Readers Blog: The Milwaukee You May Not Know

Insert Sound Here! -what's new with Carmex?

Carmex. The medicated lip balm in small glass jars with the yellow cap. It is and has always been made in Milwaukee. Alfred Woelbing invented the concoction in the 1930's on his kitchen stove to alleviate cold sores. Woelbing (pronounced Well-bing) lived with his wife and children in Wauwatosa and began selling the product from the trunk of his car. In a time when anyone was allowed to claim a product possessed healing properties, Carmex actually did what it said it did. As the company grew production facilities moved to Franklin, where Carma Laboratories still resides.

Carma Labs is an anomoly in many ways. Alfred Woelbing worked until passing at the ripe age of 100, constantly working to perfect his formula. In the 1970s the inventor approached his son Donald, a stone mason, to help him with the business. About twenty years later grandsons Eric and Paul stepped into the family business. Donald, Eric, and Paul Woelbing now run Carma Labs. Seventy two years later Carmex remains a family owned and operated company, so family-oriented that in the last decade they automated production without losing a single employee.

While he enjoys his role as the PR face of Carmex, Paul Woelbing is still the metalsmith and art teacher he was 20 years ago. His passion has evolved into the preservation of antique musical instruments, vintage motorcycles, and WPA-era art associated with Milwaukee's Layton School of Art (the forerunner of MIAD). When Carmex began planning their most recent warehouse expansion Paul suggested they build a facility with acoustic considerations for a pipe organ.

Historically, pipe organs were built for churches, theatres (the organ Carma Laboratories acquired was originally installed in 1931 at Chicago's Norfolk Theatre), or homes of the extremely wealthy. Many were donated for scrap during World War II. In the past the average person has been priced out of ever hearing the music of pipe organs, and if you don't go to church you don't get to play with the toys.

The unique sound produced by a different sized pipes is expressed in “ranks.” Each rank's sound emulates an instrument such as oboes, French horns, trumpets, violins. When a key is pressed an electromagnetic connection simultaneously forces air through the each rank's pipe corresponding to that note. The longer the pipe the lower the sound it makes. Though 16' pipes are standard, Carmex's organ will include pipes up to 32' long to act as subwoofers. Upon completion the organ will approach seventy ranks, making it one of the largest pipe organs in the state. A player will man four keyboards to control all the ranks and a 9' Steinway D concert grand piano will also be on-hand to accompany the organ.

Carma Labs' musical facilities will be available in late 2010 for people who wish to perform or record on their equipment. Always dreamed of recording your jazz band alongside a pipe organ? Give them a call. Paul Woelbing hopes this instrument will open new doors to musicians previously unable to enjoy this variety of collaboration. All he asks is a copy of the session for their archives. “It's a bit of a Field of Dreams situation,” Paul says, “Hopefully it will become a place for cultural exchange. I just want people to come and play and enjoy the music.”



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