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St. Paul Dispatch Newspaper

Commercial Life Section

Date November 20, 1955


St. Paulite Parlays $85 Loan Into Big Business

by Earl Almquist

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 collateral.

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 books.

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 sales agency.

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 equipment.

A 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.

 When 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 feet.

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 industry.

Selling is done mostly through distributors in key cities throughout the country, and these distributors are visited frequently by the firm’s 11 salesmen.

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 Multi-Clean.

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 important product.

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.


Multi-Clean facility at 2277 Ford Parkway circa 1950


More historical photos click here


For over 76 years, Multi-Clean, a member of the Hako Group of Companies, has successfully delivered high quality chemical products for all floor types including resilient tile, hard floors, carpet, concrete and wood to customers, cleaning contractors and government agencies. This penchant for high quality extends to the Multi-Clean state of the art research and development lab where chemists formulate and engineer maintenance chemicals specifically designed to work with all floor care equipment.

Multi-Clean is an environmentally responsible company that is committed to providing quality maintenance products, education, and training resources to help maintain healthy and clean facilities.

Multi-Clean introduced its new high solids floor finish called Max Plus. Max Plus contains 30% solids, which results in higher gloss with fewer coats. Max Plus3 goes down fast using their Micro-Mop Speed applicator or mop, levels great, and dries to a durable shine. Max Plus offers a great opportunity to increase productivity, reduce labor costs, and shorten dry times, which can result in substantial cost savings.

The Multi-Task Dilution Control System was also introduced to fulfill the need to cut costs in daily maintenance using a patent pending bottle design. The system includes 22 individual products packaged in the patented graduated spout bottle, the two-button wall mount dispenser, the Wave Touchless cart, and the portable U-Fill handguns.

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View our full line of products in PDF by clicking here. It may take some time to load, size 2MB.


  Multi-Cleans' line today consists of over 300 specialty products designed to help maintain facilities in a safe, healthy and clean manner while being an environment steward. Environmental stewardship is defined as the responsibility for taking good care of our natural resources.  Multi-Clean has a long history of progressive environmental stewardship that complements the “Cleaning for Health” philosophy.  By offering a line of green cleaning products, knowledge tools, and field expertise, Multi-Clean is ready to assist  in cleaning for health.  Visit the “Green Link” section of our site to learn more about Multi-Cleans' Environmental Stewardship initiatives and other green cleaning issues.  




Multi-Clean logo about 1948









Multi-Clean sales staff about 1957




Multi-Clean clinic about 1950






Lucca's Restaurant Los Angeles

March 11, 1952






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