F.R. "Russ" Stokes began building aluminum ladders in his garage on the corner of Merritt Road and Renfro Drive in Kelseyville, CA in the early 1960's because, as a pear grower, he didn't like the cumbersome design of the orchard ladders coming into Lake County. He used his Structural Engineering education and his background at Lockheed during World War II to design his own aluminum orchard ladder. Local area farmers liked the ladders so much that production soon outgrew the garage. In 1966, the business incorporated as F. R. Stokes, Inc., and the operation moved about 1/2 mile to a new building erected in the corner of the Stokes pear orchard at 4545 Renfro Drive. Mr. Stokes hired brother-in-law Don Hook to oversee sales and some day-to-day operations.
In 1974, a small satellite manufacturing plant was set up in Grandview, WA, to sell to the Northwest market. Jerry Hook, Don's son, who built ladders during high school as a summer job in Mr. Stokes's garage in the 1960's, was hired away from Del Monte Corporation to set up and run the Washington Plant. In late 1977, Mr. Stokes passed away, and in early 1978 Jerry and his family moved to Kelseyville to manage the plant there.
In 1978, Stokes Ladders, Inc. was formed as a wholly owned subsidiary to F.R. Stokes, Inc., and the Washington plant was sold. In 1984, Jerry and Don purchased Stokes Ladders, Inc. In 2001, Don retired and Jerry became the owner. He and his wife, Karen, operated Stokes Ladders until Oct. 5th, 2012 when Greg Panella, the grandson of “Russ” Stokes, and his wife purchased the family business. Although Greg never knew his grandfather, he inherited many of his traits. Greg has a mechanical mind, and a love for agriculture and things related. He worked summers at the ladder shop while attending Kelseyville schools, and while in FFA he became one of the best ag. mechanic students in the state of California. Greg then spent 4 years in the United States Marine Corps, honorably serving in Iraq, before moving back to Kelseyville to live.
Since its formation, F.R. Stokes, Inc., and Stokes Ladders, Inc., have manufactured high quality aluminum agricultural ladders. The tripod ladder has now become widely popular in the landscape maintenance and arborist industries. With the addition of the telescoping third leg and hard surface kit, the Stokes tripod can now be used in locations that were previously unsafe for an orchard ladder to be used. The export market has increased, also, and there are now Stokes Ladders in a good number of countries. Stokes aluminum orchard ladders are known as the orchardists' choice because of their stability and durability.
While building and selling orchard ladders was Stokes' main thrust, other ladders also came into being. In the 1970's, various models of step stools and industrial ladders were developed and sold. In the late 1980's, Stokes began building and selling aluminum posting ladders. In the early 1990's, they began making posting ladders from fiberglass. In the mid 1990's, the first rolling winery ladders were built.
Stokes continues to be the leader in niche markets that require high quality, durability and value.