July 14, 2022
Rob Swiss’ origin story reached me the very same day his new hometown, Rockford, Illinois, got dissed on my favorite game show. The new champion, a University of Chicago librarian, was talking about her goal of visiting cities with an “o” in their names. She mentioned London, New York, and Toronto before slipping in “Rockford” and getting a rousing laugh from the audience. The former second largest city in Illinois has its problems, but on history alone it merits some respect. By my count at least TEN gear industry shops make their homes in the greater Rockford area, probably the highest number of gear people per capita in the United States. [caption id="attachment_2768" align="alignnone" width="300"] The settlement of Rockford in the 1830s.[/caption] I have never lived or worked in Rockford, but I have visited there many times on many different projects. The proximity of so many knowledgeable engineers, executives, and operators sets a high bar on performance. On some streets, gear shops are adjacent to each other and happily share tools and expertise. During my trips there, I have heard lots of fascinating stories of the “Rockford gear culture.” Such as how the clocks at various shops were set differently to reduce congestion during WWII and kept there for years afterward. People moved from employer to employer, of course, and some of those employees went on to start their own shops. Besides gear cutting outfits, the town was home to machine and tool builders. Supporting subcontractors like fabricators, fastener vendors, and thermal processors are still operating too. If you need custom gears or gearboxes, Rockford is your one stop town. So our young English ex-pat lucked out and made his home in “Gear City USA”. A much more favorable outcome than tangling with a grinding wheel! PS: I know that my account of Rockford hardly scratches the surface of its history. Anyone want to supply a more detailed story for publication in the magazine or on this blog?