In a constantly changing world, being reliable is essential.

We help our customers create more reliable systems that reduce costs, protect valuable assets, maximize the life of equipment, and keep the world connected and running efficiently.

A history of manufacturing solutions.

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  • 1950s – POLYWATER’S ENTREPRENEURIAL FOUNT

    Founder Nelson Jonnes joined the United States Navy in 1944 to help secure a better world. He later attended Antioch College, where he met Bev, his wife of 60 years. Their alma mater instilled a guiding life value: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Nels and Bev were among many who believed in an “army” of young Americans who would act as global emissaries of goodwill. They put their values into practice, teaching English and science in Ethiopia for three years before returning to raise a family and ultimately start American Polywater, an employee-owned company.

  • 1960s – A DEEP DIVE INTO POLYWATER LORE

    Founder Nelson Jonnes was a product development chemist in the 1960s, with 15 patents to his name. One project was an improved cold-water diving suit for the Navy. Prototype testing led Nels to become a NAUI-certified scuba diver and instructor, diving at exotic locations the world over. It also led to his formulation of a unique lubricant to ease the task of getting in and out of sticky rubber wetsuits—a precursor to the first Polywater cable lube. It was during these attempts to improve an already existing invention—the wetsuit—that Nels adopted the development philosophy still guiding Polywater today: good isn’t enough; a product must be superior.

  • THE EARLY MACHINATIONS OF SUCCESS

    Through scuba diving, founder Nelson Jonnes met Charley Ames, a machinist and avid diver. A life-long friendship began, as both men shared a common interest in product ideas. Nels had the chemical expertise and Charley had the mechanical know-how. This synergistic kinship led to a critically important collaboration in the development of Polywater, as Charley helped design, build, and maintain virtually all of the early production equipment. The unique lubricants required specialty equipment not available off the shelf. Nearly everything in the early years was designed and hand-built on site at affordable prices. Charley’s involvement predates the company’s 1973 founding and spans more than 50 years.

  • THE 1973 COMPANY FOUNDING

    As Nels Jonnes’ contacts in the scuba community grew, the popularity of his slippery wetsuit lube also grew. He had a burning desire to start his own business, and the lubricant was the logical candidate for his company’s first product. In January 1973, he launched his fledgling entrepreneurial endeavor in the unfinished basement of the family home in Stillwater, Minnesota, calling it The Jonnes Company. He sold one product: 8-ounce bottles of a water-based diving suit lubricant named Slippery Stuff; retail price $2.00. The market potential was small, so the hunt was soon on for other, more lucrative uses of the unique lubricant.

  • 1973 to 1974: WHO NEEDS A LUBRICANT THAT FLOWS UPHILL?

    In late 1973, a new market for the exotic polymer/water-based lubricant was found: pulling cable into conduit in the telecommunications industry, which at the time used primarily bentonite clay—essentially mud—an inexpensive, ineffective method of reducing friction. The revolutionary polymer-based lubricant, now renamed Polywater® A, represented a technological leap forward, forever changing cable pulling lubrication. The stringy nature of Polywater® A allowed the lube to pull itself farther into the duct where needed most. This industrial use of the lubricant paved the way for future success. In November 1974, the company was incorporated, and the name was changed to American Polywater.

  • ORIGINS OF THE POLYWATER NAME

    Company founder Nels Jonnes chose the name Polywater as a clever nod to a new form of polymerized water that a Russian scientist, named Deryagin, had supposedly discovered in a 1962 lab experiment. This “anomalous” water, dubbed “polywater,” purportedly had extraordinary qualities with potentially profound implications for science and industrialized society. Ultimately, the lab results proved erroneous, and non-existent polywater became a cautionary tale taught in science classes on the need to clean equipment, retest, and proceed carefully before publishing wild claims. An entire book was written on the subject, titled “Polywater.” We hold a copy of the book and Nels’ correspondence with the author in the Polywater museum.

  • 1975 to 1976: “SLIPPERY AS A BASKET FULL OF EELS”

    Polywater survived the deep 1973-1975 recession and flourished due to the early revelation that there’s no such thing as “one lube to rule them all.” Multiple lubricants with differing characteristics are needed to handle the varied nature of cable pulling situations. Winter-grade Polywater® C was formulated to address the freezing of lubricants in northern climes. A patented gel version, Polywater® G, was invented for vertical pulls, because liquids tend to backflow. The commitment to innovation and to develop the best lube for any specific condition has differentiated Polywater from one-lube competitors for decades. Today, over two dozen Polywater lube variations exist to optimize all types of cable installation.

  • 1977 to 1978: UPGRADING TEHRAN’S TELEPHONE SYSTEM

    In 1977, lube sales increased significantly when Iran—a U.S. ally until the Shah was deposed in 1979—placed an order to upgrade the Tehran telephone system. The huge order forced a rapid increase in production and inventory, literally filling the entire Jonnes house. With neighborhood rumors about the nature of the home-based business, the police eventually appeared, citing complaints about truck traffic and zoning law violations in the residential cul-de-sac. Their edict: vacate now or cease operation. The sympathetic police helped identify a suitable new location in Stillwater’s downtown, on Main Street. Within days, employees moved vanloads of supplies and equipment and quickly set up production to ensure product availability.

  • 1978 to 1980: AUTOMATION INCREASES HAND MIXING

    From day one, Polywater lubricants have been handmade by lubricant artisans. Originally, liquid lube was hand stirred with a canoe paddle in 50-gallon batches atop an old kitchen table. By mid-1978, increased volume forced the operation into a larger facility in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. It also justified the company’s first automation: a 100-gallon mixer named the “Mark I.” By 1980, growth forced design of the 200-gallon “Mark II” mixer. Today, highly skilled Polywater “batchmasters” produce many thousands of gallons daily and are as obsessively committed to quality as any craft beer brew master.

  • 1981 to 1982: MOVING ON UP

    With booming sales and the need for more space, the company moved its offices from Nels’ basement into an available building in nearby Lake Elmo. The entire operation was finally together again at one site. A factor in the company’s continuing success was the 1981 hiring of MIT graduate John Fee as president. John provided the technical expertise necessary for expansion of the product line and brought critically important marketing experience. Under his leadership, the company experienced rapid, sustained growth. John was president for 33 years and currently serves as chairman of the board after passing the baton to Erik Freyser in 2014.

  • 1982 to 1983: THE EXPANDING UNIVERSE OF LUBES

    Polywater began developing unique test methodologies, such as the “Friction Table,” for measuring cable pulling friction and determining methods for reducing friction with optimal lubrication. This mastery of the science behind friction coefficients allowed formulation of a patented, specification-grade lubricant with documented performance advantages: Polywater® J, the industry benchmark for decades. This paradigm-shifting product and its later spin-offs launched the next wave of growth for the company. The growth required additional production capacity, and the 250-gallon “Mark III” mixer was born. So, too, came the need for yet more space. The search was on again for a new home.

  • 1983 to 1984: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

    By 1983, Polywater desperately needed its own space: a single location to accommodate all departments with room for growth. Plans were drawn for a new factory, but financing this dream was a challenge. A visionary local banker saw Polywater’s potential. With financial backing secured, a lot was purchased in Grant Township near Stillwater, Minnesota, and the construction of a 12,000 square foot facility. It was first occupied in July 1983. The timing was perfect. In 1984, the burgeoning long-distance fiber optic construction market was hampered by inadequate lubrication. Polywater® F was developed as a solution. It became the industry standard almost overnight.

  • 1984 to 1985: TO PULL OR NOT TO PULL

    With exponential sales growth, the new 500-gallon “Mark IV” mixer was soon joined by the 500-gallon “Mark V” mixer. A factor in the company’s continuing success was an innovative new product: the Pull-Planner™ Software. No longer was it necessary to attempt a difficult cable pull to discover its feasibility. The proprietary software allowed engineers to easily model pulls in advance to test against tension limits and prevent costly damage and delays. Entire cable systems could now be optimally designed with the longest possible cable runs and the least number of access points and splices. It placed Polywater’s extensive cable lubrication science in the hands of its users.

  • 1986 to 1987: THE ADVENT OF CLINGABILITY & CABLE CLEANING

    In 1986, Polywater introduced Dyna-Blue® lubricant with “cling ability” for hand application. It was the perfect marriage of performance and economy, and it took the commercial and industrial (C&I) market by storm, easily replacing archaic wax-based lubes. It was followed by the introduction of a line of high-performance cable cleaners: SpliceMaster® in the electrical markets, and HydraSol® in the communications industry. Increased safety and ecological concerns about solvents created an opportunity for Polywater’s science-based product solutions. Polywater formulated and tested new blends to specific performance and environmental parameters. The new line of high-tech cleaners proved that Polywater was no longer “just a lube manufacturer.”

  • 1988: THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD

    As it happens when small companies grow and evolve, plans are made by the founder to step back. In the late 1980s, Nels retired and became a consultant. His contributions as a consultant were instrumental in the commercialization of numerous state-of-the-art products that are still meeting customer needs today, including sealants such as AirRepair® in the communications industry and PowerPatch® in the electrical markets.

  • 1990s: PRODUCT LINE EXPANSION

    The 1990s saw rapid expansion of the Polywater product line. Solvent blends were added for numerous cleaning applications beyond cable splicing needs, such as live-line equipment maintenance and a complete selection of aerosols for the maintenance, repair, and operations market. During this decade, through research and significant in-house testing, Polywater produced a body of scientific work that made it a leading authority on duct sealing technologies. A consequential example was Polywater FST™ duct sealant, created to meet NEC code requirements for sealed ducts. The growing variety of products made Polywater an important resource for solving almost any construction challenge.

  • 2001: YOU’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT

    By 2001, with the continued growth of the company, the Polywater operation was forced to split. The factory and warehouse operation stayed put, while the offices moved to a new leased location two miles away.

  • 2005: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

    By 2005, high-tech Polywater lubricants, cleaners, and sealants were available in over 100 countries worldwide. To better serve the needs of the global customer base, a European subsidiary, Polywater Europe B.V. (PEBV), was formed. This cemented the company’s commitment to global markets and allowed for faster product delivery times and better access to technical assistance for customers. Current corporate president Erik Freyser was general manager of PEBV for seven years. Today, Dutch native Klaas Littooij leads PEBV. Headquartered near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, PEBV serves a broad customer base throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

  • 2008 to 2009: EAST MEETS WEST

    During the Great Recession, Polywater chose to invest heavily in two projects essential to its future viability. One was the purchase and complete renovation of the property adjacent to the Stillwater factory. This unified the company’s entire operation on one campus. Offices moved to the new site, now known as Polywater West. Simultaneously, the company reorganized to better focus on customer service and product development. Polywater’s specific and specialized knowledge was now more quickly and easily accessible to electrical, communications, and international customers.

  • 2011: THE END OF AN ERA

    In 2008, Nels Jonnes finally ended his 35-year association with the company he founded to enjoy a much-deserved retirement. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 85 after a long battle with leukemia. He once received a gift of personalized pens that read “Nelson Jonnes: entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, orator, chairman, traveler, and teacher.”  He was all that and more. His life experience reads like that of a fictional superhero: from explorer to historian, from humanitarian to philosopher, from scuba diver to inventor, to name just a few. The industry continues to benefit from his scientific contributions, his most treasured achievements.

  • 2013: LUBES AND CLEANERS AND SEALANTS, OH MY!

    Polywater’s 40th anniversary celebrated a transformation from being a manufacturer of cable pulling lubricants to one of a broad array of infrastructure and construction chemicals, including cleaners and sealants. Hundreds of other high-performance formulas now populate the product line. These products help companies in the electrical and communications industries find better ways to overcome specific, field-based infrastructure challenges. Product areas include duct sealants, fiber cleaners, transformer maintenance products, cable cleaners, epoxy mortars, pad and pedestal sealants, hand and tool wipes, utility pole repair foams, live-line equipment cleaners and treatments, conduit adhesives, solar panel wash, cable removal aids and, of course, cable blowing lubes.

  • 2014 to PRESENT: YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY

    In 2014, long-serving president John Fee passed the role of Polywater CEO to Erik Freyser, who had been general manager of Polywater Europe B.V. Erik offers a cosmopolitan perspective and reflects a commitment to serving customers in diverse markets. Most of Polywater’s products are still manufactured near its origins in Stillwater, Minnesota. As one employee puts it, “Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes … and one Polywater well.” To date, virtually all of the company’s success has been organic, derived from product formulations invented internally in the lab, an indication of its innovative spirit and a point of pride for the employee owners whose dedication and hard work have been critical to the company’s success.

(Y)our team of partners

We are a resourceful, insightful, and collaborative company, dedicated to working closely with our customers and supporting them in pragmatic and ingenious ways.

  • Erik Freyser

    Erik Freyser

    president

  • Joe Skwira

    Joe Skwira

    chief financial officer

  • Tom Fredericks

    Tom Fredericks

    general manager, North America, global business development director, Electrical Division

  • Sheri Dahlke

    Sheri Dahlke

    technical director

  • Charles Cole

    Charles Cole

    vice president of International Division

  • Jake Jonnes

    Jake Jonnes

    vice president of U.S. Communications Division

  • Klaas Littooij

    Klaas Littooij

    general manager PEBV

  • Tracey Rose

    Tracey Rose

    accounting manager

  • Robin Francis

    Robin Francis

    director of content marketing

  • Mike Fee

    Mike Fee

    operations manager

  • Tom McNearney

    Tom McNearney

    purchasing manager

Erik Freyser

Erik Freyser

president

Joe Skwira

Joe Skwira

chief financial officer

Tom Fredericks

Tom Fredericks

general manager, North America, global business development director, Electrical Division

Sheri Dahlke

Sheri Dahlke

technical director

Charles Cole

Charles Cole

vice president of International Division

Jake Jonnes

Jake Jonnes

vice president of U.S. Communications Division

Klaas Littooij

Klaas Littooij

general manager PEBV

Tracey Rose

Tracey Rose

accounting manager

Robin Francis

Robin Francis

director of content marketing

Mike Fee

Mike Fee

operations manager

Tom McNearney

Tom McNearney

purchasing manager

A group brainstorms in front of a whiteboard

Our success comes in the form of our customers’ success.

As an employee-owned business, we are wholeheartedly invested in making sure customers have what they need to get the job done right. We dig deeper, collaborate and go beyond what a specialty-chemical manufacturer can do. Whether putting together an emergency order for a utility company over the weekend or addressing an engineer’s questions about our Pull-Planner software during their lunch hour, our team member’s entrepreneurial spirit allows them to meet customer needs and surpass their expectations.

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Polywater employees are peerless when it comes to problem solving. Collaborative in our approach, we relentlessly
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