Philippi-Hagenbuch is named Manufacturer of the Year

Leslie Renken

PEORIA — Among the representatives from Philippi-Hagenbuch in Chicago Friday to pick up an award at the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association luncheon was Bob Lewis, a Pekin resident who has helped the company build custom parts for off-highway trucks for 43 years.

“Bob has done a lot of different jobs in the manufacturing side over the years,” said Josh Swank, vice president of sales and marketing. “Apparently now he’s running one of those torches that cuts metal. We’re lucky to have Bob on our team.”

Lewis has been with the company so long he remembers company founder L.B. Philippi.

“The company was founded in L.B.’s basement, in a house on Millbrook Road in Peoria in 1969,” said Swank. “It was started by L.B. and his son-in-law, LeRoy G. Hagenbuch. L.B. had the idea for the tailgate for an off-highway truck.”

This November, as the company was celebrating their 50th anniversary, they learned they were to be this year’s recipient of the Barry L. MacLean Manufacturer of the Year award.

"Philippi-Hagenbuch represents the very best of American manufacturing, and we are proud to present them with this award," said Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. "During their 50-year history, this amazing family-owned company has been an industry leader in innovation and operational excellence in addition to serving as a strong advocate for manufacturing in Illinois."

The Illinois Manufacturers' Association is a statewide association dedicated to advocating, promoting and strengthening the manufacturing sector in Illinois. As the oldest and largest state manufacturing trade association in the United States, the IMA represents nearly 4,000 companies and facilities. The manufacturing industry in Illinois generates $304.8 billion in output each year — the single largest contribution to Illinois' economy by any industry.

Philippi-Hagenbuch is still family-owned. Company president Danette Swank, Josh Swank's wife, is the granddaughter of L.B. Phillippi.

Today Philippi-Hagenbuch is a global leader in off-highway truck customization. They make innovative tailgates, truck bodies, rear-eject bodies, water tanks and ultra-class trailers. Over the last 50 years the company has pioneered more than one hundred domestic and international patents related to truck bodies, on-board weighing systems and black-box technology.

And it all began with L.B.’s first invention, the Autogate Tailgate.

“L.B. was a salesman for various truck companies over the years, and he knew this product was needed,” said Josh Swank. “He literally invented this product out of two shoe boxes. Then he started talking to his engineer son-in-law.”

The tailgate was for the giant off-road trucks used in industries like mining and steel manufacturing. It was a success, prompting the company to get into the truck body market, then trailers, and eventually water tanks.

The parts Philippi-Hagenbuch make are so large they need to be made regionally, so the company has partners around the globe who manufacture parts sold overseas. When a part is to be used in North America it’s manufactured in Peoria, at a 50-acre campus not far from the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on