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North American Rockwell Overseas Corporation - Lehman Brothers Collection

North American Rockwell Overseas Corporation

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The North American Rockwell Corporation began in 1878 as Dodge Manufacturing, a humble wooden hardware maker. Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the company ballooned through acquisitions and expansion into an aerospace, electronics, automotive, and industrial parts giant.

North American Rockwell arose as the result of many mergers, name changes, and changes in business focus. Dodge Manufacturing was one of the earliest of these companies to be founded. North American Rockwell’s constituent companies included Fred and Sam Goss’s Goss Press Company, founded in Chicago in 1885; Henry Timken’s Timken Roller Bearing Axle Company, founded in 1898 and later to become the Timken Roller Bearing Company and Timken-Detroit Axle Company; Lynde Bradley and Stanton Allen’s Compression Rheostat Company, founded in 1903, later to be called the Allen-Bradley Company; and John C. Lincoln and Peter Hitchcock’s Lincoln Electric Manufacturing Company, founded in Cleveland and later renamed Reliance Electric. These eclectic roots later enabled North American Rockwell to support a well diversified business.

Many of these companies were profitable from the beginning. For example, Compression Rheostat was founded in 1903 with $1,000. Renamed Allen-Bradley, the company had $86,000 in sales by 1915 and $404,683 in sales by 1917. By 1924 a single product, the Bradleystat rheostat (used in radios and car dashboards), had $1.2 million in sales.

The Rockwell name is taken from Willard Rockwell (1888-1978), the engineer who built the Rockwell half of the North American Rockwell conglomerate. Willard Rockwell bought the Hayes Machine Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1919 and renamed it the Wisconsin Parts Company, and later Wisconsin Axle. The company began producing automotive axles. In a 1970 speech to the Newcomen Society, then-president of North American Rockwell Lee Atwood claimed that the recession of 1921 left Willard Rockwell with a nearly ruinous oversupply of axles. At that moment he decided to diversify his companies to remain afloat in hard times.

Willard Rockwell took on the presidency of Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Company (later Rockwell Manufacturing Company) of Pittsburgh in 1925. When Timken-Detroit Axle bought Wisconsin Axle in 1929, Willard Rockwell became a board member at Timken and eventually became the company’s president. In 1936 he assumed the presidency of Standard Steel Spring Company of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. In 1953 Willard Rockwell created Rockwell Spring and Axle Company by merging Wisconsin Parts, Standard Steel and Spring, and Timken-Detroit.

The other major branch of the North American Rockwell Corporation, North American Aviation (NAA), was also coalescing in the 1920s. North American Aviation was founded in 1928 in Delaware as a holding company for aircraft and air travel ventures. In 1930 the company’s stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. NAA pursued a strategy of acquiring interest in businesses like Berliner-Joyce (1930) and General Aviation (1933). In 1934 NAA hired as its president the charismatic leader James “Dutch” Kindelberger, formerly of Douglas Aircraft. Kindelberger pushed NAA to manufacture its own planes outside Los Angeles, focusing on military aircraft. During the Second World War, NAA built over 40,000 planes, with almost $700 million in 1944 sales. In the postwar era, NAA developed jet engines for military use, despite the waning need for war planes. The Korean War and Cold War boosted sales, though, and in 1952 NAA had sales of $315 million. In 1948 Lee Atwood became president of NAA and in 1960 succeeded Kindelberger as CEO. In the 1950s NAA explored atomic energy for use in rockets. NAA entered into the nascent field of space flight when it won a government contract in 1961 to build an unmanned Apollo spacecraft for NASA.

In 1966 North American Aviation and Rockwell-Standard agreed to merge. Their combined sales for 1967 amounted to $2.4 billion. Apollo manned flights began in 1968, with moon landings continuing through 1975. Both companies diversified their businesses in the 1960s conglomerate era, acquiring companies such as Miehle-Goss-Dexter (a printing press and graphic arts company), Allen-Bradley (the electronics maker), and the Collins Radio Company. North American Rockwell was renamed Rockwell International in 1973.

The 1990s brought many spinoffs, most notably the 1996 acquisition by Boeing of the aviation businesses of Rockwell International for $3.2 billion.

Note: Rockwell’s automation division has a useful timeline that covers the company’s long history in some depth: http://www.rockwellautomation.com/about_us/history.html. The Hoover’s academic website also has extensive information about Rockwell Automation: http://premium.hoovers.com/subscribe/co/history.xhtml?ID=11283. Lee Atwood and Robert Anderson, both CEOs of the North American Rockwell/Rockwell International Corporations, both spoke to the Newcomen Society and had their remarks published. Some books on aeronautics and aerospace mention NAA and Rockwell: Charles D. Bright’s The Jet Makers: The Aerospace Industry from 1945 to 1972 (Lawrence, KS: Regents Press, 1978); and Edwin P. Hoyt’s The Space Dealers: A Hard Look at the Role of American Business in Our Space Effort (New York: John Day, 1971).

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