The Birth of an Industry

Do you know your company’s origin story? I have worked at seven different gear companies and have visited dozens more; all of them seem to have an interesting story about how they ended up in the gear business. The American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2016, and some of its founding members are still in business today.

As with many technologies, gear manufacturing was transformed by war. In the case of gear manufacturing in the United States, the initial motivation appears to have been the Civil War. Before 1860 gear making appears to have been the province of watchmakers, foundries, and blacksmith shops. Locomotive and shipyards also got involved out of necessity. Just 10 years later, shops specializing in gears emerged to meet the demand for locomotive and process line parts.

Rapid growth followed over the next 40 years and the hostilities of the War to End All Wars brought more firms into the trade. The need for standardization in terminology and performance caused the War Department to jumpstart AGMA’s formation. Throw in the budding automobile and aircraft industries and the 1920s were action packed with new discoveries and new companies.

That growth was all lost in the Great Depression; many companies failed ahead of the renewed conflict of World War II. The unprecedented demand for better gears challenged our industry. Old firms expanded to take on new projects and, after peace returned, new firms were started to meet the needs of a recovering world economy.

Where does your company fit into this timeline? My friends at Rexnord/Falk published a great book on their organization’s history, going back to the Falk Brewery days. Milwaukee Gear started because the founding family’s storage business got stuck with unclaimed hobbing machines. If you haven’t written your “origin story” down, now is a great time to do so. Share it with us and it might get its own blog post.




About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.