July 12. That's the date in 1901 when founder Albert C. Brown set up his modest shop on Chicago's west side to produce OEM faucets, lamp shade frames, gas regulator valves and oil burner tips and nozzles. By 1911, demand for the company's plumbing products had grown to the point where it began marketing them under its own name, and distributing its expanding line through wholesale plumbing supply houses.

In 1913, Chicago Faucets made a major breakthrough in faucet design with Brown's patented Quaturn cartridge. It was a replaceable, completely self-contained operating cartridge with the then-revolutionary ability to turn water flow off from full flow with one-quarter turn of the faucet handle. The Quaturn also introduced the principle of closing with, rather than against, the pressure of water flow, reducing washer wear, virtually eliminating drips and making the life of the faucet body itself almost limitless.

This initiated Chicago Faucets' commitment to standardization and renewability of parts. The Quaturn cartridge has been updated over the years to incorporate new technology and materials, but is still interchangeable with any Quaturn manufactured since 1913.

In 1915, the firm moved to a larger facility. By the 1920s the company had carved out a dominant niche as a supplier of faucets and valves to plumbing specifiers and commercial maintenance engineers in the Midwest.

Hit hard like most firms by the Great Depression, Chicago Faucets realized a reversal in fortune by participating as an exhibitor in Chicago's "Century of Progress" World's Fair. National recognition ensued, and orders picked up once more.

During World War II and through the Korean conflict, the company's manufacturing capability was converted to war-related products, including screws for ammo cases, parachute hooks and specialty nuts and bolts. It was 1953 before operations returned to normal. The postwar building boom led to prosperity and, in 1961, a new, much larger facility in suburban Des Plaines, Ill., within minutes of O'Hare International Airport. Significant expansions have taken place in every decade since.

Today, Chicago Faucets employs around 500 people in operations located in Des Plaines, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Huntsville, Ala. Its Milwaukee-based subsidiary, Starline Mfg. Co., is one of four U.S. producers of permanent mold, yellow-brass castings. Permanent-mold castings allow for finer finishes than traditional sand casting.

Sales volume is "in the $100 million range," according to president Alan Lougee. Lougee, great-grandson of company founder A.C. Brown, is, remarkably, only the fifth person to hold that office in the firm's century of existence.