Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is an educational institution dedicated to providing the public with enriching cultural experiences in art, history and science. The Museum’s eight-acre campus offers a modern 42,000 square foot facility containing a collection of over 47,000 artifacts. The Museum houses a full dome planetarium and a two-story Foucault pendulum. Besser Museum also offers the unique opportunity to dig and keep all the Devonian period fossils you find in our outdoor Lafarge Fossil Park exhibit.
Besser Museum art exhibits rotate through an extensive collection of fine art with works from local, regional, national, and world renowned artists such as Dali, Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Warhol, Rivera, Chihuly, Clewell and more!
If history is more your liking, the following exhibits may be of interest:
The Museum’s 1890’s Avenue of Shops
The Historic Village with five original structures, each over 100 years old
Jesse Besser and the Besser Company exhibit
The 1911 Alpena Flyer vehicle and the Alpena Motor Car Company exhibit
Peoples of Lakes and Forests exhibit with prehistoric and Native American artifacts
Exhibits in the Natural Wildlife Gallery, located in the museum’s lower level, features native and non-native Michigan Great Lakes fish, a variety of flora and fauna of Northeast Michigan, and mounted species from around the world.
Jesse Besser was born near Buffalo, NY in 1882. Before his 2nd birthday, his parents moved the family to Rust Township (Montmorency County). At age 16, Jesse and his family moved to Alpena, and his father invested in a shingle and stave mill in Alpena. Jesse helped his father in the mill while he continued his education at Alpena High School.
Due to the decline in the lumber industry and in business for the shingle mill, Herman Besser (Jesse's father) and other area lumbermen started the Alpena Portland Cement Company. In 1902, Jesse's father purchased a crude concrete block-making machine and, in 1904 obtained an old foundry. He then pursued the manufacturing of machinery that produced concrete block.
Jesse initially worked with the company as a bookkeeper; however, he was quickly transferred to the engineering department when he redesigned the hand-operated block machine. At age 22, the genius of Jesse was released. He began making improvements to every machine. Jesse developed many of the ingenious and practical features the won world leadership for Besser equipment.
In August of 1906, Jesse married Anna Miller Mulvena. Anna assisted at the company every day and complemented Jesse's engineering interests.
At age 43, upon his father's retirement, Jesse became president of the Besser Manufacturing Company. By 1937, Besser machinery had entered the international market. Jesse's nephew, Philip Park, recognized the potential for concrete masonry overseas and took a machine to Venezuela to produce block for a housing project. During WWII, Besser Manufacturing converted to wartime production of winches and breech-blocks for the Navy. The company received the prestigious "E" for Excellence, an Army-Navy Production Award for uninterrupted quality production.
The first block-producing machine had the capacity of making 200 block during a 10 hour day. By 1954, machines could produce 10,000 block in the same period of time. Adhering to the goal of quality brought Mr. Besser much fame and fortune. Jesse and Anna looked for ways to share their fortune. In 1944 they became dedicated philanthropists and organized the Besser Foundation to provide financial assistance to qualified non-profit organizations.
In 1965, at age 83, Jesse stepped down as president of Besser Company, and because he and Anna had no children, Jesse's nephew, Philip Park, assumed the leadership position of the company.
In 1964, as a gift from Jesse and other contributors, Alpena citizens became the recipients of the Jesse Besser Museum. In return local citizens collected funds to help purchase highly specialized projection and control equipment for a planetarium in the center of the new Museum. To this day, the Besser Museum is the only museum to host a Planetarium in Northern Michigan. Along with the Museum, Jesse helped bring to life the First Presbyterian Church and the First Congregational Church.
Alpena was home for Jesse until his death on May 3, 1970, shortly before his 88th birthday. Anna passed away a few years earlier in 1958.
The impact of Jesse's dedication of wealth and service to the improvement of our community, and other around the world, cannot be measured in our time, but will benefit generation upon generation to come.
The Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is an educational 501(c)(3) public charitable organization accredited by the American Association of Museums. Its mission is to serve the public of all ages and abilities in art, history, and science. Through programs and exhibits, it promotes understanding and appreciation of the past, present, and future.
For more information about how concrete changed the country, read The Concrete Century by Besser Company