Reinhardt Sabee was born north of Cloquet, Minnesota, on September 26, 1914, to Norwegian immigrant parents. He had two brothers and a sister, and the family lived in a log cabin built by his father. As a child, Reiney, as he was called, knew what it was like to roam free in the forests and blueberry swamps, to live among wolves, and to catch fish in the lakes. By the time he was nine, the family had moved to Racine, Wisconsin. When he entered school, he could not speak English, and had never seen an automobile nor indoor plumbing.
After graduating from Racine High School in 1932, he entered the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In 1936, before completing his degree, Mr. Sabee was hired by Fairbanks Morse as a design engineer. In 1939, he earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and went to work for Kimberly-Clark Corporation as a machine designer. He left Kimberly-Clark in 1942 and served as design engineer and chief engineer for Micromatic Hone Company, and in 1943 he joined Safeway Industries, both of Detroit, in the same capacity.
For a long time, Mr. Sabee had wanted to be in business for himself, and this long-standing desire became reality in 1945 when he founded The R. Sabee Company in Appleton, Wisconsin. Initially, the company designed and constructed manufacturing machinery, much of it focusing on packaging and paper converting.
Mr. Sabee developed a reputation throughout the paper and related industries as an innovator. He was known not only for what his machines were capable of producing, but also for their ease of operation. They were designed to be operated by workers with a minimum of skill and training, rather than requiring the attention of an engineer.
The firm gained a reputation for solving difficult manufacturing problems. For many years, The R. Sabee Company designed and produced manufacturing machinery for other companies, including some of the largest corporations in the country. Mr. Sabee holds nearly 70 patents and several companies have been licensed under those patents. When numerous pharmaceutical companies or consumer goods suppliers requested disposable products covered by his patents, he designed and built machines to produce these products. In some cases, he produced the fabric or other material to manufacture these newly-developed products.
In the early 1950s, The R. Sabee Company took advantage of its founder’s design ability and began to manufacture products other than machinery — disposable diapers among them. Mr. Sabee’s development of spun-bonded fabrics allowed the company to expand its line of products, including disposable hospital garments, surgical underpads, and drape sheets. The company is also a component supplier for pharmaceutical companies, which assemble the materials into products that make up medical procedure kits. In addition, the company manufactures disposable napkins and towels for the airline industry.
Disposable consumer hospital and nursing home products must be affordable, and the Sabee high-speed machine designs make this possible. The use of disposable products eliminated the high cost of labor and product by doing away with the need for laundry, sterilization, contamination, and unsanitary situations.
Other companies he founded include Circle Machinery and Supply Company; Draper Products Co.; and Tuff Spun Fabrics Co.
Mr. Sabee held memberships in three honorary fraternities, Tau Beta Pi; Pi Tau Sigma; and Phi Eta Sigma.
Mr. Sabee was a strong believer in teaching and sharing knowledge of product and machine design. He passed on his enthusiasm and knowledge to his three children and ten grandchildren, many of whom worked with him. For many years, his wife, Lois, worked by his side, and is familiar with all aspects of the business. She has drawn details of new machines and holds many copyrights.