Paul Dispatch Newspaper
Commercial Life Section
November 20, 1955
Paulite Parlays $85 Loan Into Big Business
Borrowing $85 during the depression year of 1934 wasn’t the easiest thing in
the world, but it could be done with the salary from a steady job as
But ”cleaning up” to the extent of parlaying that $85 loan into a business
currently doing a volume of around two million dollars a year is one for the
It’s the story of Multi-Clean Products, Inc. 2277 Ford Parkway.
It began 21 years ago when Norman H. McRae was superintendent of buildings
and grounds at Macalester College, a post he had held for 18 years, and
Edwin V. Coulter was on the verge of graduating from the college after four
years of working his way through school as one of McRae’s student employees.
“There weren’t many jobs for college graduates at the time, and Ed was a
favorite student of mine,” is the way McRae recalls the beginning of the
business venture, “ and anyhow I’d been thinking for quite some time about
going into business of making floor cleaning compounds and machines.”
“From my personal experience in I was certain there could be improvements in
the compounds and in the machines as well-particularly from the viewpoint of
the men who worked with those machines.”
So there was the idea and the incentive.
But, no equipment, no materials and no money.
So, McRae put up his Macalester superintendent’s salary as collateral for
the $85 loan which went for the purchase of a model “A” Ford for Coulter’s
use as a salesman, and Mr. And Mrs. McRae rented a place at 1661 Grand
(apartment in the rear, ”office” in front), and they were in business as a
McRae kept his position at the college, so as to keep some money coming in,
Mrs. McRae kept the books, and Coulter sold various cleaning compounds and
little later, the partners started making a rug shampoo-this first venture
into the “manufacturing” end was in the basement under the combination
office and apartment, and necessitated some additional basement digging to
provide the necessary room-and then came the first real “break.”
The partners designed a steel wool floor pad, one which was spun into the
form of a padded wheel for use under rotary floor machines, and they
obtained a patent on it.
As result of this, the business grew to the point that made larger quarters
necessary, and McRae and Coulter moved operations to a slightly bigger place
across the street, at 1648 Grand.
The expansion program included making a floor seal used in place of varnish,
and later the manufacture of floor wax.
By 1939 the young firm was building its own floor machines, and a year later
McRae and Coulter was manufacturing industrial vacuum cleaners as well.
Coulter went into the armed forces in 1943, McRae left his college job to
devote full time to the business. That was the same year the firm bought two
lots at it’s present Ford Parkway location to erect a building 30 by 80
Since then, the firm bought six additional adjacent lots, added the present
building, 72 by 145 feet, and needs still more space to expand.
Following Coulter’s return from service in 1946, expansion of Multi-Clean
Products, Inc. was rapid.
Present activities, including manufacture of a complete line of floor
maintenance machines, floor, rug, and carpet scrubbing compounds and
upholstery cleaning agents, were preceded by some mergers.
In 1952, for example, Multi-Clean Products bought out General Electric’s
industrial vacuum cleaner division to become an important company in the
Selling is done mostly through distributors in key cities throughout the
country, and these distributors are visited frequently by the firm’s 11
Multi-Clean Products find their way into industrial building, schools,
hospitals, hotels, office buildings and rug and carpet cleaning
establishments all over the U.S. and much of Canada. The firm does a tidy
export business, as well.
Labor relations have been good with the approximately 100 workers
represented by the AFL Machinists union, and prospects for future expansion
look bright to the firm because maintenance work is becoming an increasingly
mechanized operation, due to a large extent to high labor costs.
That means a wider market for Multi-Clean machine and compounds.
Unusual problems are par for the course in almost any industry, but
Multi-Clean Products, Inc. had a couple that stand out.
One involved a puzzler at the atomic energy plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn. The
daily cost of industrial vacuum cleaners was running out of bounds. Every
day it was necessary to pick up activated material in a vacuum cleaner, but
the cleaner became radio-active itself at the end of the day, which
developed into a cleaner-a-day routine.
Oak Ridge asked Multi-Clean to help work it out. Solution was a cleaner with
a special material power unit, which resisted the radioactivity, leaving
only a container to become activated. After a certain period of time, even
the container becomes deactivated and may be used again.
Three atomic energy plants now are buying these special cleaners from
The other special problem came to the firm from a Denver manufacturing
company, which hadn’t been able to devise the right motor assembly for an
Multi-Clean came up with exactly the right motor assembly, to the special
gratification of McRae and Coulter, because it was needed for a portable
respirator for polio victims.
That $85 loan back in
1934 really started something.