Fansteel VR/Wesson; founded 1950
Niagara Cutter; founded 1954
Edmunds Gages; founded 1950
Abbott Workholding Products; founded 1954
Loctite Corp.; founded 1953
Fadal Engineering Co. Inc.; founded 1955
Rego-Fix Tool Corp.; founded 1950
Iscar Ltd.; founded 1952
Fortune International Inc.; founded 1954
Agie Ltd.; founded 1954
The U.S. economy was red-hot in the 1950s. By 1955, the U.S., with only 6% of the world's population, was turning out half the world's goods. But manufacturing saw the beginning of a disturbing trend. In 1956, for the first time, white-collar workers outnumbered blue-collar employees. Between 1947 and 1957, the number of factory operatives declined 4% while clerical workers increased 23% and the salaried middle class 61%.
For metalworking, the 1950s was a pivotal time, with the birth of numerical control marking the beginning of what many called the Second Industrial Revolution. Both machine tool builders and control suppliers were working furiously on this new technology.
General Electric was one of these companies. In 1954, GE expanded its factory automation business by developing one of the first numerical controls for machine tools. It was a "record-playback" simple control that recorded, on a magnetic tape, the motions made by skilled operators. The control then played them back to make duplicate parts on the machine. GE later called these simple controls the Mark Series.
The next generation of GE controls, the Mark II Series, initially needed a few bugs worked out of them. GE reports that the Mark II Series' punchcard reader didn't work consistently and required a lot of maintenance. Also, punchcards were difficult to deal with in a manufacturing facility. Therefore, GE replaced the punchcard inputs with eight-channel punched paper tapes. In retrospect, however, the control was quite successful. In 1955, GE demonstrated it on a point-to-point Wiedemann turret punch press. This was one of the first positioning NCs on the market. The Mark II Series control included stepping switches, relays, and vacuum tubes. It was slow for the high hit rate required in punch press applications, so a relay-to-relay buffer storage control with at least 300 relays was developed and shown at the 1958 Machine Tool Show.
That same year, the Mark II Series was also demonstrated on a Kearney & Trecker machining center. This was the first machine and control system with an effective automatic toolchanging mechanism/control.
In addition to these projects, a joint venture between GE and R.K. LeBlond Machine Tool Co. produced the first continuous-path, numerically controlled lathe, a major step in the development of flexible manufacturing.
Another firm working on NC technology was Barnes International, which became the first to apply numerical controls to drilling and boring machines. The company added automatic toolchanging capabilities to its machines by using numbered preset tools in a rack that was connected to the machine's control. The machine would not run unless the proper tool was missing from the rack — presumably in the spindle — while all other tools were in the rack.
The Monarch Machine Co., too, explored NC technology. It debuted an NC lathe at the 1955 Machine Tool Show that was the prototype of the NC and CNC machines now standard in the metalcutting industry.
And in 1958, Hughes Aircraft and Kearney & Trecker announced the joint development of a flexible automatic line in use at the Hughes plant in El Segundo, Calif. The line contained three machines, one each for milling, drilling (and tapping), and boring. It also featured automatic toolchanging. Christened the Milwaukee-Matic Model II, this system ushered in the age of the machining center.
Elsewhere in industry, defense orders rose sharply because of the Korean War. And once again, the machine tool industry was called upon to crank up production. Machine tools were in such short supply that the government seized ordered machines from civilian customers.
National Broach & Machine Co. was one of the companies that ramped up product development for the war. The company, started in 1929, built gear grinders and profilers for guns and manufactured water-buffalo couplings during WWII, receiving four consecutive Army-Navy Production Awards from the U.S. government. During the 1950s, it developed automatic gear-shaving equipment, a 100-in. gear shaver, a helical grinder, and a 180-in. gear shaver for ship-propulsion gears.
The war also affected tooling production. Tungsten was in limited supply because Korea was a major source of the material. To overcome this problem, William E. Newcomer of Newcomer Products Inc. developed the "NEW-MET" material, naming the grade N95. The composition of this new grade was titanium carbide, molybdenum carbide, and nickel. The company also developed a special chemical/metallurgical process for reclaiming tungsten carbide from scrap carbide products during the war years.
The 1950s was an exciting time for new ideas. Chevrolet made the first mass-produced, fiberglass-bodied car and called it the Corvette. The space race kicked off when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I. And the first computer hard drive and modem were developed.
Manufacturing was advancing quickly, too. In 1955, General Electric's Research Laboratory announced the invention of the first reproducible process for making diamond. This process became the basis for GE's manmade industrial diamond business.
To say that industrial diamonds were just peanuts to GE's R&D team wouldn't be far off the mark. Researcher Robert Wentorf Jr and three of his colleagues once experimented with peanut butter and found, with the right amount of heat and pressure, it could be turned into a few tiny diamonds. The group also managed to transform roofing pitch, coal, wood, and other carbon-containing materials into diamond grains. The end result, industrial diamonds, were eventually used in a number of applications, including metalcutting tools.
The cutting tool industry was growing by leaps and bounds as new companies entered the market or as existing firms expanded product offerings. For instance, Fansteel VR/Wesson was founded in 1950. Originally known as Mill-All, the company operated in a small, two-room building about the size of a garage and manufactured single-point and brazed-tipped tools. By 1957, Mill-All was doing work for Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky.
Another company having a big impact on industry was Niagara Cutter, started by World War II veterans Roger W. Bollier and Marshall H. Damerell in 1954. The two each invested $5,000 in the new company. Their first plant consisted of two rooms, two machines, and a small group of dedicated workers. However, Niagara Cutter found a profitable niche: In the mid-1950s, there were large gaps in the standard lines of milling cutters offered by existing suppliers, and there were repeated requests to fill in those gaps by manufacturing "specials." The new company filled in many of these product gaps.
Cutting tool manufacturers weren't the only ones benefiting from the good economic conditions of the 1950s.
Workholding companies, too, flourished. One such firm, S.N.W. Welding, started in 1952 as a part-time venture for its four founders: Earl and Myrtle Walker, June Shinkle, and Alan Netzler. The company originally manufactured three different standardized pins, then expanded into tooling components and clamps, jig and fixture bases, chuck jaws, modular fixturing, and more.
One day, a welder malfunctioned in the wooden garage housing S.N.W, causing a blaze that destroyed the company's home. Forced to relocated, the owners decided to expand into a larger headquarters with a new, less specific name. They had lengthy discussions about what to call the company. During one meeting, the group stepped outside the building located at Shortridge Lane and Creve Coeur Drive in search of fresh air. What they found would become one of the best known names in the industry. Combining the street names posted, the group decided on "Coeur Lane." The word "Coeur," however, would soon prove to be a pronunciation challenge. So they simplified it, settling on "Carr Lane" as a suitable replacement. Thus, S.N.W. Welding became Carr Lane Mfg. Co. While Carr Lane was looking for a new home, Howard Greene, a tool and die maker in Phoenix, was working out of what was basically a Quonset hut. His business, Abbott Engineering and Manufacturing Co. (now Abbott Workholding products), originally performed subcontract work for specialized tooling.
As small as the company was in its early days, it had a large impact on the industry. Prior to 1955, turning thin-walled parts was a challenge. Boring out rectangular jaws to hold thin-walled parts resulted in a distortion of the part and out-of-round conditions. Working with Hughes Aviation, Abbott developed the world's first wraparound segmented jaw, the Pie Jaw.
Two chip conveyor companies started in 1950: Prab Conveyor and Jorgensen Conveyors Inc. Interestingly, Prab's name came from the initials of its founders, Peter Ruppe and Alan Bodycomb. Jorgensen Conveyors, which was founded by Charles T. Jorgensen, became a major supplier to U.S. machine tool builders, including Gisholt (now Giddings & Lewis), Sundstrand, and Greenlee.
The same year these companies started, Edmunds Gages was formed. Its founder, Bob Edmunds Sr., was a former math teacher and machine shop instructor who was fascinated with precision manufacturing and, in particular, measurement devices. His company made cylindrical gages (precision components for measuring I.D.s and O.D.s). Later that decade, Edmunds Gages also built a submillionths calibration laboratory, which is still in operation.
Another educator, a chemistry professor at Trinity College, started American Sealants in his basement laboratory in 1953. Dr. Vernon Krieble's cure-inhibition system produced a special liquid bonding resin that hardened in the absence of air. The new product, called Loctite, promised to solve the age-old problem of loose nuts and bolts in machines and appliances. The company grew rapidly and later changed its name to Loctite Corp.
Russell T. Gilman was not a teacher, but he did start a profitable business. His company, Russell T. Gilman Inc., was formed in 1952 and initially manufactured dovetail slides. It quickly expanded its product line to include spindles, boxway slides, special components, and index tables. In time, the firm added roller bearing slides, high-performance spindles, and multiple-axis modules.
But perhaps one of the most noteworthy stories of the decade started in 1955, when Fadal Engineering Co. Inc. was conceived. Its founder, Francis de Caussin, always dreamed of starting his own business. While employed as a machinist at a local jobshop, he first began serious machining out of the family garage. His sons, Adrian, David, and Larry worked alongside him.
A plant manager from Francis' employer loaned them a metalcutting lathe, in return for a percentage of the profits. Francis purchased a Shop Smith from Sears, Roebuck & Co. on time payments, paid for by his wife Gladys, who had taken a job at a mail-order firm.
Francis' eldest son had a family to support, so the business was only operated part-time, on evenings and weekends. Although the company was founded in 1955, it didn't take its current name, Fadal, until 1957. (The name is an acronym made up of the first letter of the names of Frank, Adrian, David, and Larry.)
Fadal has one interesting quirk, that, seemingly, is unique in the industry — companywide soup for breakfast. Gladys de Caussin used to make son Larry soup each morning for breakfast. He often shared his morning meal with co-workers, so his mother began making enough for everyone. At some point, so much soup was being consumed that the cooking was moved to the machine shop's kitchen. And each day was designated for a specific type of soup: Monday/vegetable beef, Tuesday/chicken and rice, Wednesday/navy bean, Thursday/chicken vegetable, and Friday/chicken noodle. The menu has changed somewhat throughout the years, but today, Fadal still ladles out 20 gallons of the stuff a day.
American companies weren't the only ones experiencing successful startups in the 1950s. Overseas, new businesses were sprouting up in a number of countries.
One of these companies was Rego-Fix AG, started in 1950. Its founder, Fritz Weber, was known for his precision work in the manufacture and repair of collets. He was soon manufacturing small quantities of various collets for companies all over Switzerland.
Weber bought his first machine with cash that he borrowed from a neighbor. The business started in the attic of Weber's farmhouse in the little town of Reigoldswil, Switzerland, where he and his 11 siblings lived.
Around the same time Weber was working at his farmhouse, a little company in Israel began manufacturing cutting tools. Iscar Ltd. (Iscar stands for Israel Carbide) was the brainchild of Stef Wertheimer, who was a technical officer in the Palmach (the group out of which the Israel Defense Force emerged). During his time with this group, he not only gained experience working on lathes but also the determination to do everything he could to ensure Israel would have high-tech industries in the future.
Wertheimer and his wife settled in Nahariya in 1948. They had no money and lived in a small wooden cabin. He asked the nearby Kibbutz Hanita to let him use their lathes in the evening to produce simple parts used in metalcutting. He made cutting tools himself and then looked for customers by going to Tel Aviv on a motorbike.
He founded Iscar in 1952, and a year later, Wertheimer got his first large order from Mekorot, the Israel water company. With this income, he was able to purchase, in installments, a grinder and keep two trainees working for him. By 1958, Iscar exported its first products — to Greece, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland.
That same year, Heinz Kaiser Ltd., which had been founded in 1948 in Switzerland, introduced a modular tooling program. By 1956, the company was working on its first precision facing and boring tool, the Piccolo. Its SWZ modular quick-change system followed in 1959.
In 1954, Taiwan was not a highly developed industrial country. Most of the shapers and lathes sold there were imported, and a gentleman by the name of Huang Chi Huang saw an opportunity. He started Victor Taichung Machinery in his living room and front yard. The company, which made shapers and belt lathes, served the domestic Taiwanese market. It eventually became Fortune International Inc., Taiwan's largest machine tool manufacturer.
One company that didn't start in a house was AG fur Industrielle Elektronik (the company eventually became Agie Ltd.). This company, founded in Switzerland in 1954, made groundbreaking diesinking EDM machines for mold and die manufacturing.
In the 1940s, EDM was still a relatively crude process. However, by 1954, it was providing a revolutionary method for machining lead and exotic metals that would make mold and die production easier and more cost effective.
Stef Wertheimer Iscar
Stef Wertheimer started Iscar with a vision of bringing high technology to Israel to help ensure its survival and independence. So he quit his job as a technical officer at Palmach, moved to Nahariya in 1948, and borrowed lathes to make cutting tools, which he'd sell in Tel Aviv off the back of his motorbike. He made enough money with this method to found Iscar in 1952. By the end of the 1960s, Iscar had helped create a vocational school in Israel and established the Iscar Blades operation making forged and machined blades for jet engines and turbines. With the creation of the self-grip turning and grooving tools in 1976, he won Israel's Rothschild Prize for industrial innovation. Then in 1991, Wertheimer was recognized for accomplishing his dream when he was named an Israel Prize Laureate for "his contribution to society and the state."
Companies founded in the 1950s
PCC Olofsson (circa 1950), Edmunds Gages (1950), Fansteel VR/Wesson (1950), Jorgensen Conveyors Inc. (1950), Prab Conveyor (1950), Production Tool Supply Co. (1950), Rego-Fix Tool Corp. (1950), Carr Lane Mfg. Co. (1952,) D.C. Morrison Co. (1952), Iscar Ltd. (1952), Russell T. Gilman Inc. (1952), Carbidie Corp. (1953), Loctite Corp. (1953), Abbott Workholding Products (1954), Agie Ltd. (1954), Fortune International Inc. (1954) GE Fanuc Automation (1954), Niagara Cutter (1954), Fadal Engineering Co. Inc. (1955), GE Superabrasives (1955), Summit Machine Tool Mfg. Corp. (1955), American Heller Corp. (1956), Sweed Machinery Inc. (1956), Jet Equipment and Tools (1958), Stark Industrial Inc. (1959)