Cardboard boxes, newsprint, wrapping paper, binder cardboard, liner board,fiber board, cereal cartons, recycled fiber; and most recently roofing shingles,once made Monroe a manufacturing center or paper and paper-related products. The first of the community’s many paper mills began in 1834 when the Raisinville Mill was built several miles west of the city on the south bank of the River Raisin. Other paper mills followed: Monroe Paper Company (circa 1866),Lake Erie Pulp and Paper Company (circa early 1880’s), Richardson Paper Company, Waldorf Paper Mill (circa 1888), Monroe Folding Box Company (circa 1903), Monroe Binder Board Company (circa 1906), River Raisin Paper Company(circa 1911), Monroe Corrugated Box Company (circa 1917), Monroe Paper Products Company (circa 1921), Consolidated Paper Company (circa 1921), Ace Paper Products Company (circa 1953), Jefferson Smurfitt Corporation (circa 1982), and roofing shingles from IKO Monroe Incorporated (2000).

Monroe entrepreneurs have given the world a smoother ride and a more comfortable place to sit and relax. In 1916 August Meyer started Brisk Blast in Monroe, which produced as many as 5,000 tire pumps a week. In 1919 the business changed its name to Monroe Auto Equipment Company and eventually evolved into a worldwide manufacturer of automotive shock absorbers. The company built the first shock absorbers for railroad passenger cars in 1938. In early 1974 Monroe Auto Equipment Company moved its world headquarters from the city to Monroe Charter Township. In 1977 the company merged with the large multinational automotive supplier Tenneco, Inc. Tenneco continues to manufacture Monroe Shocks and Struts.

Two Monroe cousins taught the world the joys of reclining! In 1927 cousins Edward Knabusch and Edwin Shoemaker pooled their money and started a furniture-making business in the garage Edward Knabusch’s father. The Kna-Shoe Manufacturing Company was born and in 1928 the cousins designed a wood-slat folding reclining chair (which the company still makes). In 1929 the company made its first upholstered reclining chair — the chair that went on to become the signature product of the small garage-based furniture company that eventually grew to become LA-Z- BOY Incorporated. With its corporate headquarters still in Monroe, today LA-Z- BOY has retail stores and manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe, and Asia.

While the paper industry dominated much of Monroe’s industrial life, a steel factory was the center of a confrontation that put Monroe in the national news. Monroe City officials and the Monroe Industrial Commission recruited a steel business to Monroe from Newton Falls, Ohio. The Newton Steel plant opened in Monroe in 1929 and employed about 1,300 workers, with as many 90% of its employees who followed the steel factory from Newton Falls to Monroe. Newtown’s largely immigrant workforce did not assimilate well into Monroe’s social fabric, with many of them originally emigrating from Eastern and Southern Europe. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). In 1935 Republic Steel bought Newton Steel. Republic’s president was anti union and maintained a practice of not signing labor contracts with his company’s employees. National SWOC organizers sent a representative to Monroe to create an organized union workforce at the Newton Steel plant. The SWOC representative in Monroe also was to try to recruit Newton’s employees to join a national SWOC strike against the so-called Little Steel companies that began on May 26, 1937. The SWOC presence in Monroe was part of a larger attempt nationally by the CIO to unionize the Little Steel companies of Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and Inland Steel. The national SWOC labor activist sent to Monroe was able to convince Monroe SWOC members to join the strike on May 28, 1937 when a vote was held at a morning and evening meeting. Out of a workforce of 1,300 employees at the Newton Steel Monroe plant, only about 10-15% of Newton workers voted to strike. Attendance was small at both strike meetings.

Republic Steel did nothing to dispel rumors that the Soviet Union and the Communist Party were linked to the CIO’S. Picket lines went up around the plant. The City of Monroe seemed to be more sympathetic to Newton’s officials than to the SWOC’s position. That sympathy may have been born of familiarity. Mr. Orren Barron was both an advisor to the Newton workers who disagreed with the vote to strike and he was also City Attorney to the administration of Monroe Mayor Daniel Knaggs. Also, Monroe’s Police Chief, Jesse Fischer, had formerly been director of Newton’s company police force from 1930-1934. At the company’s request, Monroe County Sheriff Joseph Bairley gave county-wide deputization authority to seven members of the Newton company police force. By the end of the strike, the City of Monroe had deputized at least 383 civilians to join the ranks of its police department. Mayor Knaggs intervened in the strike and organized a vote to determine if employees wanted to go back to work. The election was not approved by the National Labor Relations Board. Results of the election showed that 782 workers voted against the strike while only 30 supported it.

The first violence in the strike came when a SWOC union leader was assaulted in Monroe’s post office by a mob and by deputized special police that had been created by the City. The special deputized police left the City Commission offices and marched toward Newton Steel. At this point in time, with the possibility of violence increasing, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy unsuccessfully attempted to mediate the strike by telephone, making calls to strike leaders, City officials,and Newton officials. Chief Fischer ordered the strikers to open their picket lines. Strikers refused and apparently company police lobbed a tear gas bomb from behind the picket lines. A melee ensued and the special deputized police launched tear gas canisters at the strikers. Cars were overturned and dumped into the River Raisin. The strikers were outnumbered and out equipped, they ran and special deputized police chased and beat them. During the riot ,eleven people were injured. Within one-week after the violent picket line clash,Newton Steel was operating again at full capacity.

Another industrial milestone in Monroe’s life, and for that matter, all of Southeast Michigan, came in 1971 when DTE Energy began operating the Monroe Power Plant. The coal-fire electrical generating station is located on the River Raisin and Lake Erie shore where it uses that water to generate steam,which turns the turbines, which turns generators that make electricity. The Monroe plant burns about eight-million tons of coal per year. It burns a mixture of low-sulfur Western coal and mid-sulfur Eastern coal. About one-million tons of coal is unloaded by freighters which dock on the River Raisin, and the remaining seven-million tons by train. Freighters typically unload anywhere between 28,000 tons to 42,000 tons of coal, taking them six to ten hours respectively. An average train has 115-rail cars, each carrying 100 tons of coal. One of the most noticeable features of the Monroe Power Plant are its twin 800′tall concrete smoke stacks, which are Monroe landmarks and can easily be seen for 10-15 miles on a clear day. The Boiler Building is 13-stories tall. The plant and equipment that sit on DTE Energy’s 1,200-acre site makes the Monroe Power Plant the city’s largest taxpayer, comprising about 39% of the city’s tax base.