Plumbing the Nation’s Capital in 1906

What did it take for the Mueller Company to receive a Washington, D.C. contract in 1906?


During a time when indoor plumbing was still somewhat of a novelty in the U.S., the Mueller Company received a contract to furnish plumbing supplies to Washington, D.C. Not only was it a lucrative contract, but it was also an economic boost for Decatur, Illinois, Mueller company’s home town.

It was one the most significant steps in the Mueller Company’s business development and occurred in November 1906, when a federal commission awarded the Company a contract from the U.S. government. The award was another signal of the Company’s growing reputation as an industry leader in the manufacturing of plumbing supplies.

The population of Washington, D.C. in the early 20th century was approximately 409,000. The federal commission, which awarded contracts for the District’s materials and services was well known for being “liberal” in its purchasing. The commission also had a plan for municipal improvement that was already underway. The commission’s plan called for an “unusual” amount of supplies.


The Mueller family, always with an eye for talent, had selected Charles Ford, formerly from Decatur, IL but now based in Washington, D.C., as a local representative for the Mueller Company. His responsibility was to manage all the details involved with this endeavor.

Mr. Ford faced established opposition to the Mueller Company’s bid. The District’s “Jobbers Association,” an organization of manufacturers and distributors, actively lobbied the federal commission for government contracts to remain with firms inside the D.C. area.

A local D.C. newspaper asked one of the federal commissioners why the commission gave favorable consideration to local firms in the awarding of government contracts. He said that when the commission previously awarded contracts to firms “at a distance” from D.C., there were “delays” in securing materials and “a vast amount of unnecessary correspondence was required.”

Meeting the challenge

These excuses proved to be groundless. First, records demonstrated that once the commission awarded a contract, very little correspondence transpired between the parties. Second, the Mueller Company’s reputation for on-time delivery proved they would be able to save time for the commissioners and all other parties involved during the contract period.

There was at least one federal commissioner who opposed the idea of limiting awards to firms within the D.C. area. Sadly, his name is unknown to us. Nevertheless, he publicly declared that showing “favoritism” to these local firms must end. He persuaded a majority of the commissioners with his argument that if they did not end this practice, “manufacturers (throughout the U.S.) would cease to make bids on government contracts and the government would be the loser.”

Positive Results

Thanks to quality products and an outstanding reputation, the competent representation of Charles Ford, and the willingness of a federal commissioner to publicly advocate for an open, competitive bidding process without local favoritism, the commissioners awarded the D.C. contract to the Mueller Company in November 1906.

Landing a contract of this size in the nation’s capital proved to be another significant step in the growth of the Mueller Company and further economic development for Decatur, IL. However, it was merely the next chapter in the rise of the Mueller Company as an industry leader with a growing national and international reputation.

Your Invitation

The Hieronymous Mueller Museum is proud to display numerous exhibits and memorabilia from the Company’s history. We invite you to visit this incredible collection at your earliest convenience.

The museum’s address is 420 West Eldorado Street in Decatur, IL. We’re open to the public on Tuesday through Saturday (except holidays) from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. You can also schedule a visit by calling 217-423-6161. Admission is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for those under 17 years of age.

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