Family-Run Squeegee Company Thrives

O A K L A N D, Calif., June 27, 2004 -- Ever notice how some windows sparkle? One of the secrets to that shine: Use a squeegee.

The modern squeegee was invented in Oakland, and to this day, squeegees are made at a family-owned factory near Oakland International Airport. Three out of four professional window washers will tell you they use an Ettore.

An Ettore is the squeegee invented by Ettore Steccone, an Italian immigrant and window washer,back in 1936.

"The only squeegee on the market was called the old Chicago squeegee," said Pat Murphy, president of Ettore products."It was too heavy for him, so he basically invented the first single-blade squeegee in his garage with his wife that is half as heavy."

Window washing has never been the same since.

Ettore's 80 employees in Oakland turn out 150,000 squeegees a month.

Secret's in the Rubber

The secret is the rubber, which comes from Fresno in the Central Valley. Each strip has to be hand cut and hand inspected for imperfections.

Joellen Hicks has been doing this for 27 years. Her thumb decides if the rubber is good enough.

"It can be a very little something, and then sometimes when we're really not sure, we'll have a moment and take a look under the microscope," said Hicks.

Ettore's patent has long expired, but the company has only one competitor, and it's in Germany.

A squeegee in a pro's hands can be an art form, and changing the blade once or twice a week produces the best results.

Ettore has recently expanded its product line to appeal to kids by marketing Cleaning Critters, a line of brightly colored rubber duck, dolphin and fish shower squeegees.

After all these years, Ettore is still very much a family business. Nicole Smahlik, the founder's granddaughter, is the company's marketing manager.

"I don't think my Italian immigrant grandfather thought he'd be making duck squeegees, but I think it would bring a smile to his face," she said.

David Louie is a reporter for ABC News affiliate KGO in San Francisco.