By OMC Staff Writers   Published Mar 26, 2001 at 3:42 AM

Ever wonder how Usinger's makes that delicious sausage? We sure did. All our questions were answered recently with an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the home of the Usinger "wurstmachers," which is still located on Milwaukee's Old World Third Street (1030 N. Old World Third St.), the site of the original store that opened in 1880.

To Milwaukeeans, Usinger's means quality, comfort, tradition and great sausage. Oscar who? In Milwaukee, it's Usinger's or nothing.

The Usinger Family success story is the classic American Dream. In the late 1870s, a young German immigrant, Fred Usinger, arrived in Milwaukee with $400 in cash and his favorite sausage recipes, which he had learned as an apprentice "wurstmacher" (sausage maker) in Frankfurt. He had ambition, dreams of a better life and the willingness to work hard for it. He went to work for Mrs. Julia Gaertner, a widow who operated a small butcher shop on 3rd St. Within a year or so, Usinger had bought out Mrs. Gaertner, married her niece, Louise, and moved into living quarters above the store. The young couple worked 16-18 hours a day making and selling their sausage.

At the turn of the century, Milwaukee's German aristocracy did their shopping on Third St., and the store soon became a popular stop. Before long, the Usingers were shipping sausage as far away as New York. While business became so good that more help was needed, Fred Usinger kept the growth under control so he could oversee each step of the sausage making process.

Founder Fred Usinger died in 1930. His legacy, however, lives on. The history of the company, which spans more than a century, shows that there has always been a Usinger to guide it.

Today, fourth generation Usingers lead the firm (including Fritz and Deb, whom we have to thank for the tour and wonderful lunch) confidently into the future, ever mindful of their heritage of quality, which must be maintained. "America's Finest Sausage" is more than a slogan -- it is an ideal, a family pledge that Usinger's will continue to make only the very best.

Once inside the Usingers factory, one understands the tradition and family heritage the business is built upon. Fritz carefully oversees production of the hand-made specialties at Usinger's, from the initial stages, through smoking, packing and shipping.

Photos and historical relics adorn the staircases and even though the factory, itself, has the modern luxuries and technology of today, the original ovens, recipes and elves still remain. Elves? Yep, elves. The Usinger elves have been making the sausage since the 1880s. You may never see them, but you definitely feel their presence when you tour the factory and taste their old-fashioned goodness (Deb says she spent much of her childhood in search of the elves but still has never stumbled across one).

A trip to the Usinger's store is well worth your while. The store has all the original trimmings and architecture, and it's the only place in town to get Usinger's famous gift boxes. The store is open Mon-Sat., 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. You won't be able to tour the factory, but we've captured that for you in pictures anyway. Read on for our exclusive photo tour of a Milwaukee institution, Usinger's Famous Sausage. And don't forget to call (414) 276-9100 or (800) 558-9998 to place your orders.

A miniature village in the window of the Usinger's Store. Designed by architect Hugh Hirsch.

View of the deli counter, looking much the way it did generations ago.

Another view inside the store.
The Usinger's elves are a part of the company's history. Deb Usinger used to look for them under every nook and cranny as a child.

A view of the factory floor.

The art of sausage making in action.

OMC staff writer Bobby Tanzilo enjoys Milwaukee's finest sausages.

Lunch is served!
May I help you?

Jeff and Andy, ready for the tour.

Jeff and Bobby can't resist one more photo wearing those hats.