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A darkened room and a giant metal cube — how a west suburban manufacturer has embraced the cryptocurrency community

Tungsten is a curiously dense metal and has become the darling of the crypto community — and a boon for a west suburban maker of tungsten products.

Kevin Anetsberger, general manager of Midwest Tungsten Service Inc. in Willowbrook, holds up a 1.5-inch tungsten cube weighing about 2.2 pounds.
Kevin Anetsberger, general manager of Midwest Tungsten Service Inc. in Willowbrook, holds up a 1.5-inch tungsten cube weighing about 2.2 pounds.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In a room, under lock and key, in a nondescript factory in the western suburbs, will soon lie a bizarre object of fascination that will only be viewed once a year.

The treasure: a 14.545-inch tungsten cube that will weigh 2,000 pounds.

It will be one of the smallest and heaviest objects in the country when it’s built about six weeks from now.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles, for comparison, generally weigh in weight between 540 and 905 pounds.

For Midwest Tungsten Service Inc. in Willowbrook, the cube is the pinnacle of a craze among cryptocurrency traders for the ultra-heavy metal blocks (tungsten is about as heavy as gold but much cheaper).

Kevin Anetsberger, general manager of Midwest Tungsten Service in Willowbrook, holds a 4-inch tungsten cube weighing about 42 pounds.
Kevin Anetsberger, general manager of Midwest Tungsten Service in Willowbrook, holds a 4-inch tungsten cube weighing about 42 pounds.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Company executives said the cube — the largest ever manufactured — sold Monday evening at an online auction to a buyer who plunked down 56.9 ethers, a digital currency, worth $247,000.

Midwest Tungsten began selling the cubes in 2015. Much of the initial interest was from teachers and people interested in physics or metals.

More recently, the company has found itself in the middle of an insatiable crypto kick. The latest — and by far the most intense — wave was sparked last month by a tweet from well-known crypto trader Nick Carter.

Sales have jumped from the hundreds to the thousands, and the company has fully embraced its admirers, culminating in the giant cube.

Its owners will receive a nonfungible token in the form of a one-of-a-kind digital image of the cube — essentially the deed — which can be resold. It grants the owner a single yearly visit to the cube at the Willowbrook factory.

The room it will be housed in has yet to be designed and built. Midwest Tungsten e-commerce director Sean Murray thinks maybe a single light above the cube in an otherwise darkened room could be cool. But he’s open to design input.

“We’ve said people can make temporary alterations, but at the same time we’re a company and want to protect our reputation. Nothing too off the wall, but they’ll be given a wide berth in what they want to do,” he said.

After the monster cube is manufactured, it will take about six weeks to create the special room for it.

Or the new owner can go with another option: delivery.

But the company only guarantees delivery to a front door. Then the complications of moving the 2,000-pound object are out of its hands.

The new owner, TungstenDAO, has remained a fairly anonymous group thus far.

Someone claiming to be from the group reached out to Midwest Tungsten this week, but a verification process confirming their identity has yet to take place, Murray said.

A representative from TungstenDAO couldn’t immediately be reached.

DAO is short for decentralized autonomous organization, a group of crypto traders who pool their money to invest tungsten-related NFTs.

Now for another tricky element of this whole trend: How to explain it?

Opposites attract, Murray said.

“They’re dealing with virtual, digital items and the tungsten cube seems like the opposite. It grounds you in the physical world, holding it in your hand is like you’re experiencing physicality directly,” Murray said.

Yes. True. But the answer is even simpler, according to one crypto trader — a man in his 20s who grew up in California who wanted to be identified by only his Twitter handle @Forculus.

“It’s just really fun,” he told the Sun-Times. “We really like the cubes and get really excited about them, normally when people try to get you to buy things it’s for profit, this isn’t that.”

“I brought my cube to the beach. I took it to a wedding. There’s not much to it other than we like the cubes and it’s a super positive, fun movement in the crypto community,” he said.

The cube ride has also been fun for Midwest Tungsten, but it’s still a small part of its business, which is mainly focused on making things like machine parts, automotive and medical components and radiation shielding.

A few people have shown up at the company in recent weeks asking to hold a cube. The company isn’t open to the public and doesn’t recommend this.

It’s worth noting that there’s no shortage of tungsten, and it’s not thought of as an investment that will yield a return.

Previous waves of interest in the cubes have been sparked by various online posts, such as YouTube videos showing the resilience of cubes being shot by guns and smashing things after being dropped from a height.

A 1.5-inch cube, the most popular on the company’s website, costs $189.99. The largest available on the site is a 4-inch cube for $2,999.99.

“When you hold one of them in your hand, it’s just like ‘Whoa. This is a crazy material.’ It doesn’t make sense that something could be that massive at such a small size. It seems like a magic trick, something that tricks your senses,” Murray said.

It’s a strange rockstar moment for the cube, Murray marveled.

Especially when you consider its main gig: a paperweight.