., and 6
p.m. The sound of it was not shrill, nor alarming, but when it blew, it
carried for miles. The writer has heard it plainly on a clear summer
morning when he was more than 10 miles from Highland. Our institutions
here have other whistles, some of them very good, but none compare to
the Helvetia Milk whistle.
“When the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.
outgrew their original plant, a new brick plant was built in 1905, on
Zschokke Street, between 5th & 6th streets. (Today, it’s the box
company, RockTenn, at 515 Zschokke St.) The old brass whistle was
installed on the new steam boiler on Zschokke. It was used daily until
1920. (When the Highland plant was shut down, the name was changed to
the Pet Milk Co., and then the office was moved to St. Louis.) The
whistle was later used by the St. Louis Dairy Co., until June 1937. (St.
Louis Dairy became a part of National Dairies Inc.) National Dairies
Inc. gave the historic whistle to the city in May 1938. We will welcome
that sound again, when the historic whistle is installed at the Highland
“Mayor Stocker also told us that George Stueber, who
had fired the boilers at Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. and St. Louis
Dairy, had promised to teach the attendants at the Power House just how
to blow it, as it was blown for many years. Blowing a whistle is an art.
George has had more than 40 years experience with that whistle and
knows the art. We’ll all be listening, and we’ll remove our hats when we
hear that historic whistle again.
“The old steam whistle was
also blown when there was a fire. They would blow a long whistle,
followed by a short blast or blasts, for telling which ward the fire was
in. (For example if the fire was in Ward 4, it would be a long blast,
followed by four short blasts. Then, they would repeat this several more
times.) The whistle was also used on New Year’s Eve, bringing in the
New Year. Some of the residents will remember hearing it signal the end
of World War II. Highland people faithfully set their watches by the
whistle, and the city routine revolved around its familiar sound, until
it ceased to blow on March 21, 1976, the last day that Highland made
electricity by steam, from the old coal-fired generators, which did not
meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.”
Highland News Leader, on Feb. 14, 1979, had this to say about the old
Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. whistle that was given to the city in 1938:
“Now retired, this historic whistle has been donated by the city of
Highland, to the Highland Historical Society, so that it can be seen by
(Since the city no longer produced its own
power by steam, the steam whistle was not in use. Edwin Gerling was the
third president of the Highland Historical Society, and he secured the
whistle. He took it to St. Louis to be cleaned and sealed, and the brass
whistle looked as good as the day it first arrived in Highland in
“The Highland Historical Society, in February 1979, had
the whistle on display at the First National Bank, where the Helvetia
Milk Condensing Co. had originally been located. The whistle was also on
display at other locations in Highland.”
(This included the barn
at Kaeser Park. It is now located in the Pet Milk Museum at the Louis
Latzer Homestead. You will be able to see it again at the Harvest Days
Sept. 5-7 at the Homestead. William “Bill” Alexander and I will also be
giving tours in the Pet Milk Museum. I will be there helping with tours
in the Pet Milk Museum on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, if my voice
Much of this column was typed by the late Edwin G.
Gerling, past president of the Highland Historical Society, with my
additions in parentheses. Thanks to his widow, Marion Kurz Gerling for
preserving Ed’s column and quotes from the Highland News Leader.