75 Experiences That Mattered

Derse | June 27, 2023

We pride ourselves in telling our clients’ stories as engagingly as possible. As we celebrate our 75th year, that’s something we’ve been holding dear – our stories. As we’ve shared our stories and recalled memories from decades prior, we consolidated them into a timeline.


The Derse story began in a garage, and today our work spans the globe. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce about 75 experiences that mattered.

  1. 1948: The Jim Derse Sign Company opens in his mom’s two-car garage on 1751 N 49th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  2. 1950: Derse moves from the two-car garage, to a small office with garage space on N 16th Street to accommodate for the growing size and scale of projects

  3. 1952: The Jim Derse Sign Company moves into outdoor advertising

  4. 1953: Derse starts the exhibit division with the building of an exhibit for Wisconsin Gas

  5. 1953: The company expands to a new 10,000 sq. ft. building constructed on 27th and St. Paul

  6. 1955: The company begins to sell rotating signs in Milwaukee, quickly selling 62 rotating signs in the area

  7. 1956: Derse paints the prominent Miller wall for the first time in the Miller Valley of Milwaukee

  8. 1960: Cutler Hammer (now part of Eaton Corporation), our longest tenured client, becomes a Derse client

  9. 1963: The company expands their office space with the purchase of the two-story building next to the 27th and St. Paul location

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  2. 1966: First Derse Old Timers (DOTs) celebration for Derse employees of more than 10 years

  3. 1966: Opening of the Derse Old Timers credit union, which was available to DOTs and their families

  4. 1966: Derse paints the biggest billboard in the city of Milwaukee (8,400 sq. ft.), The Bread Board, for Mrs. Karl’s Bakery which used over 60 gallons of paint

  5. 1966: Derse creates a new product, ADA/PAC, a cost-effective, light-weight 4’ x 8’ exhibit that can be set up by one staff member

  6. 1967: Derse completes the Citgo sign in Milwaukee (one of the three Citgo signs in the United States)

  7. 1967: McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America at the time, burned down overnight

16. 1968: Derse’s first $1 million sales year

  1. 1971: Derse forms the Display Originators Division which used the silk screen process to develop displays for point of purchase advertising

  2. 1973: Derse designs and manufactures our first ten-foot self-packing exhibit product

  3. 1973: To extend services into southeastern Wisconsin, Derse acquires Graves Sign & Display in Racine, Wisconsin

  4. 1973: Derse builds the Milwaukee Brewers’ beer barrel, chalet, and 24-foot stein for their mascot, Bernie Brewer, at County Stadium

  5. 1977: Milwaukee operations consolidate into a 70,000 sq. ft. building at 62nd and State Street

  6. 1978: Derse sells a $15,000 exhibit to General Kinematics in Barrington, Illinois. The exhibit had a circular conveyor belt with a double-deck over it

  7. 1980: Derse acquires the ASI Sign Systems franchise for the state of Wisconsin. We created architectural signage for hospitals and business wayfinding.

  8. 1981: Derse completes our first-ever international project, a visitor center, in Saudi Arabia

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  1. 1982: Derse builds and installs a retail environment for Discover Milwaukee

  2. 1983: To meet the needs of a growing client base, Derse opens a full-service facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan

  3. 1983: Jim Derse receives the 1983 Silver Medal of the Milwaukee Advertising Club

  4. 1983: Derse begins to design and build floats for the annual City of Festivals parade in Milwaukee

  5. 1984: Employees at Derse begin using mobile bag phones to be more available to clients while on the road

  6. 1986: Milwaukee experiences heavy rainfall, which resulted in flooding in the Derse Milwaukee building

  7. 1986: Derse opens the Wisconsin Highway Business Signs (WHBS) division as an outgrowth of Derse’s exterior signage capabilities. These are the blue highways signs at off ramps for food, lodging, gas, and attractions.

  8. 1989: The Derse Company is sold to a group of senior officers and managers – Bill Haney, Dan Vander Sanden, and Bill McNamara

33. 1989: With the transition of new ownership, the company name changes to Derse, Inc.

  1. 1990: Derse’s first million dollar exhibit debuts for Rockwell Goss at a printing show

  2. 1990: Derse begins to give salespeople Chevy Celebrities to drive clients around

  3. 1992: Derse completes a $1 million new build for Miller with a double-deck and a 28-foot tower

  4. 1994: A full-service division is established in Las Vegas, Nevada to serve clients based on the West Coast

  5. 1995: Derse completes its first marketing environment for Golden Books in New York

  6. 1996: To capitalize on market conditions, Derse establishes a full-service division in Dallas, Texas

  7. 1997: To expand services in a major trade show city, Derse opens a full-service division in Atlanta, Georgia

  8. 1997: An international department is established to support clients exhibiting overseas

  9. 1998: To meet growing customer needs, Derse moves its full-service Racine operations to the Chicago suburb of Waukegan

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  1. 1998: Corporate departments move into a newly renovated building located on the 62nd Street property

  2. 1998: Derse event planning business segment begins

  3. 1998: For the first time, Derse exhibits at ExhibitorLIVE

  4. 1998: Derse plans and executes the grand opening of the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee

  5. 1999: Derse acquires assets from Design South (an Atlanta-based exhibit company) and Cosmos (a system rental operation). As a result, Derse establishes the SRS division which offers rental properties.

  6. 2002: Derse’s first exhibit that includes experiential marketing (a bus ride experience for a drug treating schizophrenia)

  7. 2002: A full-service division opens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet the needs of clients based in the northeast U.S.

  8. 2002: For the first time, Derse exhibits at the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA)

  9. 2004: To streamline operations, the Grand Rapids facility is reorganized by merging with Milwaukee and Waukegan

52. 2004: In-house Experiential Marketing and Measurement & Research teams are established

  1. 2006: Derse designs and executes a 60’ x 70’, two-story exhibit for Coca-Cola

  2. 2007: Derse opens a sales, design, and warehousing facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota

  3. 2008: Derse consolidates its Milwaukee division and Corporate headquarters in a newly built facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley (moved in in 2009, Silver Level LEED-certified)

  4. 2008: Derse’s first time supporting a client at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

  5. 2008: Our current president, Eric Preston, begins a career at Derse

  6. 2009: Derse’s first project with LED tiles

  7. 2009: Derse wins a Sizzle award for our exhibit design at ExhibitorLIVE. The exhibit, Pause, was inspired by the Spanish steps in Rome. This exhibit has since been recognized as a winner of the Best of 30 Years in Exhibitor Magazine’s 30th Annual Exhibit Design Awards.

  8. 2011: For the first time, Derse attends the Association of Briefing Program Managers (ABPM) conference

  9. 2011: Derse donates the land of the 420 million year old Schoonmaker Reef to the city of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin for preservation

  10. 2013: Our current CEO, Brett Haney, begins a career at Derse

  11. 2013: The Las Vegas division moves to a larger location to accommodate for our growing list of clients

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  1. 2015: Derse’s Marketing Environments business segment officially launches

  2. 2017: Bill Haney, Chairman and former CEO, wins EDPA’s prestigious Hazel Hayes Award

  3. 2019: Derse Marketing Environments completes Carrier’s award-winning Center for Intelligent Buildings in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

  4. 2019: Brett Haney becomes Derse’s chief executive officer

  5. 2020: Eric Preston becomes Derse’s president

  6. 2020: As COVID-19 swept the nation, Derse builds temporary hospital rooms within the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park and at the Great Lakes Naval Center

  7. 2021: Derse acquires Nichols Exhibits in Northbrook, Illinois and begins operations from the Northbrook office

  8. 2022: Derse acquires assets from Exhibitpro, an exhibit company out of Ohio

  9. 2022: Derse surpasses pre-pandemic staffing levels and reaches an all-time high sales year

  10. 2022: More than thirty years after first executing GE Medical’s exhibit at RSNA, Derse executes the GE HealthCare exhibit at RSNA 2022

  11. 2023: Derse executes the John Deere & Wirtgen exhibit at CONEXPO, our largest ever exhibit at CONEXPO

  12. 2023: Derse celebrates 75 years of experiences that matter

The past 75 years have all been possible because of our clients, partners, and employees.

We can’t wait to see where the next 75 years take us.

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