The AriensCo Museum has been completely revitalized and redesigned into a world-class destination for lovers of history, engineering and design. Having been a fixture at the company’s headquarters in Brillion, Wisconsin, for nearly two decades, the museum has been greatly expanded and upgraded over the last few years. It now has an additional 3,500 ft2 of museum space and several new exhibits. The headline-grabbing museum has been described as “a hidden gem in Calumet County” and “interesting even for the non-gear heads among us!”
The AriensCo Museum explores the 120-year history of the company through 12 galleries of painstakingly preserved memorabilia, artifacts and machinery. These relics share space with modern features, such as digital screens, movie-like “sets” to explore, historical film screenings and much more.
It’s fun to watch visitors’ reactions in the museum. Everyone finds something different that resonates with them personally,” said Ann Stilp, executive program manager at AriensCo. “They don’t expect this level of quality from a company museum in a small town.”
As manager of the project and a creator of much of the new exhibit content, Stilp explained that the museum was updated to be interactive and experiential.
“This is one museum where we encourage kids — and their parents — to sit on equipment, turn gears and interact with displays,” she said.
The galleries and exhibits center around a main theme, “The History of the American Landscape.” This enables the museum to tell a cohesive story using the micro-history of AriensCo to provide a window into historical events and trends.
“We knew we had equipment ‘super fans’ who would visit, but we redesigned the museum to appeal to everyone who comes, whether or not they are interested in power equipment,” Stilp explained. “We thought of the visitor who might be dragged to the museum by a family member who loves power equipment but might not share the same interests. We made sure to design the space so everyone has a memorable experience.”
The AriensCo Museum was originally organized by a group of retired employees in 2003 as a project to preserve the company’s history. The volunteers began storing equipment and archiving seminal events in downtown Brillion, where the company had its first manufacturing plant. They organized the equipment into a collection and began to operate the space as a museum. At that time, it was only open to visitors by appointment.
Over the next 15 years, the company and the volunteers continued to develop the museum. In 2018, an internal team of AriensCo employees, with input from the volunteers, initiated a complete remodel of the museum that focused on making it immersive, interactive and appealing to a wider audience. They also added another mission — to create a series of STEM exhibits to help generate interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
“We added nine STEM education stations that cover the mechanical principles of machine design,” Stilp explained. “Visitors are able to turn gears, see how drives work, connect belts and pulleys and learn how our engineers use different types of gear sets to design power equipment.”
One exhibit takes a closer look at how engineers use various combinations of gears to generate power for machines. Another shows how pulleys transfer power among mechanical components. To show how far technology has come since AriensCo’s early days, an entire Gravely zero-turn mower hangs from the ceiling, with all of its components dismantled and each suspended in midair on its own wire.
The museum also offers STEM-centric tours for school groups that include classroom activities for students. In 2022, the museum will host Summer STEM Camps. These activities help the museum contribute to AriensCo’s commitment to connect with the community and inform and engage with it.
One of the biggest goals in relaunching the AriensCo Museum was to anchor the products in a historical context that reflects the company’s contributions and reactions to the history of the last 100 years. New exhibits show the cultural, technological and economic trends that influenced Ariens and Gravely machine designs, and how those machines, in turn, influenced the trends of a period.
“All AriensCo products throughout history are a response to a particular need, specific to a particular time,” Stilp said. “Whether that was the development of the U.S. farming industry in the first half of the 20th century or the suburban boom that began in the 1960s, AriensCo designed equipment that best met the needs of commercial and residential users of the period.”
Immersive vignettes illustrate these eras. A life-size recreation of an early 1930s garage shows the environment in which Henry Ariens invented the first Ariens tiller. Another life-size scene depicts a 1960s living room, with psychedelic Ariens TV commercials playing on its console TV. A full-size patio and accompanying lawn furniture sit behind the rear of a house, showing where residential users would have put their lawn mowers or snow blowers to good use (life-sized gazebo included). One exhibit showcases Ariens snowmobiles, complete with their Ariens-orange paint schemes and the uniforms drivers wore when racing them.
“Each gallery was designed individually to create an immersive experience,” Stilp said. “Visitors can experience an 1890s foundry, a 1930s farm setting, a World War II factory and a 1960s backyard all under one roof. It was designed so each space draws you through the years and into the next era of AriensCo, and American, history.”
Along with a regular flow of visitors, AriensCo employees and dealers have enthusiastically embraced the museum. They continue to find creative ways to use the space, such as for recruiting events, tours for new employees, product design inspiration, a gathering space for brainstorming sessions and more. In 2021, hundreds of AriensCo dealers toured the museum as part of the AriensCo Dealer Summit.
“It’s a great place to get away from the day-to-day routine. We want it to be a space that inspires fun, learning and creativity,” Stilp said. “From a business standpoint, the museum enables us to immerse current and prospective employees, dealers and suppliers in the AriensCo culture.”
The new museum store completes the experience. In fact, it has become a destination in its own right. Visitors can purchase merchandise that includes shirts, jackets, snow globes, metal signs, water bottles, vintage Ariens and Gravely gear and much more.
Due to growing interest in the museum, the company recently hired its first full-time museum manager, Bree Boettner. She is using her education (Master’s Degree in Museum Studies) and experience with several other museums around the country to take the AriensCo Museum to the next level. She is creating operational procedures, promoting the museum and serving as the volunteer liaison.
“I'm genuinely thrilled to be on the AriensCo team,” she said. “Having worked in museums for more than eight years, we're in the business of humanizing history! The museum team comprises a dynamic group of people from all walks of life who love sharing the history of AriensCo and the unique inventions and innovations that come from the Ariens and Gravely brands.”
The current team of 14 volunteers are all retired employees. They play an integral role in collecting materials, serving as tour guides and maintaining equipment. Their main goal is to make sure all visitors feel like it is their space to use and enjoy.
“If it were not for the volunteers sorting, finding and archiving equipment and other artifacts over the years we would not have the museum that we have today,” Stilp concluded.
AriensCo Museum video tour!
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