Made in Michigan: Port Austin Level & Tool marks 75 years as an industry leader

PORT AUSTIN (WJRT) (6/25/2019) - They've been making tools in Michigan for nearly a century.

Port Austin Level & Tool has been in business in the small Huron County community for nearly 75 years.

Port Austin Level and Tool is known as one of the industry leaders when it comes to making levels.

Located in a town of barely 1,000 people, Port Austin Level & Tool sends products around the world. But the company was started long before the internet had them shipping their creations across the globe.

"Back during the second World war, there was a company called Maise Brothers levels right across the street," said former company president John Upthegrove. "My grandfather and Frank Kitch worked there in the winter time."

In 1947, the men decided to open their own level and tool business -- calling it Port Austin Level and Tool. Fast forward nearly 75 years and the company is still creating products in Mid-Michigan.

"We make cast aluminum levels and we have a foundry and we pour our own metal and machine them ourselves," said Upthegrove.

The company is known for creating not just useful tools, but a tool that stands out compared to others. Many are made with wood, something not all companies can do.

"We have gone from mahogany to hardwood from various different countries," said Upthegrove. "It's just about finding a wood that will stay stable and stay straight, that's the tricky part of levels."

Upthegrove says while the math behind the levels hasn't changed. They continue to create new ways to make their tools better.

"Over the years its been refined and were still finding ways of making it better," said Upthegrove.

Port Austin Level & Tool has created certain methods other companies have offered to pay to learn, but Upthegrove said they plan to keep their ideas all in the family.

"A lot of manufacturers have trouble with what we call leakers. The fluid leaks out and the bubble gets bigger, then its not usable," said Upthegrove. "We've developed a methods to seal these vials and we have next to nothing when it comes to leakers."

Their products can be found in tool boxes across the nation, but they have also created levels for organizations like departments of transportation and the Olympics.

"This was the finish product of a level requested by the Olympic Committee. This is an archery level. It was used by the safety people," said Upthegrove. "They would take this and stand next to an archer that was about to shoot and they would hold this up. The archer would check the arrow on the bow and he said if you raise above this line you cant shoot. We made several, and even took a trip to California to figure out exactly what we wanted and this is what the end product was."

While he says where the company will be in 20 years is of course unknown, he knows the family will always stay true to their roots and keep their products American and Michigan made.

"Just about everybody that works here at one point or another has been in the service. So it's important to us to support America," said Upthegrove. "Over the years we have established a certain reputation and our reputation is good. People like our levels so we plan to maintain that."

The company also takes custom orders. Anyone interested can order a product and learn more about Port Austin Level & Tool on their website.