A Brief History of W. & E. Radtke, Inc.
W. & E. Radtke, Inc. has a heritage of plant growing which stretches back to the middle 1800’s. The Pagenkopf family, the great-grandparents of Harry Radtke, came to this country from the German Province of Pomerania in 1839. They bought farmland in 1852 at what is now 17th and Concordia in downtown Milwaukee.
In 1890, William Radtke, grandfather of Harry, came from Germany and began to work on the Pagenkopf farm. He eventually married Wilhelmina Pagenkopf, one of the daughters. They had three children. After her death, he married her sister, Louisa. They had three more children. In 1900, on the site of the former “Capitol Court Shopping Mall”, he started his own farm, raising vegetable transplants, herbs, vegetables for market, and pansies.
In 1929, two of his sons, William and Elmer, took over the farm and started W. & E. RADTKE. They grew much the same material as their father, adding field dug perennials in about 1945. In 1951, they sold the land to make way for the shopping center and moved to Glendale. Here they raised vegetables, bedding plants, and perennials.
William’s only son, Harry, joined the business in 1950. He married Marilyn Carnell in 1957. After the death of William in 1964, Harry took over sole ownership, keeping the name. He moved to the present location in Germantown in 1971. Since then the main growing focus has been perennials. Herbs were re-added to the catalog in 1982.
As of January 1, 1998, the business was incorporated and sold to two of Harry and Marilyn’s three children, George and Liesl. Rhonda, the eldest of the three children, works in customer service.
The story of the “Bee”
You may have noticed our little buddy buzzing about our website. He is quite special to us and has been buzzing around for many years. Actually, the story he has to tell about W. & E. Radtke, Inc. says a lot about the kind of company we are. As you probably know, the wings on a bumblebee are insufficient to support its body in flight. Try telling that to a bee. He doesn’t know that he isn’t supposed to be able to fly, but he happily buzzes about anyway. And God gave him that ability.
When Harry Radtke decided to change the focus of W. & E. Radtke to perennials back in 1970, many folks thought he wouldn’t be able to make a successful business of it. But just like the bumblebee, he went ahead anyway. With the Lord’s blessing, his business grew and prospered. And today, W. & E. Radtke, Inc. is one of the largest perennial growers in the Midwest. So we keep the little guy around. Just to remind us of what we can do if we put our hearts and minds to a purpose.