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Barber-Greene, founded in 1916 by mechanical engineers Harry H. Barber and William B. Greene,[1] was a company formed to sell standardized material-handling machines to mechanize small manual tasks in an economical way.[2] Though the company began by offering conveyors and bucket loaders, it is best known for its contributions to the asphalt field.


[edit] History

[edit] Founding Barber-Greene

Barber-Greene was founded in 1916 by Harry_H._Barber and William_B._Greene, co-workers at Stephens-Adamson, a conveyor company. Interested in embarking on a business venture of their own, the two became partners—Barber would handle product design, while Greene would be in charge of finance and business administration. The partners were interested in mechanizing small jobs “out of the shovel and wheelbarrow stage.”[3]

[edit] The First Conveyor Orders

Initially, Barber and Greene operated their new company from a makeshift office in a guest room at the Barbers’ residence. They subcontracted W.S. Frazier and Co. of Aurora to manufacture the products Barber-Greene designed. In October 1916, the partners established credit with General Electric, and ordered the supplies they would need to make their first conveyor, the “No. 1,” in the Frazier workshop. Before long, the company had received an order from Lilley Coal Co. With the profits made from this order, the partners began advertising in the Retail Coalman, a Chicago-based publication. As a result, the company began to receive multiple orders, and began to grow.

[edit] An Addition to the Product Line

The same year, Stephens-Adamson advised Barber-Greene of a cement company’s request for the manufacture of a self-propelled, self-feeding bucket loader for handling cement-derived residue and debris known as clinkers. By the end of its first year, the company had designed such a machine, and added it to the product line.

[edit] Growth and Expansion

Barber-Greene’s first decade was a time of growth. The company began to sell its products through various dealers, including Mussens Ltd. in Montreal, Brandeis in Louisville, and Zeigler in Minnesota. Though the conveyors had been very successful and well received, the company wanted to develop and offer new products to fully mechanize the process of unloading cars. The result came about in 1917 in the form of a conveyor on an elevating rack (Style E) that was configured to stockpiling and unloading from dump cars. This quickly became the standard.[4]

Barber and Greene’s next step into further growth was to begin operating the company in their own space. The partners rented an unheated warehouse from Frazier for $300 a month, and began manufacturing their own products. The arrangement didn’t last for long, as the company continued to grow and the partners were able to purchase the first two lots of their new site, and they moved there in December 1917.

The following year, Barber-Greene hired Barber’s brother-in-law, banker H.S. Capron, as the company’s financial advisor. In 1921, Greene’s brother, H.S. Greene, was hired as vice president and sales manager.

[edit] Loaders in Road Construction

In 1919, the company began applying its loaders to concrete road construction. The current practice up until that time had been to make windrows of aggregate, which workers would then shovel into wheelbarrows to fill the concrete mixers. Barber-Greene’s loader facilitated the process by replacing the manual task of shoveling and loading the wheelbarrows. Now, piles of sand and aggregate were amassed at the supply source, and loaded by loaders outfitted with hoppers onto trucks to be hauled onto the roadway. Typically, two long conveyors (one for each pile) and two loaders (one for sand and one for gravel) were used. This process became common in the 1920s and the company had somewhat of a monopoly in the field, until cranes and bins entered the market in 1926, creating competition for the loaders and conveyors.[5]

[edit] The First Barber-Greene Trenchers

The company’s first experimental offering to the trencher market, mounted on a bucket loader chassis, was produced in 1922; later models comprised a specialized chassis. The following year, the company unveiled the first vertical-boom ladder trencher known as the Model 44.[6] The Model 44 could cut a clean vertical trench from beginning to end. These trenchers, filling a niche that larger trencher manufacturers hadn’t considered, could dig in coral rock, enabling them to be used in the 1926 land boom in Florida. Though the machines were popular, their use and success in Florida was limited due to a shortage of railroad cars to transport them. However, sales of the Model 44’s 1924 successor, the 44-A, remained strong in industrial markets. This trencher included an automatic spring release drive sprocket that protected the machine if an obstacle was hit. The company earned significant profits, claiming in 1926 that the 44-A had sold more than any other make of trencher.[7] These profits came at a crucial time, as they helped to offset the effect of waning loader sales.

The popularity of these trenchers was due in large part to H.S. Greene’s aggressive sales tactics and focus on the industrial markets. However, despite his sales success, H.S. Greene withdrew in 1929 following organizational issues and disagreements with the company’s founding partners.[8]

The company would continue to develop trenchers, culminating in the 1960s with the Model 777 and the TA-77, weighing 33 tons, and able to dig up to 8.5 feet (2.6 m) deep. These would be Barber-Greene’s largest trenchers ever.[9]

[edit] Entering the Asphalt Market

In 1929, the company was approached by George Craig and Hugh Skidmore of the Chicago Testing Laboratory. Craig and Skidmore were interested in using Barber-Greene loaders in applications upgrading existing gravel roads into inexpensive asphalt roads. Though the project never fully materialized, Barber-Greene was nonetheless introduced to the asphalt paving field and would continue to develop in this area. This introduction came about at a convenient time for the company, as cranes and bins continued to displace Barber-Greene conveyors and loaders in concrete construction applications.

[edit] The Effect of the Great Depression

Though Barber-Greene was still debt free, due to the sale of its loaders, in 1930, the economy began to slump further, and the company began to feel the effects. By April 1931, employees’ wages were reduced. The company’s continued existence began to depend in part on the sale of its conveyors for some large dam projects as the government began to undertake public works. However, by 1933, Barber-Greene’s business hit an extreme low, and several employees were laid off. The company’s focus at this point was not to make profit, but simply to survive.

[edit] Barber-Greene’s Mechanical Asphalt Pavers

In the midst of the Great Depression, Barber-Greene was developing and designing new products, culminating in the introduction of the first mechanical asphalt paver.[10] The initial version of the loader was mounted with a small mixer. Later, a separate trailer hauled the mixer as well as a metering device for the aggregate and bitumen. Barber-Greene’s pavers improved upon previous road grader methods of paving as the asphalt paver, traveling on a set of steel rails, proportionately mixed and blended aggregate and binding material in a combination loader/mixer before spreading the asphalt evenly on the road. The first production paver, comprising tracks instead of steel rails, was introduced in 1934.[11] These machines would be improved to include hydraulic drive by the late 1950s.

[edit] Success After the Depression

In 1936, the company gained a profit of $82,000[12] – these were the first such earnings since the beginning of the decade. Barber-Greene’s recovery was further accelerated with the dawn of World War II, with the demand for machines that could be used to build roads and airports. As a significant contributor to the defense effort, Barber-Greene shipped $1.5 million worth of equipment in 1936. By 1943, the total had reached over $11 million; of that total, $9 million worth of equipment went directly to the military.[13] The same year, the company’s total number of employees reached 1,024 (from 265 in 1936) and a personnel department was established.

By the end of World War II, Barber’s son H. Ashley Barber began to take responsibility for much of the company’s management. Having joined Barber-Greene after obtaining a mechanical engineering degree in 1933, Ash Barber was well equipped to take over several duties when his father became afflicted with high blood pressure. Around this period, the company began to experience growth and profit that would last 20 years.[14]

[edit] Division and Expansion

To capitalize on the major construction boom in the U.S. following the war, the company was divided into a construction division and an industrial division. Additionally, independent distributors were established to sell Barber-Greene products, in contrast to the company’s previous practice of selling through its sales office. In 1946, the company formed a partnership with its British dealer, Jack Olding and Co. Ltd. The resulting company sub-contracted the fabrication of machines to British manufacturers. The following years saw similar arrangements with Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and the Netherlands. The foreign expansion that had finally been realized had been a long-term goal for the company.

[edit] Going Public

By the mid-1950s, changes in the company’s management began to take place. In 1954, W.B. Greene transferred the title of president to Ash Barber; Greene kept his title as chairman of the board. During this period, the company underwent a major change to encourage growth: between 1958 and 1959, Barber-Greene began selling public stock and listing shares in the “over-the-counter” market. As a result of going public, the company was able to merge with [Smith Engineering Works of Milwaukee in 1960. The merger was seen as a natural step, as Barber-Greene and Smith Engineering had long been associates, and Smith aggregate processing products, sold under the brand Telsmith, complemented Barber-Greene’s product line. The result of this merger was the Telsmith division of Barber-Greene.

[edit] Economic Downturn

The mid-1960s marked the beginning of a trying period for Barber-Greene, as strong competitors entered the market and the demand for the company’s products faltered. In this time of limited opportunities, Ash Barber made the decision to restructure the company’s decision-making process, decentralizing it so the president would no longer be the sole decision maker. Additionally, Barber implemented new systems for accounting and inventory control, seen as “ten years ahead of corporate practices."[15] In contrast to the traditional upper management style of decision-making, the changes Barber made effected a well organized planning process for the future of the company. As a result of these new systems, the company began to see profits again by 1972.

[edit] Changing Hands

In 1971, Barber, remaining chairman of the board, transferred presidency to Anthony S. “Tony” Greene. Five years later, Greene became chairman following the retirement of Barber.

By 1986, Barber-Greene was in danger of becoming bankrupt. The following year, the company was over $32 million in debt, and had plants running at half their capacity. That year, J. Don Brock, president of rival company Astec Industries, made the decision to acquire Barber-Greene, including the Telsmith division. But after the acquisition, Barber-Greene continued to lose money As well, as the result of a lawsuit against Barber-Greene in 1990 for patent infringement, Astec experienced a net loss of $13 million in 1990.

The following year, Astec decided to sell Barber-Greene—while retaining Telsmith—to Caterpillar, who had entered the paving equipment market about three years earlier. This acquisition gave Caterpillar control of 40 percent of the $55 million market.[16]

[edit] The Company Today

Barber-Greene is no longer in existence, following the purchase of its paving products by Caterpillar in 1991.

[edit] Equipment List

[edit] References

  1. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  2. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  3. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  4. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  5. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  6. Haddock, Keith. Giant Earthmovers. MBI Publishing Company: 1998.
  7. Haddock, Keith. Giant Earthmovers. MBI Publishing Company: 1998.
  8. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  9. Haddock, Keith. Giant Earthmovers. MBI Publishing Company: 1998.
  10. Asphalt Paver. 2008-09-08
  11. Asphalt Paver. 2008-09-08
  12. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  13. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  14. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  15. William B. Greene and Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame 2008-09-08
  16. Company News. The New York Times. 2008-09-08