Lyle Signs Celebrates its 100th Birthday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lyle Signs Inc. of De Smet celebrates 100 years in business this year.  The company, located in the industrial park, celebrated the milestone Oct. 4 with employees, former employees and members of the business community and the development board.  Gov. Dennis Daugaard declared Oct. 4 Lyle Signs Day in South Dakota.


The Lyle Signs division of the Lyle Culvert Company started in 1912 when the Fraser brothers, two engineers with the Lyle Culvert Company, designed, developed and patented some sign making machines.  In 1928, the sign division separated from the culvert division and Lyle Signs, Inc. was established as a separate corporation.


Lyle Signs was the first sign company to work with the 3M Company of St. Paul, Minn. in the use of reflective sheeting called Scotchlite, a material first offered for sale by 3M in 1939.  Reflective silk-screening has been done since the 1940s. As technology has changed, Lyle has kept up with those changes. Digital imaging is now a big part of the sign-making process.


Peter “Buzz” Pierce, present owner and president of Lyle Signs, is the third generation in his family to run the company. 

In 1942, his grandfather who was president and owner of Lyle Signs, F.L., also known as  “Buzz” Pierce, died. Buzz’s widow, Dede, took over and ran the company for several years.


Bob Bjorkland became president in 1961.  In the mid-‘70s Pete Pierce, Dede’s son, took over the company. Pete said he worked at Lyle Signs during high school and college and was involved with the company his entire working life.   Pete retired in the mid-‘90s and handed the reins over to his son Buzz.

Federal regulations during World War II restricted the use of steel and aluminum for making signs. During the war, Lyle Signs used its factory in part to manufacture defense items. They continued to make signs, but they were constructed of high-density fiberboard.  After the war, restrictions were lifted and Lyle was back in the business of making metal signs.  In 1958, the company began making Interstate signs and is still one of the leading manufacturers of these larger signs. The company has sold Interstate signs to most states in the nation.


Lyle Signs expanded the plant in Minneapolis three times from 1928-64. A new plant was built in Bloomington, Minn. in 1964, but over the next 10 years, the cost of manufacturing grew, and it was more economical to move.  After looking at other communities in Minnesota Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota in 1974, the complete manufacturing operation was moved to De Smet.  The corporate offices remained in Bloomington. Minn., where they still are today.


Jim Boser, Jim Hanson, Howard Wallen and Harold Malone came from Minnesota to help start operations in De Smet. Hanson was the first plant manager and Boser was assistant manager. Jim Boser became plant manager after a few years and was in the position until his retirement in 2001, when Larry Beck became plant manager.  Beck was part of the construction crew that built the factory. After it was completed, he went to work for Lyle as a silk-screener and has been with Lyle ever since.


There were 42 employees in 1974, andtoday there are70, making it one of the biggest employers in the area. Several renovations and additions have been made to the factory over the years.  The original building was 36,000 square feet.  With additions in 1978, 1988 and 2008, the main building is now 61,000 square feet.  Some other recent improvements include a new roof and air conditioning.  Lyle also has a second 18,750 square foot building, which is used for the manufacture of Interstate signs.


Lyle Signs must be doing something right. Many of their employees today have been with them for more than 25 years, or have retired after working there a couple of decades.  Beck, Dennis Smith, Ron Brown and Glen Martens have all been with them since the beginning, and the plant has seen several second generation and even a few third generation members of families among its employees.


 “We want to continue to grow in De Smet as a family company,” Buzz Pierce said.


Story by Donna Palmlund at De Smet News.

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