Let’s Talk Trash! JAN/FEB 2018
©2018 The Keenan Group, Inc
This article is a continuing story taken from A.O. Smith’s History Book printed © 2015. The purpose is to educate and inform our kids! Who is
Did you know that A.O. Smith is more than a water heater manufacturing company? A. O. Smith has been in operation for over 140 years having started in 1874 by Charles Jeremiah Smith. He made hardware parts for baby carriages and bicycles, and so much more!
It is well known in Cheatham County, Tennessee, that A. O. Smith purchased State Industries (State Stove) which was one of the largest water heater manufacturing companies in the US.
Story continues... The use of enamel or glass type of coating...
In the late 20’s, L.R. Smith directed his engineers to study the problem of line pipe corrosion. Smith foresaw that miles of steel pipe, buried in soils of widely varying chemical compositions, exposed to moisture, and carrying potentially caustic materials, would be vulnerable to corrosion that could shorten their useful lives. The engineers experimented unsuccessfully with a variety of materials; then someone had the idea of using an enamel or glass type of coating. They took some short lengths of pipe to the Kohler Company, a manufacturer of bathroom fixtures, and had the outside surface enameled. The testing resulted in microscopic damage! To lend this process to an industrial use, they had the glass fused to steel pipe at high temperatures. As they continued testing and creating a better way, A.O. Smith developed a superior glass formula and solidified their competitive advantage in the line pipe market; which was due to its thinner wall steel. Heavier gauge steel would add millions of dollars of cost to the typical transcontinental pipeline project. Unfortunately, by the time this process was put in place in autumn of 1931, the depression struck and orders evaporated. Just a few miles of glass-lined pipe were ever produced. The welded steel beer keg helped A.O. Smith survive the Great Depression and remained in the beer keg business for three years, producing more than 600,000 kegs. The equipment and idea for fusing glass to steel lay dormant for two years until A.O. Smith learned of a brewery in the eastern U.S. that was placing an order for glass-lined beer storage tanks. The glass-lined tank would be ideal for brewing. Glass lining is essential because of the need for cleanliness in the brewing process; any bacteria in the liquid would spoil the taste of the beer. Consequently, tanks had to be cleaned after every batch with hot water and steam. At the time, steel tanks were fabricated in such a way as the tanks were difficult to clean. Within three years, A.O. Smith secured a significant share of the U.S. beer tank market and expanded into the development of tanks for soft drinks and other liquids. This project marked the first successful application of the glass-fused-to- steel process
Any company capable of fabricating a one-piece tank with uniform glass coating inside would have a definite competitive advantage. By 1936, the company was coming back to life and customers were beginning to place modest orders for line pipe, the newly developed steel oil well casing, and car frames. At this same time, A.O. Smith’s engineers were mulling over a new idea.. In the 1920’s and 30’s, most home water heaters were made with a galvanized steel inner tank which was easily proned to corrosion or premium units with expensive stainless steel tanks. A.O. Smith’s glass-fused-to-steel process could be adapted to water heater tanks. Ultimately, A.O. Smith made water heaters for Sears Roebuck & Co. to be marketed to the consumer market under the Homart trade name. A.O. Smith also marketed its own line of products with galvanized steel tanks under the Duraclad brand along with the premium glass- lined product under the Permaglas brand. Then.... WWII began...and all would be called up for action.
What was a bomb, but a modified steel tube. Smith and his team knew that the coming war would require millions of bombs. The Milwaukee company had a secret weapon in its pipemill, a process capable of making 20 miles of welded steel tubing each day. And what was a bomb, but a modified steel tube. During the four-year period from 1941 until 1945, A.O. Smith Corporation processed some 3,500 miles of steel pipe into nearly five million bombs in sizes ranging from 500 pounds up to monster 44,000 pounders. In addition to bombs, they were asked by the navy and air corps to produce torpedoes, particulary the small air flask that sat in the center of the weapon and provided air to the engine. Impressed by A.O. Smith’s success with bombs and torpedo flasks, the U.S. Air Corps gave the Milwaukee company a more interesting challenge: landing gear for the B-17 bomber. They later made propeller blades and one other component for the B-29 bomber, and that was the nose used by the bombardier. The list of products that A.O. Smith contribued to the war effort is mind boggling. It extended far byond war material: welding electrodes in the millions and supplied to shipyards, tank maufacturers, and others; navy pumps, electric motors, and petroleum meters; pressure vesssels used in the production of aluminum forgings and exposives; and glass- lined “Victory” water heaters (in cardbooard jackets to preserve precious steel) used in GI barracks around the world. The company also produced millions of frames for the ubiquitous jeep that roamed the battlefields. Above all else, the company contributed the energy and creative resources of its people. It may be hard to imagine today, but on the home front, WWII was all consuming. People worked day after day with no vacations and lttle, if any, time off on weekends. As L.R. Smith predicted, the company hired women by the score to weld, work overhead cranes, and drive trucks. It also hired African Americans who moved from the South to find steady work in factories of the Midwest and Northeast. Many of those African Americans stayed on after the war, as A.O. Smith became the leading minority employer in Milwaukee and a solid corporate citizen in the inner city. Continued next issue: 1945+ Post War, Housing Boom, Conveniences, and Oil refining..
L.R. Smith convened a meeting of his top executives and shared his thoughts, “We don’t know what will be asked of A.O. Smith. But you can be sure, without our knowledge of steel fabrication and of mass production, that before this thing is over, we’ll be asked to do the impossible. I can’t tell you now what we must do, except that we must start, right now, TODAY, to get ready! We must be foresighted. We must see, before the government does, where we can make our best contribution. We must be ready to make them before they are required. We’ll have thousands more employees that we’ve ever had. They’ll have to be trained in maufacturing and welding techniques. We may have to train women to operate presses and cranes and to drive trucks. Gentlemen, let’s go to work.”
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