In 1880, at the young age of 18, German immigrant Leo Haase created L.G. Haase Manufacturing Company to make concrete products – including the very first concrete burial vaults in the United States. At that time, burial vaults were built of brick right in the graves at cemeteries. Leo thought they should have covers and began building two-piece concrete vaults, precursors of the vaults Wilbert manufactures today.
In 1913, Wilbert W. Haase assumed leadership of L.G. Haase Manufacturing Company at the age of 21 and began an ambitious plan to grow the company’s burial vault business, investing in buildings and equipment. It was a prescient strategy, as demand soon skyrocketed for its products with the great influenza pandemic sweeping the world in 1918-1919. Chicago was hit hard with more than 8,500 flu-related deaths in a span of 8 weeks. Only L.G. Haase Manufacturing had sufficient inventory and manufacturing capacity to meet the demand.
Wilbert Haase Grows the Company Through Innovation – With a Little Help from King Tut
In 1919, Wilbert Haase bought his uncle’s business and changed the name to American Vault Works. With a sharp focus on manufacturing burial vaults, Wilbert devised innovative fabrication methods and equipment to improve both the product and the manufacturing process.
The product was truly revolutionized in 1930 when Wilbert invented the asphalt-lined concrete burial vault in a quest to make a water-proof vault. This was spurred by two seemingly-unrelated events: the finding of water in a disinterred concrete burial vault containing a former prominent Chicago-area businessman, and Wilbert’s trip to Egypt where he saw an exhibit on the recently-discovered King Tut tomb. Impressed by the perfect preservation of Egyptian mummies, Wilbert saw a possibility to use asphalt—employed by the Egyptians as a preservative—to line his burial vaults and give them extra protection from ground weight and subsoil elements. It worked!
The Wilbert Network Grows Through Licenseeing
With industry interest ignited by the new asphalt-lined burial vaults, a new company was established for the express purpose of selling exclusive territorial licenses for the manufacture and sale of the vaults - The Wilbert W. Haase Company. This was actually an early application of licenseeing in the United States and despite the churning Great Depression the Wilbert burial vault network grew quickly. By 1938, Wilbert had become the world’s largest manufacturer of asphalt and concrete burial vaults with 76 licensees in 22 states and Ontario, Canada.
Innovation has always been a driving factor for Wilbert. Click here to view a timeline of Wilbert innovations.
In 1997, the company was reorganized as Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc. (WFSI). The Wilbert network of Licensees today numbers 192 and covers the United States and Canada - the largest network of burial vault manufacturers in North America. In 2015, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) converted WFSI into an employee-owned company, at the time believed to be the only known ESOP in the funeral service industry. This change ensured continuation of the company as an independent entity with a solid focus on the industry.
Illustrious People Buried in Wilbert Vaults
Louis Armstrong, American jazzman
Pearl S. Buck, Nobel laureate author
Harry Caray, Chicago Cubs broadcaster
Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago
Jimmy Dorsey, American band leader
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Herbert Hoover
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey
Conrad Hilton, businessman
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy family
Rose Kennedy, mother of President John Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Senator Robert F. Kennedy
Peter II , exiled king of Yugoslavia
Gregor Piatigorsky, famed cellist and teacher
Ezio Pinza, operatic singer
Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock 'n Roll"
Gilda Radner, comedienne
Betsy Ross, creator of the first American flag
Rosalind Russell, actress
Frank Sinatra, popular vocalist
Adlai E.Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Miles Standish, early colonial military leader
John Wayne, actor
Harold Washington, Mayor of Chicago
Thornton Wilder, American playwright