Aug. 1, 2000
The Great Depression affected nearly every American family in some way. In 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President, one in every four workers was unemployed, and more than 50,000 businesses had failed over the past two years. Things were so

The Monarch Machine Co.; founded 1909

Stoelting Inc.; founded 1905

Wedin International Inc.; founded 1936

Zagar Inc.; founded 1937

The Great Depression affected nearly every American family in some way. In 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President, one in every four workers was unemployed, and more than 50,000 businesses had failed over the past two years. Things were so bad in the machine tool industry that both the 1931 and 1933 Machine Tool Shows were canceled. It wasn’t until 1935 that the economy improved enough to hold the show again.

The Depression, however, was not the only hardship companies faced in this period. Mother Nature was not always kind. While farmers were contending with the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, Kingsbury Corp. was weathering its own problems. The company stopped production twice during the decade, once in 1936 because of a devastating flood, and a second time, two years later, when a hurricane and flood once again shut down the plant.

But as bad as times were, many companies found ways to flourish through a combination of innovation and hard work. One technology introduced in the 1930s was the metalcutting contour bandsaw, developed by Leighton A. Wilkie in 1933. This device let manufacturers cut shapes out of steel stampings without laborious hand work. It was such a success that Wilkie established Continental Machines in 1935 to sell the machine, which could both saw and file. This dual-purpose machine was registered under the brand name DoAll. Much later, in 1967, the National Machine Tool Builders Association recognized Wilkie's invention, naming it the last of the seven basic machine tools.

The 1930s also saw the development of the first contour cutting machines from The Monarch Machine Co. and the first honing machines from Barnes Drill Co. (later Barnes International Inc.). Honing technology, in fact, evolved because drilling technology had matured and the automotive industry was looking for a fast and accurate method to do the final finishing of automotive engine cylinder bores. Barnes responded by developing the abrasive process for all types of bores to extremely precise surface finishes and tolerances. The broad acceptance of honing led Barnes to phase out its drilling machines and replace them with an extensive line of both horizontal and vertical honing machines for applications ranging from connecting rods to gun barrels.

The automotive industry, along with the aircraft business, was, in fact, responsible for a number of the advances in metalworking technologies during this time. To accommodate these changes, manufacturers needed new production methods, machines, and cutting tools.

In the 1930s, for example, automakers began producing cars with steel bodies, which necessitated new tooling. Technology under the hood changed as well. In 1932, Ford Motor Co. produced the V-8 engine, the first engine cast in one piece successfully. By putting all their eggs into one basket, so to speak, Ford cut down on machining time, but it also took a risk in that one machining error could lead to the scrapping of an entire engine, not just a single component.

In the aircraft industry, the demand for new planes kept manufacturers busy. Among the innovative products introduced in the 1930s was the Boeing 247, the first modern airliner, which was introduced in 1933.

Over in England, Frank Whittle developed the jet plane in 1937.

And in 1939, Igor Sikorsky built the first helicopter for mass production. Manufacturers now faced new challenges in machining thin-walled, complex parts for these modern marvels.

Perhaps one of the quirks of the metalworking industry is that many well-known companies started in areas far removed from machine tools. How they evolved into the business makes for some interesting stories.

One of the more successful startups was in 1929, when Magnus Wahlstrom and Rudolph F. Bannow decided to develop an electronically operated hedge clipper. Quickly, however, the team of Wahlstrom and Bannow turned their attention to making a portable, self-contained 1 /4-hp high-speed milling attachment. Customers liked the milling head, which was later improved to include a quill, but wanted a machine on which the multipurpose milling head could be mounted without modifications.

By 1938 the little company, Bridgeport Machines Inc., shipped the first Bridgeport turret milling machine. The idea for the Bridgeport started humbly, when Bannow drew up the design for the now ubiquitous mill on a paper bag while he was waiting to unload a truck. The first machine sold for $995 and was bought by Precision Casting Co. of Syracuse, N.Y.

Where Bridgeport started with hedge clippers, Max Bayerdorffer decided his company was for the birds. The founder of Numberall Stamp and Tool Co. Inc. owned a bird-banding business that supplied tags for the poultry industry. He needed to stamp special codes on the tags, so he bought a product called the Single Wheel Rotary Stamp, loaded it into the back of a Model A pickup, and started Numberall from there.

The business started slowly. In the 1930s, many large factories were still marking parts laboriously by hand, and automating marking procedures was quite the newfangled idea. Business eventually picked up, and with the upswing, Numberall was able to improve its facilities for more than just production. In its early days, the company sent workers out once a month to dig a new hole and relocate the outhouse. When the business prospered, it finally installed indoor plumbing.

Although no one should underestimate the place the lavatory has in the metalworking industry, some companies stayed a little closer to the kitchen. For example, the industrial parts washing company Stoelting made cheesemaking equipment in the 1920s and then, in the 1930s, started a second division that built machines to dispense soft-serve ice cream for the Home Made Ice Cream Co. (better known today as Dairy Queen). Stoelting diversified even further during the early 1940s, building conveyorized milk-can washers.

Hobbies also seem to play a large role in the history of many companies in the industry. Taylor Hobson Precision, which is probably better known for introducing the first surface-texture measuring instrument to use a profile graph, also made history with its golf balls in the 1930s. The story is that founder William Taylor, under orders from his doctor to find a relaxing hobby, took up golf. At the time, golf balls were smooth, but professionals had discovered that a damaged ball tended to go farther than a new one. In fact, it became standard practice to produce balls with all sorts of irregular, fancy patterns on them.

To William Taylor, this seemed to be a haphazard approach, and he set to work determining what surface formation achieved maximum flight. Using a glass-fronted test chamber in which smoke was blown over differently patterned ball surfaces, he carefully studied the resulting eddies and vortices.

His investigation revealed that any existing patterns were far from ideal. As a consequence, he developed a pattern of regularly spaced indentations over the entire surface of the ball, an idea that was dubbed, and subsequently became famous as, the "dimple ball."

After designing the ball, Taylor decided to develop a special engraving machine for making the molds for these golf balls.

History doesn't report if Ivar T. Wedin, the founder of Wedin International Inc., had any interest in golf, but, as a young man, this Swedish immigrant was an Olympic ski jumper. In 1936, Wedin started a new business to fill the need for precision thread gages. During WWII his company helped establish the gage standards that are still in use today. Later, after the war and as machinery production increased, Wedin focused on supplying motion components.

Of course, not all companies in the machine tool industry came from such unusual backgrounds. Many already had ties to the industry before they launched their products.

One such example is Iverson and Co., founded in 1931. Edward A. Iverson worked as a salesman for Hardinge Brothers in Chicago. When The Morrison Machine Products Co. purchased Hardinge and relocated it to Elmira, N.Y., Iverson had a tough decision to make. The company asked him to move to Elmira, but he wasn't in a position where he could leave his widowed mother and four siblings behind. This was not the end of his association with his former employer, though. Instead, he founded Iverson and Co. and became Hardinge's first distributor, serving Illinois, Wisconsin, and portions of Indiana.

Tool Specialty Co. (TOSCO) didn't have distributors, but it did have contacts with a knowledgeable salesperson. Founded in 1933, the company started as a tool-sharpening service. However, founders Bill Juvonen and Al Tetzlaff were quickly convinced by Carboloy Regional Sales Manager Ray Mack to start making new brazed form tools. This ended up being a well-timed move. The new company prospered in its early years — partially by supporting the WWII effort.

Another successful company launch came in 1937, when a young tooling engineer by the name of Frank G. Zagar decided to go into business for himself after being laid off by National Acme. Some might consider being laid off as a negative, but to Frank, his unemployment was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. "I found three refurbished turret lathes at Pump Engineering for $3,000. For me, it might as well have been a million dollars. I needed a backer. My Ma had a friend, Mrs. Stanich, who had the Midas touch. She invested in real estate and was financially secure. I asked her for $2,000, but she refused me on the spot."

Frank was considered a bad investment. However, this didn't stop the enterprising young man. Instead, he convinced his parents to loan him the $2,000 and go into business with him. He was still $1,000 short, but Pump Engineering knew that he had a customer willing to pay cash, so it gave him credit.

Frank's father, Walter, left his job of 28 years at White Motors to work with his son in the family garage. Fortunately, the business, which started by making collet tools quickly put its name on the map by perfecting the crank-style drill head.

Most likely, the tools used in Zagar's drill heads were made of hardened steel, not tungsten carbide. Even though tungsten carbide was developed in the 1920s, tools made from this material were largely ineffective in higher-speed machining. This was because of a chemical interaction between the tool and the steel, which caused crater wear of the tool.

Pennsylvania metallurgist Philip M. McKenna discovered that adding tungsten-titanium solid-solution carbide gave tungsten carbide tools the ability to resist chemical wear. In addition, the menstruum process he pioneered provided a high-purity solid-solution carbide with excellent wettability by cobalt during the sintering of cemented carbide tools (additions of TiC alone had poor wettability). Together, these properties resulted in cutting tools with excellent wear resistance and performance.

In the late 1930s, McKenna was granted patents relating to the manufacture of WTiC2 tools. On the strength of his invention, he founded McKenna Metals Co. (later renamed Kennametal Inc. after its primary product) in Latrobe, Pa., in 1938.

By the end of the 1930s, U.S. industry was shifting its output to military production. As Cincinnati Machine's history relates: "For some time before the war, top management had been increasingly concerned about the state of U.S. defense preparations. They felt the government badly underestimated the defense industries' machine tool requirements in the event of war. Convinced, too, that if war came America could

not avoid involvement, management decided in 1938 to expand the company's capacities, despite the recession." By the time America entered World War II, Cincinnati had doubled its production space from 700,000 to 1.4 million ft 2 . Overseas, other countries were improving their manufacturing capabilities. Japan, for instance, established a manufacturing base for precision machinery products in Toyama Prefecture. The government brought in a number of young engineers — among them was Genji Kitamura, an engineer who had studied manufacturing technology in Great Britain. Kitamura was one of the founders of Komatsu Heavy Industry, helping it develop and manufacture specialized Caterpillar tanks that revolutionized the development of Caterpillar military tanks.

Kitamura founded Kitamura Iron Works Co. in 1933. Its first customer was the Japanese military, and its original product line was precision machinery parts for Japan's war efforts during the period leading up to WWII. Among the products it worked on were 110-mm shells, which let the Japanese navy shoot from submarines with high accuracy.

Kitamura also developed machines for paper and pulp, pressing, boring, and planing machines.

By 1939, war had broken out in Europe. America was not yet in the fight, but its machine tool output rose dramatically, increasing eight-fold in the years between 1938 and 1941. And the 1939 Machine Tool Show was canceled, reports AMT—The Association for Manufacturing Technology, because exhibitors were concerned that the introduction of new models would slow mobilization efforts.

Companies founded in the 1930s

Numberall Stamp and Tool Co. Inc.(1930), Iverson and Company (1931), Kitamura Machinery of USA Inc. (1933), Tool Specialty Co. (1933), City Machine Tool & Die Co. Inc. (1935), Wedin International Inc. (1936), Harig Mfg. Corp. (1937), Zagar Inc. (1937), Kennametal Inc. (1938)


Philip M. McKenna Kennametal Inc.

Philip McKenna was patenting material-separation techniques right out of high school — one for separating cobalt from nickel; the other a more efficient method to derive tungsten from ores. Understanding his son's brilliance, Philip's father helped him found the Chemical Products Company, which started out filling WWI-driven demand for tungsten and cobalt. After the war, Philip studied at Columbia University, founded a materials laboratory in San Leandro, Calif., and then headed home to Latrobe, Pa., to found the McKenna Metals Company in 1938. McKenna Metals was started to produce the brainchild of yet another patent — a dense, tungsten-titanium carbide he named "Kennametal." Soon the company was producing metalworking tools for automotive, aircraft, and machinery industries. In the first three years, sales went from $30,000 to almost $1 million, and the company's continual success was set in motion.