Tom Smrt, R.I.P.

The man who made his money by inventing the upside down spray can device died last week in Elgin at age 89.

Tom Smrt. Photo credit Shireland memory website.

Tom Smrt ran Fox Valley Systems in Cary, a hugely successful company that manufactured lane markers for shopping centers and other parking lots. He was not beloved by his employees.

He once showed me that his profit margin was 20%, then compared that figure with the top earners in the Fortune 500.

Not many did better.

Smrt loved Shire horses.

He bred them and developed Shireland to show them off.

When the horses charged each other from opposition sides of a large arena, the ground shook.

A 1991 Chicago Tribune article described the park like this:

“Firebreathing dragons, knights in shining armor, medicine men and wizards combine to make this theme park an enchanted forest in the far Northwest suburbs.”

Shire horses are at least eight feet tall.

At its peak his Marengo farm was birthing a hundred foals a year.

He donated horses to the Caisson Unit of the United States Army and eight to the Queen of England. He flew the horses to England.

But it is his intrusion into the political arena that lands this piece on McHenry County Blog.

In the 1980’s, the McHenry County Board decided that there should be a regional airport under its control.

The Board hired a consultant who came up with eight (I think) potential sites.

One would have had planes flying over his farm.

To say that he took offense would be a great understatement.

He was so disturbed that he founded a monthly publication that was sent to registered voters across McHenry County. I think it was called the McHenry County Chronicle.

Every month the slick paper publication poured criticism on County Board actions.

When the next primary election came, he endorsed candidates.

It was the only time when my father’s allies won all the seats in District 1.

Needless the say, the County Board did not move forward on its airport plans.

And Smrt’s interest in politics diminished.

= = = = =
The lesson of the political part of this obituary is not to enrage people who are willing to spend money like water.


Tom Smrt, R.I.P. — 26 Comments

  1. Cal, Why was Mr. Smrt NOT beloved by his employees as so stated in this article ?

    Why did you omit this info from your article ?

    Mr. Smrt seems to have been quite a character.

    BTW, Condolences to the Smrt Family.

  2. I like this picture to replace Uncle Sam in the “I want you” poster. Those compassionate conservative commenters in favor say aye. Tic, tock, tic, tock…

  3. Abe, probably only because it was a strict environment, as I recall.

  4. The joke was Adolph Smrt.

    Immigration visited allot, Dept of Labor (OSHA) sighted them regularly, and opps the building blow up.

    It was a decent product he invented though, saved time stripping.

  5. A guy who locked his employees inside the building during their shift. Good riddance.

    To the Czech community in Cary and Fox River Grove, he was the worst kind of human trash; a greedy, amoral monster.

    By the way- “Smrt”, in Czech, means death. I hope he finds comfort in it.

    I had direct personal contact with the man in the 1980s.

    I was working as a technician at a photo lab in Schaumburg, and Tom was a regular customer- for a period of time.

    He would bring huge paintings of Shire horses to the lab; the artists had loaned him the paintings on approval terms, for future purchase.

    Tom would have me photograph the paintings with a large format camera; I would produce 1:1 scale photographic prints of the paintings.

    He would keep some copies of the prints, and sell others to acquaintances.

    He’d return the paintings to the artists- “not interested in buying the paintings”.

    After a few of these jobs, I learned that the artists had no idea Tom was producing fascimiles of their paintings; copyright fraud, pure and simple.

    I hope that the effort I put into contacting those artists (a difficult task, before the internet) made his life a little more miserable.

    Actually, I know it did.

  6. Also important to note- he did not invent the spray paint can that would operate in any position.

    He invented a small cart into which one could insert those cans.

    I should point out that the profit margin he bragged about was due to his marketing and sales to school districts around the nation; the full story of why school districts paid grossly inflated prices for products they could buy cheaper elsewhere- it’s a good one.

    Private sector users never wasted their money on Fox Valley products.

  7. I remember reading stories about this guy and his blatant disregard of human resources protocols when he was operating his business.

    I have heard he was one of strangest people around.

  8. The NWH made a ton off the weekly help wanted adds turn over was so high.

    I talked to a female employee about his death, first thing out of her lips was wondering if anybody would attend the funeral.

  9. Did I hear that labor unions are evil? Tic, tock, tic, tock…

  10. John Lovass – you are “fake news.” I have known and been close to Thomas for 35 years. He DID invent the upside down aerosol spray can. He NEVER locked employees in his factories. He NEVER stole works of art. The art prints which he made and sold were of original oil paintings which he commissioned and purchased from the artist.

    And Cal Skinner, you are talking out your ass. Thomas never gave the Queen any Shires, he purchased one of hers. He never flew horses to England, he flew them from England to the United States. Shires are not at least 8 feet tall. A good sized Shire, and Thomas had many, will stand 18.3 hands – that’s 6”3″ to the base of its neck. And Shires never EVER charged each other at Shireland. You’re obviously thinking of Medieval Times.

    You are right in that many of his employees didn’t love him, mainly because they did not share his work ethic. I know many who did love him. I know ones for whom he carried their mortgage. Ones he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to so they might save their marriage after a shopoholic wife nearly cost them their house. He was willing to give people a chance – people with DUIs or felonies – people looking for someone to give them a break.

    So, if your mother never taught you not to speak ill of the dead, I will. Speak not of that which you do not know.

  11. My information came from someone else who knew Tom Smrt well.

    Don’t know which one of you is correct.

  12. Trust me.

    I am.

    If this is an example of the quality of your sources, and your ability to fact check, your entire blog is questionable.

  13. Funny about that.

    Every single time I ever heard anyone utter those words – it turned out to be a really bad deal.

  14. My source was with Tom Smrt pretty much every day, but I am happy to print your viewpoint.

  15. Nobody can question the integrity, professionalism, and courage of this sunshine blog and our paparazzi freeloader sunshine blogger. Tic, tock, tic, tock…

  16. I am looking for anyone that worked in the barns or with the the last 20 horses left on Mr Smrt Farm after Mr Smrt Passed

    I purchased 2 horse from a seller who bought the last 20 of the herd at his estate sale held by his son.

    I am trying to find out who my mare is and when and where her dam and sire left the farm..

    I want to register her because she is proven thru DNA to be a Fox Valley Shire.

    With so many of these horses left I want to carry on the bloodline.

    I am not a breeder or seller I just want my horse to have it’s proper name.

    SHS where all of Mr Smarts horse were registered requires information I don’t have to formally register my horse.

    If any can help fill in the spaces I would love to speak to you.

    You could be real help to these horses.

    9 of them have been found to match DNA and have been transferred ownership to new owners..

    Like mine 2 other have matched DNA to the bloodline and parents but were not registered and need to be..

    SHS will not help us with out more info.

    Thank you!!

  17. I worked for MrSmrt many years ago as an in house carpenter working on his properties ,designing his molds for fence post,shire land wagons and many other projects he treated me with respect I worked hard for him he also rented me one of his farm houses to live in for $200 a month .

    The only reason I left after 2 years was a better union job but like I said he treated me fine I was taken back when I read some of these comments, peace to all .

  18. I interviewed with him when I was 19.

    Behind his desk, he wasn’t wearing pants, though he was wearing a captain’s hat.

    He had shouted everyone out of his office before my interview.

    He told me I was smart, but the world was dumb and liked dumb inventions.

    I held my fingers over my lips and he mocked me, stating, “And I don’t like this.”

    He was a sexist bully and this is the best gift the world could receive.

  19. John you should be ashamed of yourself.

    Was mr. Smrt eccentric- yes.
    Was he rather rude- yes to an extent.
    But do not get your facts twisted sir.

    He did invent the aerosol can that had the capability to spray upside down, without his invention the aerosol industry would have, and still be quite different.

    He wasn’t people’s favorite person, but he has a family.

    Your slanderous lies are horrible! The fact you’re saying “good riddance” about his death is horrible. You may have had a dislike for this man, but no one needs to hear your pathetic lies.

    He wasn’t only Czech, he was also Italian just an fyi.

    Now kindly don’t let the door hit you John where the good lord split ya, or maybe do, it might knock some compassion into you.

  20. I worked for Tom Smrt for 1 1/2 years.

    He was direct.

    That intimidates people.

    I answered an ad placed for the position available and on arrival, intitially took an IQ test as part of the application process.

    Then interviewed with the vice president, who told me that I would interview with Mr. Smrt personally.

    He then told me the name “Smrt” meant executioner.

    I interviewed with Smrt in person, at his McHenry ranch – we talked for 2 hours.

    He tested my mettle with a tough, critical 1 hour interview, (and I contended with him, a good back and forth discussion) then relaxed and we talked for another hour on other topics.

    There were people who loved him, because they understood him.

    There were people who hated him, because they thought they understood him.

    I sized him up about as quickly as he sized me up.

    During the 18 months I worked at Fox Valley Systems, I learned a lot working for him, and at the time when I left (we moved to California) Tom was “never happier” with the department I ran, which had gone thru several department heads before me.

    I hope he is at peace.

    Tom Smrt was a big, gruff man who understood the world around him, but could also see the world thru a childs eyes…

    If you didn’t get that from Tom Smrt, you really didn’t know the man.

  21. A vile, disgusting man who used his money to abuse others. Profoundly mentally ill, and hated by most who spent time with him. His “beloved’ shires were treated horribly; the people who worked in his company worse. Good riddance, and may he never rest in peace.

  22. I worked for Mr. Smrt At Fox Valley systems.

    I appreciate him because he was straightforward and cut to the chase .

    I worked on his automatic palletizing equipment.

    I also worked for his sons when they were running the company.

    Good people

  23. I too knew Mr. Smrt, he was a shrewd man, no doubt.

    However the wisdom he imparted me, his insights to life and his partial disdane to it, his child like inquisity and basic secrets of success that few had the privilege to experience from Tom.

    Yes, he was a true ass, but he was also my friend.

    R.I.P. Tom Smrt

  24. I have in my possession posters of shire horses pulling a circus wagon, they say on the bottom Thomas J Smrt 1988.

    Would like to give them to someone that would keep them, use them or give them to family that wants them. Email

  25. How about contacting the McHenry County Historical Society in Union?

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