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Graco's origins lie in the Gray Company, Inc., which was founded in 1926 by Leil and Russell Gray to manufacture and sell the air-powered grease gun the brothers had developed for use in automobile maintenance. The company began manufacturing the guns under the "Graco" brand name. First-year sales were approximately $35,000.
Within two years of the company's establishment, it had added other products to the Graco line, such as an air-powered pumping unit that moved automotive fluids directly from shipping containers through a flexible hose to the service area. The company also began a nation-wide marketing program directed primarily at car dealers and service station owners. The company's sales had reached $65,000 by 1931. Gray Company continued to grow even during the tough years of the Depression. The company began to send salesmen out with products that were carried in trailers bearing the company insignia. By 1941 Gray's sales had surpassed $1 million.
During World War II, Gray Company designed mobile lubrication equipment for use on the battlefield, while a tire-retreading system helped extend limited resources at home. After the war, the company turned its attention to industrial uses of the pumping technology. Spraying units, finishing equipment, and dispensing systems were designed for uses ranging from spreading adhesives to handling food. The company had revenues in excess of $5 million by the mid-1950s and was the first to use hydraulics for cleaning and the first to develop cold airless atomization (a process that used pressure to separate liquid into fine particles) for spray painting and coating. The company began to design automated systems for manufacturing plants and implement plans for international operations.
In 1965 Gray Company developed an electrically powered airless-spray system that freed painting contractors from bulky compressors. The company also introduced equipment that permitted hot airless pumping, proportionate mixing, and automatically controlled dispensing of fluids. The company modernized its plants and experienced a period of growth during the early 1960s. In 1969 Gray Company, Inc., went public and changed its name to Graco Inc. Sales for that year were $33 million, up from about $12 million in 1962.