F.W. Planert & Sons, est. 1898

F. W. Planert & Sons History

Museum Artifact: Planert Ice Skate Sharpening Jig, 1910s

Made By: F.W. Planert & Sons, Inc., 939 N. Robey Street (aka N Damen Ave.), Chicago, IL [East Ukrainian Village]

Patented in 1910, this elegantly rustalgic ice skate clamping device, or “jig,” was used to keep a skate stabilized while its blade was hand sharpened—cuz that’s what the kiddos had to do back in the day. The manufacturer, F.W. Planert & Sons, was one of the “The Big 3” in the Chicago-dominated ice skate industry of the early 20th century. The other two notable names, family rivals Nestor Johnson and Alfred Johnson, were also headquartered on the Northwest side. I suppose we should probably count the sporting goods giant A.G. Spalding & Bros. as a major player in the business, too, considering their far wider reach and Chicago roots. But where Spalding made basically every type of sports gear under the sun, Planert and the two Johnson Co’s were more focused on hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool ice rink culture.

As you can see from the 1929 Planert catalog excerpt above, a Skate Sharpening Stand like ours (admittedly from a slightly later period) cost 2 bucks, or about $28 in modern translation. It was made from the “highest grade combination oil stone, adapted for sharpening skates,” and featured “four vise-like jaws” that would “grip the blade parallel and perpendicular.” One-hundred years later, you might say this old jig has long since lost its rhythm. But on second thought, all it takes is a little ingenuity to give it renewed purpose.

[Bookends, yo!]

From here, we could really just bask in our upcycling victory and leave it at that, but the F.W. Planert story, lest it be forgotten, was the original purpose of this article—and we haven’t been fully repurposed yet.

Ferdinand “Fred” Planert [pictured] was born in Leipzig, Germany, and came to the States as a teenager in 1873—bringing with him the precision engineering skills and winter sports prowess of his native land. He married his first wife Anna at the age of 23, and by 1898, they had five kids together. Thus, when Fred started his own ice skate company that same year, he decided to call it F.W. Planert & Sons—being that he had four of those, and it was no use including his daughter in the equation since, ya know, it was 1898.

In relatively short order, the Planert brand gained favor for its advanced tubular skate design, and the company’s factory space at 939 N. Robey Street shifted into high gear as the 20th century kicked off. From early on, they produced a mix of hockey skates, speed skates, leisure skates, and the precious footwear of ice ballerinas.

It was no accident that the ice skate industry had become unofficially headquartered in Chicago. The city boasted more than 600 outdoor ice rinks by 1923—most in the country according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. There was also a large population of Germans, Swedes, Ukrainians, and other immigrant communities with multi-generational ties to skating in all its various forms. Planert skates, to risk a devastatingly bad pun, had true planertary appeal.

Growing rapidly even amid stiff competition, F.W. Planert & Sons nonetheless remained at its original Robey Street assembly plant for decades, even after Robey Street ceased to exist and became Damen Avenue. Fred Planert remained a constant, as well, staying on as the company president well into his 70s. Even after the death of his wife Anna had nearly derailed him in 1913, he refocused himself with the help of his children. Eldest son George took on a bigger role developing new products at the company; sons Charles and Eddie pitched in, too; and old papa Fred eventually re-married, spending his golden years with his second wife Lillian.

[An older, plumper Fred Planert with second wife Lillian, visiting Germany in the 1920s]

Since he never saw retirement as a legitimate option, however, Fred also spent his golden years trying to win the Great Ice Skate Wars of the 1920s. This would involve staying ahead of the curve, both technologically and on the marketing front.

Planert skates were promoted heavily to kids in magazines such as Boy’s Life, but the bigger goal, logically, was winning over those same kids’ parents. Planert skates had to be more than cool; they needed to represent world class quality and dependability. So while an advertisement might start out talking about stocking stuffers—“What greater gift for the kiddies than the Joy of Perfect Skating?”—they always eventually came around to describing the product more like a fine German automobile, using the boring but effective slogan: “The World’s Best.”

“The high quality and sturdy construction maintained for over 25 years, makes Planert Skates the public’s first choice—Champions also prefer them. . . . You will at once recognize Planert Superiority—by the high quality steel runner, so tempered that sharpening is seldom necessary—by the cups, drawn of one piece steel, seamless and flanged over tube—by the custom-made shoes of fine quality leather giving solid foot comfort—the wide tongue which prevents pinching.”

“They are built for lightness and speed,” read another ad, “but their excellent quality and sturdy construction means safety as well.”

When long-winded rants about superior quality weren’t enough, Planert did what every sporting good company does today—they went looking for celebrity endorsements. Or, to put it more accurately, they paid players and teams to help pump up the Planert profile.

In the early 1930s, Planert inked deals with speed skating champs and hockey stars, including members of Chicago’s own upstart NHL club, the Blackhawks. Tommy Cook and Louie Trudel, among others, proudly hit the ice in Planert’s Northlights skates—“because they stand up under the toughest going!”

Around this same period, perhaps as safety net in the event that they might yet lose the Skate Wars, Planert and Sons started an offshoot of the skate business called the Planert Tool & MFG Company—which was basically just a general manufacturing firm to get a little extra production out of their machinery. Unfortunately, the timing was shit, as the stock market crashed the same year the company was launched. Ice skates, it turned out, would mostly remain the end-all-be-all of the family business.

And rest assured, the family element did come through. After Fred Planert died in 1936 at the age of 78, the company carried on through the war years and beyond, with the “And Sons” part of the equation now running the operation—still on Robey/Damen Avenue; still doing things much the same way they’d always been done.

In 1949, Chicago Tribune scribe Jane Gardner wrote a profile on the Big 3 of Chicago ice skate manufacturing for the Sunday paper. By that point, Planert had been going strong for half a century, and its ranks included not only some of Fred’s sons—like Edward, pictured below—but several grandsons, as well, including the pictured Bob Planert.

Just a few years after that Tribune story ran, the increase in competition from large-scale competitors (and their cheaper imported products) rendered the hand-made Planert tubular skates—once the proverbial “cutting edge”—old fashioned.

Thanks to insights from museum visitor Susan Planert, we know that the company was sold to the Bauer Skate Company, based in Ontario, Canada, in the 1950s. Bauer claimed to be the first company to produce a skate with the blade attached to the boot, but they’re not alone in making that claim. In any case, according to Susan, “Bob Planert moved to Canada to run the new Planert division. Bob left quite a legacy in the Canadian speed skating world, ending in his induction into the National Speedskating Museum and Hall of Fame.”

Bob wasn’t the only Planert to remain relevant in ice skating circles for years to come. Fred Planert’s son Edward, for example, had a son of his own, Edward Jr.—born in 1926. When Edward Jr. died in 2016, aged 90, he was remembered by many in suburban Chicago for his years of work running a local skating rink and working as an instructor. I guess you could say that if the planets revolve around the sun, the Planerts still appear to revolve around the ice. . . . Yup, I went there again.

It’s also worth noting that the former Planert factory on Damen Ave. has been repurposed as a restaurant space in recent years (albeit by several different short-lived tenants), as Ukrainian Village slowly morphs into a “happenin'” neighborhood, leaving its industrial roots as ambiance for foodies.

If a skate sharpening stand can become bookends, however, it’s probably only fair that a factory can swan itself into a restaurant.

[Restaurant in the site of the old F.W. Planert headquarters on Damen Avenue]

[An updated design of the ice skate jig, developed by George Planert in 1930]


Archived Reader Comments:

“So excited to see all this.  I am the great, great granddaughter of Fred Planert.  It’s not surprise that I love to skate!  Loved this history, thank you!smile” —Debra, 2020

“This is my great great great grandfather!” —Matt Christian, 2019

“We lived in Glen Ellyn, IL, for nine years while our children were growing up (1970 -79).  They both took lessons at Planert’s on Park Blvd., Paul for hockey and Gail for figure skating.  Planert’s was an integral part of their growing-up years.  It was a wonderful, wholesome atmosphere.  Both kids, now in their mid 50’s, still skate.  Paul has never quit being a goalie (he’s on a couple of teams), and Gail has continued her interest, also.  thumbsup” —Marge des Lauriers, 2019

“Great grandson Gregg Planert is still a prominent speed skating coach in Canada!”–Lars Lehmann, 2017

“I recently bought a pair of Planerts ice skates from a antique shop in Los Angeles California. They are in the original box and I don’t think they have ever been worn. Inside one of the skates there is a second pare of laces and wax still on the rivets. I appreciate the history you shared, it makes these skates so much more special. Thanksheart” —Tina, 2017

“Wow! Great summary of the company’s history!  Fred Planert also owned the apartment building next to the factory. It is still there.  In the 1950’s the company was sold to Bauer in Canada.  Bob Planert moved to Canada to run the new Planert division.  Bob left quite a legacy in the Canadian speed skating world, ending in his induction into the National Speedskating Museum and Hall of Fame.” —Susan Planert, 2016

12 thoughts on “F.W. Planert & Sons, est. 1898

  1. In the 1950s I skated for the Peirce Skating Club in Chicago. I believe that I got my first pair of Planert speed skates about 1947. I remember going to the shop on Damen Ave. many times as I grew up. And I still have several pairs of Planert skates and a sharpening jig, although I have not skated now for many years. I have fond memories of skating in Illinois and in the national championships in Saint Paul and at Champain-Urbana. There is not much ice in Lawrence, KS where I have lived for the last 43 years.
    Rich Ring

  2. I was a Detroit-based speedskater from 1963 to 1978. I won multiple national and state championships and set several national and state records on my beloved Planert “outdoor” and “indoor” skates. As I outgrew skates rapidly, we (many Detroit skating families: the Brennans, the Youngs, etc.) made multiple Summer trips to Kitchner, Ontario, where Bob would trace our feet and ship our custom blades in October. To us Bob was a soft-spoken, super-encouraging hero! Decades later, I can say that few things have served me so ably as my Planert speed skates did… Fun names below! I skated with Dick Somalski’s boy Jerry and Terry McDermott was a mentor…Jim Chapin’s boy Jim Jr. could FLY and so could Gary Jonland! Leah Poulos and her brother Sam were dear friends. I have a group picture from a national championships with all of these people and more, including New York Met Lee Mazilli!

  3. I skated in Bay City, MI from 1959 (10) to 1965 (16). We were coached by Dick Somalski (Essexville, MI) nursery and landscape business owner by day and Olympic Champion Coach in season. Everyone on the team (in all of MI) competed on Planert ‘Specials’. In Bay City we ordered custom Planert Specials from Dick. He traced the outline of each foot, took measurements and ordered them from Planet. Petoskey, MI hosted the National Championship in about 1964. Everyone competing on the National level glided on Planert outdoor and indoor short track skates. Indoor track design formed a parallelogram, maybe 1980s the shape changed to oval. The Outdoor track for Olympic training was a 400 meter, large enough few local ice rinks had the space. If the space was available it would preclude the public recreation ice skating space. No one wanted to interfere with recreational skating. That’s how most first family skaters started. Eliminate or reduce public skating and you hinder developing future speed skaters. Olympians from MI I knew were Jeanne Omalenchuck, Cathy Sullivan and Terry McDermott. Terry was Dick Somalski’s nephew. Terry, following his Gold Medal and World Record at 500M appeared on the Ed Sullivan show same night as the Beetles. Terry was a Barber so the Beetles posed with Terry for a picture of Terry simulating cutting the Beetles hair. Dick Somakski especially, and all the parents who drove all over MI with cars full of kids and skates were Saints, God Bless them all and the families that supported them.

  4. i have a pair offset size 9 made last production in Canada late 50’s. I bought them 1959. 95%. no rust. leather still smells like leather. john

  5. I mistakenly gave away my Planert Intermediate Offset speed skates probably 20 years ago. Wish I could have them back. I don’t think I could skate now as I have bum knees and when I even thing about skating my feet start to hurt. But in 1972 I won the Silver Skates at Winterhurst in Lakewood Ohio. Such a fun and exciting time. I would love to try to skate again, but apparently they don’t make speed skates anymore.

  6. A tremendous article on the Planert history. I stated skating when I was 5 and racing at 14. I began on a pair of Alfred Johnsen stock racing skates but the Planert Olympic model was “the Cadillac” of racing skates the 40’s and beyond. My first Planert’s cost $150.00 in 1950 then and I still have them but have not used them for a long time. That is equal to $1,600.00 today.
    My grandfather took me to the Planeert factory on N. Damen Ave. an I met Bob Planert where we had a longtime friendship. Everyone used Planert’s. High quality kangaroo leather steel construction. After Bauer bought Planert Bob had to squeeze in speed skates manufacture because hockey skates were Bauer’s specialty and income producer.

  7. Thank you for this interesting article! I am a Planert and I am sure we are related somehow to the founder. It is neat to learn about family history!

  8. My brother’s & I were all speed skaters and wore Planert speed skates. Gary Jonland (2nd oldest brother) was in the 72 Olympics. My grandfather (John Burke) was a coach for the CYO skate club & my uncle (Chuck Burke) was in the 52 & 56 Olympics. Chuck coached the Northbrook speed skating club for many years and is still involved in the sport at the age of 90. All were big proponents of Planert skates and knew the family well.
    Gary still has a pair of Planert’s and skates on a frozen lake in Port Townsend, Wa.
    Great Chicago company & history!

  9. I am sitting in front of this computer with my Planert speed skates that are in near perfect condition being the second pair I bought as an adult and never used. Got too old? This article brought back memories of the popularity of speed skating in the town I grew up in, Northbrook, Illinois. I had the pleasure of going to school with the speed skating Olympians Leah Poulos and Diane Holum. It was here that Ed Rudolph skater and cyclist helped put Northbrook on the map as a speed skating and cycling center. The velodrome in town is named for him and it was turned into an ice rink in the winter. I was out skating the night the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and we watched it from the warming house. Fun times!

  10. Hello. My oldest sister just gave me a pair of men’s skates. Which her late husband used as a teen. Planert’s speed skating skates. They look great in their condition. Black in color. No show laces. I would like to know their worth. I don’t need money, just i want to know their worth. I also would like to know, if Fred Planert’s grand daughter would like to have this skates. If not, i will donate them to chicago museum.

    1. I am Ed Planerts grandson ,was speed skater in the late 50s and early 60s in the Chicago land area. My Xmas present every year was a new pair of speed skates. Both of my younger brothers played hockey on Planert skates. I still have blade trophys from the Chicago Tribune Silver skates. What a great family to a part of.

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