Cedar shingles were the preferred roofing material of the late 1800s. So when shingles started blowing off of roofs prematurely due to rusting steel nails, Walter H. Maze wasted little time finding a solution at his family’s lumberyard in Peru, Ill. (pop. 10,295).
Purchasing a used nail-making machine, Maze began offering free rustproof nails made of pure zinc to roofing customers of Maze Lumber, founded in 1848 by his Irish immigrant father, Samuel Nesbitt Maze. Before long, other lumberyards started buying Maze nails to supply roofers who wanted their shingles to stay put, too.
More than a century later, the W.H. Maze Co. continues to help build America by producing specialty nails that are driven into roofs, decks, flooring, siding and more. The company’s manufacturing plant, located on a bluff above the Illinois River, is just a mile from the lumberyard where the family business began.
“The Maze name is so entrenched with professional builders that it gives us a lot of brand recognition because we’ve been around so long,” says Roelif Loveland, 53, company president and the founder’s great-great-grandson.
Maze makes and packages nearly 2,800 products ranging from 3/8-inch masonry nails to 12-inch spikes. During the early 1900s, the company switched from zinc to stronger steel nails, which then were hand-dipped in molten zinc to protect against rust.
As building materials evolved, so did Maze Nails. The company, which became fully automated in 1955, developed nails to drive into hardboard siding, pressure-treated lumber and fiber-cement siding. In the days of unwieldy 100-pound wooden nail kegs, Maze was the first to pack nails in 5-pound and 50-pound boxes. Today, its products are certified environmentally friendly because Maze uses recycled steel that requires no additional mining and refining.
Quality also is fundamental to the company’s 42 workers, including Phil Korn, 57, who has been making Maze nails for 36 years. Korn operates equipment through which coiled steel, up to a quarter-inch in diameter, is stretched into a thin wire that later is fed into a nail-making machine.
“This is where it gets punishingly loud,” says plant manager Jim Loveland, 51, wearing earplugs as the clanking equipment cuts the wire to nail length in a split second while also slicing a four-sided tip. Half a second later, the same machine pounds on the head, and a shiny new nail drops into a metal bin. The 2 1/2-inch nails accumulate quickly in heaps and, if placed end-to-end over two production weeks, would stretch more than 2,850 miles—equivalent to the driving distance between Seattle, Wash., and New York City.
Maze is among a handful of U.S. nail makers, since dozens of domestic manufacturers have succumbed to foreign competition. Family owners credit quality and specialization for the company’s longevity.
Consider, for example, the double-pointed, 2-inch nail used in the wine barrel-making industry. “It was developed from scratch by Maze with input from our customers,” says Karen Leahy, sales manager for the R.J. Leahy Co., a longtime customer in San Francisco.
Kyle Loveland, 25, is among the sixth generation working for the family business, where he and his two brothers started cutting grass on weekends and working summers packing collated nails for nail guns. Now a sales representative based in Taunton, Mass., Kyle is proud of Maze’s contributions to the construction industry—whether it’s building a barn in central Illinois or restoring part of the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.
Kyle expects the family business to endure “so long as there’s that niche market always looking for these specialty products, quick delivery and all the things we’ve come to do over the past 163 years.”