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William B. Greene

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William B. Greene (September 4, 1886 – February 6, 1982) was co-founder of the Barber-Greene Company, famous for innovations in the asphalt paving industry. Greene studied mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois alongside Harry H. Barber; with whom he would go onto found Barber-Greene.[1]

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Early Years

William B. Greene was born in Lisle, Illinois to a family of farmers. Greene graduated from the University of Illinois in 1908, on the heels of the financial crisis of 1907. Jobs were tough to come by, but Greene managed to find employment under Thomas Robins, who invented the first conveyor for moving heavy abrasive materials. It was at Robins’ company, which still exists under the Hewitt-Robins name[2], where Greene was first exposed to the materials handling industry.[3]

Greene worked under Robins for two years before he transferred to another conveyor manufacturer, Stephens-Adamson, where Harry H. Barber was already employed. The two recognized an unmet need for small portable conveyors, and decided to start a company to serve this niche. In 1916, they sold their first portable conveyor. Afterwards, they started to advertise in the Retail Coalman publication, which triggered a slew of new orders.[4]

[edit] Greene’s Role

Harry H. Barber was responsible for most of Barber-Greene’s technical innovations. He was a brilliant mind, but had an abrasive personality. Barber’s social inadequacies were complimented nicely by Greene, who was known for his exceptional people skills and gentle management style. Greene’s role at Barber-Greene was to see the big picture, to manage operations, and to market Harry H. Barber’s creations.[5]

[edit] Barber’s Creations

Barber’s first major innovation was in 1917, when he invented a conveyor with an elevated rack, which reduced the man power needed to unload coal.  After further innovations, Barber-Greene began to offer conveyor belt loaders. In 1919, Barber-Greene were able to test how well their loaders were suited for road construction. The common practice at the time was for men to carry aggregate in wheelbarrows to the mixer. Barber-Greene’s loaders eliminated this back breaking work, and became the industry standard throughout the 1920’s. By 1922, their materials handling offerings included “a complete line of belt and flight conveyors together with wheel and crawler-mounted flight loaders with screens and power hoists.”[6]

In 1922, Barber produced the company’s first ditcher, which they began to sell in 1923. It was discovered that their ditchers were particularly well suited for digging in coral rock. This characteristic made Barber-Greene’s the ditcher of choice for construction crews working the Florida land boom of the late 1920’s. The ditchers continued to sell well until the onset of the Great Depression, when ditchers “became a symbol of the machines that took jobs away from men”.[7]

[edit] Asphalt Paving

Although Barber-Greene started with materials handling equipment, the company is best known for their innovations in the paving industry. They were first exposed to paving in 1929 when they were approached by the Chicago (Asphalt) Testing Laboratory for a custom machine to prepare gravel roads for conversion to asphalt. This period coincided with a decreased demand for Barber-Greene loaders and conveyors, which were losing favor amongst construction crews to cranes and bins. Although this particular machine did not pan-out, it was the catalyst for Barber-Greene’s expansion into the paving equipment. The Barber-Greene loader was adapted to become the key component of Barber-Greene’s asphalt plant. Barber invented a separate mixing trailer to be towed behind the plant, which produced a consistent aggregate mix.[8]

[edit] Surviving the Great Depression

Barber-Greene suffered greatly during the Great Depression. Sales were poor, cash was tight, and workers’ wages had to be reduced. It would continue this way until the onset of World War II. In 1936, Barber-Greene sold US$1.5 million worth of equipment. By 1943, they sold $11 million worth—US$9 million of which went towards military applications.[9]

[edit] Retirement and Succession

Henry H. Barber’s son, Ash Barber, joined the company in 1933. By the late 30’s, Henry began to suffer from high blood pressure, and became less involved with the company. Ash took over many of the responsibilities of his father.[10]

After World War II, Greene recognized that the world now held higher standards for equipment quality than before. He determined that Barber-Greene needed an injection of youthful enthusiasm in order to modernize their operations. In 1954, Greene stepped aside as Barber-Greene’s president, handing over the reigns to Ash Barber. Greene would stay on as the Chairman of the Board until his retirement in 1966.[11]

[edit] References

  1. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  2. About Us. Goodman-Hewitt [September 24, 2009].
  3. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  4. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  5. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  6. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  7. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  8. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  9. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  10. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].
  11. William B. Green & Harry H. Barber. American National Business Hall of Fame [September 24, 2009].