How a fourth-generation business has survived, thrived for 100 years

Drilling business Peter Snelten & Sons Inc. it was already good and expected to improve due to the housing market explosion. That was the company’s forecast in 1964.

Other than moving from Arlington Heights north to Wauconda in the early 1980s, not much has changed. Still family owned and operated and now in its fourth generation, Snelten is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

“Business is doing well and continuing to improve,” says Todd Snelten. The third-generation family member designed well systems for apartment complexes, shopping centers and other locations for about 40 years before retiring a few months ago.



Company founder Peter Snelten Sr. of Snelten and Sons Inc. drills a well at a job site. The company is celebrating 100 years.
– Photo courtesy of Snelten and Sons, INC.

Records are spotty before 1955. But since then, Snelten has drilled 10,385 wells totaling more than 2 million feet of “hole” and installed 29,510 pumps.

In 1955 Snelten & Sons drilled 101 wells. Although the suburban housing situation has changed significantly in the meantime, Snelten still drills about 75 wells a year. About 90% of the company’s work, including equipment replacement, well rehabilitation, service and other aspects, is domestic in nature.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Attention to detail, quality workmanship, around-the-clock availability and a focus on customer service have been the company’s reputation since the beginning.

“You have to make sure you treat people right, treat them like family,” says Ryan Snelten, 42. “Never sweeten it up. Never lie.”



Ryan Snelten is the fourth generation at Snelten and Sons Inc., in Wauconda.  The company is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Ryan Snelten is the fourth generation at Snelten and Sons Inc., in Wauconda. The company is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
– Brian Hill | Personal photographer

Ryan, a fourth-generation Snelten, began managing day-to-day operations several years ago after the pandemic forced his father and two uncles to retire. He started working full-time in 1999, but his involvement in the family business was never in doubt.

“It was working with Dad,” he said of the childhood memories. “They were digging a well and we were going to play in a house under construction.”

Peter Snelten Sr., Todd’s grandfather, started the business in 1923 in his garage in Glenview. He was one of 25 children who grew up on a tulip farm and immigrated to the United States in 1920 from Rotterdam, Holland.

When their first business failed, they researched as best they could and got down to drilling, according to Todd.

“He was a great entrepreneur,” he said.



A water well drilled by Peter Snelten and Sons Inc., circa 1938 in Glenview.

A water well drilled by Peter Snelten and Sons Inc., circa 1938 in Glenview.
– Photo courtesy of Snelten and Sons, INC.

Peter Sr. ran the growing business for 35 years until his untimely death in 1958, according to a company history. This year, the company made a long-awaited move to bigger and better quarters on Rand Road (Route 12) near Route 53 in Arlington Heights.

“His death prevented him from seeing this move that propelled the business to greater heights,” according to company literature.

In the mid-1960s, the “Four Brothers” — John, Richard, Pete Jr. and Denny — were the core of the business, each a craftsman in his specialty, according to promotional materials.

To keep up with the new housing demand, the company moved near Routes 12 and 59 in Wauconda in the early 1980s. The maintained grounds and well organized workspaces inside are not what you might expect in a busy commercial business.

All aspects of the business, including the management, repair and servicing of pumps and well drilling, have always been run by the family in the house. Todd Snelten said that when he meets with clients, he will mention that he is the third generation and that he has the fourth with him.

“That usually makes us right, he said.



Sharon Lins examines a picture board she made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Snelten and Sons Inc., a well drilling company in Wauconda.

Sharon Lins examines a picture board she made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Snelten and Sons Inc., a well drilling company in Wauconda.
– Brian Hill | Personal photographer

The staff of 16, including three in the office, are family or related in some way. Ryan Snelten said there’s a lot going on in business and the job requires certain behaviors.

“We’re not social media influencers,” he joked.

Long hours and six- or seven-day work weeks are not unusual, family members say. Six teams are on duty: one drilling, four removing various situations and one chlorinating well.

“I get calls at all hours of the night,” Ryan Snelten said. “I’ll be out doing something and I’ll be like, ‘I’ve got to go.’



Members of the Snelten family gather for a portrait at a recent 100th anniversary celebration for Peter Snelten & Sons Inc., in Wauconda.

Members of the Snelten family gather for a portrait at a recent 100th anniversary celebration for Peter Snelten & Sons Inc., in Wauconda.
– Courtesy of Laura Baker Photography

On average, a well can cost between $11,000 and $15,000 depending on its depth, the size of the equipment and the distance of the supply line, according to Ryan Snelten. As with many businesses, prices are rising significantly from pre-pandemic levels.

What do people not understand about water?

“It’s a natural resource and it’s (supply) out of our hands,” he said. “Water moves like the veins in your arm. It’s an educated guess on day one, but we’re breaking into formation.”

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