History Of The Aermotor Windmill Corporation

By Ken O'Brock
November/December 1989
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On a tip from one of our subscribers, we wrote to O'Brock Windmill Distributors at 9435 12th Street, North Benton, Ohio 44449, to get some information on Aermotor Windmills.

Ken O'Brock very kindly responded with a history of the company, which follows.

Chronological History

1883-LaVerne Noyes, a Chicago manufacturer of dictionary stands and farm equipment, hired Thomas O. Perry, a mechanical and civil engineer, to develop a grain binder. However, Perry had previously worked for U.S. Wind Engine Company, of Batavia, Illinois, and had conducted over 5,000 scientific tests on 61 different experimental wind wheels. These tests had been meticulously conducted indoors under controlled conditions, by mounting 5 ft. diameter steel test wheels on a steam driven arm which provided constant artificial wind. His best test wheel was 87% more efficient than the common wood wheels in use at the time. Although the U. S. Wind Engine Company had shown no interest in utilizing Perry's discoveries, Noyes recognized the potential and encouraged him to develop a truly scientific steel windmill.

1888-The 'Aermotor' windmill was introduced. Only 45 were sold the first year. The new 'mathematical' windmill as it was derisively called by the competitiors, embodied all of the principles Perry had learned in his experiments. It also had back gearing which allowed the wheel to make about 3? revolutions for each stroke, resulting in much greater lifting power and smoother pumping action.

1892-Aermotor sold 20,000 windmills in 1892 and the 'mathematical' windmill had definitely changed from a joke to a real threat, which must be imitated by competitors. Aermotor guaranteed its 8 ft. steel mill to do more work than any 10 ft. wooden mill, and it actually would do more than some 12 ft. mills. Thomas Perry's engineering genius had combined with the organizational skill of La Verne Noyes to establish the Aermotor Company solidly on its way to become the dominant supplier of windmills in the world.

1904-By 1904, the Aermotor catalog listed a complete line of hand pumps, cylinders, wood and metal tanks, faucets, and both water pumping and power producing windmills. Equipment for the power mills, such as a feed cutter, power saw, and corn sheller were listed. Hand trucks and other specialty items were also offered. Every item from start to finish, including all castings, forgings, stampings, pump leathers, ball check valves, bolts, and crating and other wood products were produced in the 250,000-300,000 sq. ft. of Aermotor factory space, covering nine acres on the southwest side of Chicago. Both a cast iron and a brass foundry were included in the complex. The mass production methods of Noyes had reduced the price of windmills to about 1/6 of previous competitive prices, with the 1904 catalog listing an 8 ft. water pumping windmill at $25.00 and a 20 ft. mill at $300.00.

1915-Aermotor introduced its auto-oiled windmill which has an enclosed gear case, in which all of the working parts are continuously bathed in light lubricating oil. This design requires maintenance only once per year instead of the weekly greasing requirement on the previous open gear design. Of course, this eliminated the necessity of constantly climbing the tower. It also eliminated the need for the tilting tower, which Aermotor had developed and offered for those persons with fear of climbing. That tower pivoted at its midpoint and could be tilted down for greasing the windmill.

It then occupied only the large building shown in the right of the illustration, the company then expecting the one building would be ample for it needs for several years. The first few months the office was in the small annex shown at the left of the large building above referred to. Soon after moving to the new location the foundry, which forms part of the large building shown in the foreground, was built. The business increased so rapidly that it was necessary to secure more room, and in July, 1891, the company purchased the buildings, together with about four acres of ground. Being the most desirable property in Chicago for manufacturing purposes, the price paid was something enormous, but the company was determined to be in position to meet the constantly increasing demand for Aermotors.

In the fall of 1891, needing more room, a large stock room was built in the rear of the two main buildings, 260 x 70 feet, which was for a time used as both receiving and shipping room.

In the early spring of 1892, again feeling the need of more room, additional land was purchased and the one-story building shown in the foreground was erected thereon. This building covering one acre was completely built in thirty days.

1918-In one of his many philanthropic acts, La Verne Noyes donated two and a half million dollars to establish scholarships at many colleges and universities for veterans of the World War. (These scholarships are still available today. Among other present-day reminders of his generosity are the Ida Noyes Hall at the University of Chicago and Lake La Verne at his alma mater, Iowa State University in Ames.)

1919-LaVerne Noyes died. Having no direct heirs, he left the Aermotor Company to a tax-paying trust, with 48 colleges and universities as the beneficiaries. Lewis C. Walker, who was formerly secretary-treasurer, was named president.

1926-'Bilby' towers, named for their designer, Jasper S. Bilby of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, were introduced. This tower within a tower, with the inner tower providing an undisturbed instrument platform, was destined to become very widely used by the Army Engineer Corps as well as the Coast and Geodetic Survey for much of the remapping of this country. The 'Bilby' towers were only one type of many special towers made by Aermotor, who had built the first electric transmission towers years earlier and were also designing and supplying most of the nation's forest observation towers. Among other Aermotor towers were bell, siren, beacon, and antenna towers. Other products being manufactured by Aermotor during this period were gasoline engines and an electric generator version of the 12 ft. windmill.

1933-Model 702 windmill, featuring replaceable bearings and screw-type wheel arms, was introduced. Aermotor dealers and families, attending the 'Century of Progress' Worlds Fair, were allowed to camp in the Aermotor factory yard and eat in the company restaurant.

1941-1946-Aermotor proved its ability to do high precision work by making lens mounts for the top secret Norden Bombsight, as a sub contractor for the Bell and Howell Company. One of the young men involved in the joint project was Bell and Howell's Charles Percy, who later became a U.S. Senator from Illinois.

1949-Daniel R. Scholes, The chief engineer who had designed Aermotor's outstanding deep well electric pump line, became president.

1958-Aermotor Company was sold to Motor Products Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, a former supplier of parts to the automotive industry.

1960-After purchasing the Bertram Yacht Company, Motor Products Corporation changed its name to Nautec.

1964-The Aermotor manufacturing operation was moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where it was combined with the Braden Winch operation also owned by Nautec Corporation. The move involved adding 90,000 sq. ft. to the Braden Plant.

1965-Wendell C. Dean, who was sales manager during Aermotor's period of transition and growth in the electric pump market, was named vice-president and general manager. Aermotor and Braden Winch were spun off by Nautec to form Braden-Aermotor Corporation, later called Braden Industies, Inc. Corporate headquarters were located in Broken Arrow.

1969-Aermotor windmill manufacturing was moved to Argentina, to be performed by Fabrica de Implementos Agricuolas S.A., a licensee.

1974-James E. Fetters, former export and marketing manager, was appointed vice-president and general manager. Aermotor manufacturing was moved into a new 49,000 sq. ft. plant in Conway Arkansas.

1976-Aermotor was purchased by Valley Steel Products Company, St. Louis Missouri.

1979-The Brentwood, Missouri operation of Valley Pump was moved to Conway, Arkansas, to the Aermotor plant, and the Valley Pump headquarters was established at that location, with Daniel F. Benson as division president.

1980-After much negotiation and planning, because of quality and delivery problems, Valley decided to cancel their windmill licensing agreement in Argentina and to retool and return manufacturing of the windmills to the U.S.A. at the Conway, Arkansas plant. In conjunction with this decision, construction was begun on an addition to double the size of the Conway plant.

1981-Dedication of the new plant addition was held, attended by Frank White, Governor of Arkansas, and other dignitaries including Patrick Gilligan, President of Valley Industries. The first windmills manufactured in the U.S.A. by Aermotor since 1969 were shipped from Conway, Arkansas. In 1981, 75 to 80% of all windmills sold throughout the world were manufactured by Aermotor, and the quality and workmanship of the Aermotor windmills again being manufactured in the U.S. had already won wide acclaim.

1984-Valley Pump Group was purchased by the Mueller Company of Decatur, Illinois.

1986-The Aermotor Windmill Division of Mueller Pump was sold to a group of investors and the name was changed to Aermotor Windmill Corporation. The plant was moved to San Angelo, Texas and James F. Lane was named president of the new company.

The O'Brocks are the largest windmill distributors in the east and also operate a dairy farm with French alpine goats. Their catalog of windmills, wind-chargers, towers, pumps and well supplies is available for $1.00.

Read a response to this history in the January/February 1990 issue of Gas Engine Magazine.


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