March 11, 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the formation of Walbridge Aldinger Company in Detroit. Here are some details about our company’s history.
George B. Walbridge and Albert H. Aldinger pooled their resources to form Walbridge-Aldinger Company in March 1916. These two founders came from different backgrounds, worked together for a time, parted ways and then reconnected in the midst of a booming time in southeast Michigan.
Walbridge grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Lafayette College in Easton. He was a gridiron star at Lafayette, being named both team captain and an All-America halfback in 1896. Walbridge went on to earn a degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1900. Then, he went to work for the noted D.H. Burnham & Co. architectural firm in Chicago. That’s where his path crossed for the first time with Aldinger.
Aldinger was born in Stuttgart, Germany, immigrated to the United States with his parents and settled in Indiana. In 1898, he graduated from Purdue University with a degree in civil engineering. After a stint in bridge construction, Aldinger was hired at Burnham.
Both men worked on large-scale projects for Burnham.
Then, in 1905 Aldinger left to work for Well Brothers & Company. Walbridge left to work for the Hedden Construction Company in New York City.
In 1907, Aldinger exhibited his entrepreneurial spirit for the first time by venturing to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he co-founded the construction firm of Carter-Halls-Aldinger Company with partners William H. Carter and Frank Halls. From 1909 to 1914, the trio built commercial office buildings, a building for the Manitoba Free Press, and two hotels.
Walbridge later joined the George F. Fuller Construction Company in New York, where he became vice president. Fuller, one of the largest contracting firms in the United States, sent Walbridge to Detroit in 1914 to manage its office and oversee several large projects.
About a decade removed from working together at D.H. Burnham & Co., Walbridge and Aldinger reconnected in Detroit. The city was booming at the time. Auto plants needed to be built. A massive in-flow of labor was converging on the city and new commercial opportunities were abundant. Walbridge and Aldinger jumped at the chance to forge something special together.
On March 11, 1916, the Walbridge-Aldinger Company held its first official meeting of shareholders. The four shareholders in this new venture were Walbridge, Aldinger, and Aldinger’s Canadian partners, Carter and Halls.
Within the first 10 months in business, Walbridge-Aldinger was awarded more than 20 sizeable contracts, including one to build the new 13-story Book Building and adjoining 38-story Tower on Washington Avenue in downtown Detroit.
1918 – 1962
Walbridge surprised his partner and fellow shareholders on February 11, 1918 when he resigned from the company. The reason? Walbridge had served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War 20 years earlier and felt a calling to serve his country again, this time in World War I. Walbridge accepted a commission as a major in the United States Reserve Engineers Corps, which was a collection of private engineering experts from across the country who reinforced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the war. At its conclusion, Walbridge returned to Detroit, rejoined Walbridge-Aldinger and guided it through one of its most-productive eras.
Walbridge and Aldinger both became widely respected industry leaders who were instrumental in founding the Associated General Contractors of America and the Detroit Chapter. Walbridge served as the AGC of America’s fourth national president in 1925.
In 1931, Walbridge was one of three general contractors in the United States asked to serve as a “consulting constructor” on a committee of experts appointed by the American Engineering Council and the Associated General Contractors of America. Their assignment was to review the first seven months of work completed on the massive Hoover Dam. At the time, Hoover Dam was three-times larger than any other dam ever built.
In 1934, Walbridge, a Republican, was named a member of the advisory council to the Federal Housing Administration, created under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Aldinger served as President of the company’s from its inception until his death in 1942. Walbridge then led the company as President until August 1943 when he was elected Chairman of the Board and R.E. Pickett, who supervised construction of Detroit’s Olympia Sports Arena in 1926-27, succeeded him as President. Walbridge served as Chairman until his death in 1955.
G.K. Chapman became the fourth President in company history in 1957.
1963 – Current
A major shift in leadership came when John Rakolta Sr., who began his career with Walbridge-Aldinger as a timekeeper in 1946, purchased the company in 1963 with business partner Robert Robillard. Robillard served as CEO from 1963 through 1970.
Rakolta Sr. assumed control of the company in 1971 as Chairman and CEO. Rakolta served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II as a navigator-bombardier, flying on 17 missions in a B-26 light bomber. During one mission, his plane was shot down in an air strike over Germany. Captured by the German Army, Rakolta Sr. was held as a prisoner of war until the war ended in 1945. He joined Walbridge-Aldinger after his return to the United States. It was his first civilian job, one that would prove to be a lifetime commitment for him.
In 1984, Walbridge-Aldinger acquired commercial contractor Darin & Armstrong, which was pivotal to the company’s growth. It catapulted Walbridge onto the national scene. The mid-‘80s also proved profitable for international work as Walbridge began working in Canada and Mexico. In 1993, John Rakolta Sr. stepped down as Chairman and CEO of Walbridge-Aldinger and was succeeded by his son, John Rakolta Jr., who started with the company as an estimator in 1971.
With Rakolta Jr. at the helm, the company expanded operations into new regions and grew its service offerings. In 2008, the firm unveiled a unified, one-company brand - Walbridge.
Walbridge ranks No. 41 on Engineering News-Record’s list of the Top 400 Contractors in the United States. The company constructs facilities in North and South America across a wide range of market segments, including automotive, manufacturing, industrial processing, data centers and commercial building. Walbridge also self-performs services such as concrete placement, rigging and equipment installation. Approximately 1,000 people are employed by Walbridge.