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Frederick C. Austin

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Frederick Carleton Austin was born in Skaneateles, New York on June 2, 1853. His father, Dor Austin, was a farmer and subsequently became a farm machinery dealer in Kansas City, Missouri. F.C. started his career working for his uncle, Henry Warren Austin, in Chicago around 1869. His uncle’s firm, H.W. Austin & Company, was founded in 1849 as a manufacturer of farm tools.

After two years of learning the business, F.C. became a salesman for his father in Kansas City. In 1881 he returned to his uncle’s employment in Chicago. Then, in 1883, he formed a partnership with two brothers, James H. and Seabury Gould, to purchase H. W. Austin & Company. Renamed Goulds & Austin, the business thrived. The 1849 founding of H. W. Austin’s firm ais considered the earliest root of what became F.C. Austin’s manufacturing legacy.

F.C. Austin entered the construction and street maintenance equipment business in 1888 when he organized the F.C. Austin Manufacturing Company in Harvey, Illinois, on July 10, 1888. The business prospered until 1897, when its plant burned to the ground. Instead of rebuilding, he reinvested by purchasing the Harvey Steel Car Plant in Harvey, Illinois, consisting of 20 factory buildings and 20 acres (8 ha) of land. In its new facility, F.C. Austin Manufacturing Company became the largest construction equipment producer in the United States, and its products were exported worldwide.

In 1901, F.C. Austin Manufacturing Company and Western Wheeled Scraper Company, which until then had been fierce competitors, formed a selling corporation called Austin-Western Road Machinery Company, with offices in Chicago, Illinois, to market their products. Western Wheeled Scraper purchased the F.C. Austin Manufacturing Company in 1902, renaming it Austin Manufacturing Company, and the three companies operated until 1934. The two manufacturing companies were consolidated under the name Western-Austin Company, with Austin-Western as a wholly-owned subsidiary. On January 1, 1944, all operations were consolidated under the Austin-Western Company name. The Austin-Western Road Machinery Company was dissolved and the Western-Austin name was dropped.

After F.C. Austin sold his interests in the F.C. Austin Manufacturing Company to Western Wheeled Scraper, Mr. Austin retained control of certain excavating machines for sewer and water works purposes, and in 1902 he launched a new manufacturing concern to produce these machines. The exact name or names of this business is unknown. There is also some confusion about his F.C.'s history after this poin, here are some of theories:

One account has the name of his new company as Austin Machinery Corporation, founded in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois.

Another states that he founded the Municipal Engineering & Contracting Company in 1902. Some sources say he then purchased the Jacobs Steel Excavator of Amboy, Illinois, and its line of drainage machinery in 1909 as the F. C. Austin Drainage Excavator Company. It is believed that this firm and Municipal were consolidated in 1911 under the name of the F.C. Austin Company, Inc. and that in 1920 he sold this company to unidentified parties who merged it with other equipment manufacturers to form the Austin Machinery Corporation, based in Muskegon, Michigan.

A third states theory states that Austin Machinery Corporation was operating in Winthrop Harbor in 1919. The Historical Construction Equipment Association Archives has a Municipal Engineering & Contracting brochure dated 1916, five years after the merger into F.C. Austin Company; this may be a reprint of a pre-merger piece.

Austin-Westran LLC, an indirect descendant of F.C. Austin’s businesses, states that O.A. Seyferth acquired Austin Machinery Company of Muskegon, Michigan, in 1918. In 1918 Austin emerged from a 2.5 year reorganization under his direction for Standard Oil Company, which had been ordered by the courts to divest of Austin, along with all other Standard non-oil subsidiaries. In 1929, he merged Austin Machinery Company into the West Michigan Steel Foundry Company, whose facilities were subsequently shifted to the production of truck trailer equipment. In 1962, the name of the company was changed from West Michigan Steel Foundry Company to Westran Corporation. In February 2002, Austin-Westran LLC was established as an independent company after the acquisition of Kysor/Westran Corporation by Gene Berg. Other documents state that, by 1948, Austin Machinery Company had been renamed Austin Trailer Equipment Company and was manufacturing fifth wheels, and that O.A. Seyferth dissolved the Corporation on December 31, 1951.

Sales literature and other sources identify five different names for Austin and F.C. Austin concerns between 1902 and 1919, as follows:

  • Austin Machinery Corporation (1902)
  • F.C. Austin Drainage Excavator Company (1914)
  • Austin Machinery Company (1918)
  • F.C. Austin Company, Inc. (1919)
  • F.C. Austin Machinery Company (1919)

It is not known if these were separate companies, divisions of one company or another, or misrepresentations of the proper company name.

In addition, literature dated to 1920 bears the name “Austin Machinery Corporation" (F.C. Austin Consolidation). This may be in reference to the reorganization cited in the Austin-Westran account, but it appears that Austin Machinery Company and Austin Machinery Corporation were used interchangeably in some documents.

Austin Machinery Corporation had a satellite plant in Toledo, Ohio. The Toledo plant is known to have manufactured shovels, cranes and mixers.

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