Freedman Seating’s roots date back to the Columbian Exposition. But their big break was the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act.
The forest of steel rods and blowtorch sparks make it hard to tell at first what’s being built at Freedman Seating’s 400,000 square-foot headquarters in West Humboldt Park, but the rainbow-burst patterns on the racks of fabric swatches are unmistakable.
“Every authority wants their own mark,” CEO Craig Freedman says as he walks the factory floor. “The CTA and Pace have their own styles, and some hire outside designers. With computerized looms, you can pretty much get anything you want these days.”
A lot’s changed since the old days, Freedman says.
He peers through the window of a space capsule-looking tube, where a robotic arm is zapping lasers into a rotating steel plate. For an operation pumping out dozens of unique models every day, assembly line workers drilling holes no longer do the trick, says.
If you’ve ever nabbed an open seat on a public bus in this country, the odds are decent that the hardware you sat on began its life in this single frenzied warehouse. Freedman Seating has contracts with about 80 percent of transit agencies in the United States, customizing seats for buses, subway trains, airport trams and paratransit vans from coast to coast.