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The Lunkenheimer Co part three


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In May 1927, the transatlantic flight of the Lone Eagle, Charles Lindbergh, excited the world and gave a great boost to civilian aviation.

It excited Lunkenheimer, too. Several of the fuel cocks and fittings used in the Spirit of St. Louis were of Lunkenheimer manufacture, which the company was not slow to advertise. By then, the Lunken family had already developed a special concern with aviation.

President Eshelby Lunken, who had a pilot's license, formed the Grisard Co. in 1921 to build an airport in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash. It was named after 1st Lt. John K. Grisard, who was the only Cincinnati pilot killed in World War I.

Four years later, Eshelby decided the Blue Ash location was not practical. He then interested his father in this new sport and business. In 1925 he prevailed on him to buy 200 acres of land in Turkey Bottoms, just west of the Little Miami River, and develop it into an airfield in 1928. Eshelby's father leased this land to the Grisard Field Co., who moved their operations to this new area and named it Lunken Airport.

Two years later, Edmund Lunken acquired the airport again and donated it to the City of Cincinnati. The city fathers then purchased an additional 870 acres of adjacent land and improved the site so that it could accommodate scheduled commercial aircraft. The new field was dedicated in September 1930 in a three-day gala celebration graced by speeches, Paul Whiteman and his band playing at the airport between stunt flights and special showings of the aviation film Hell's Angels at the Schubert Theatre. One of its stars, Jean Harlow, awarded prizes to stunt fliers. Charles Lindbergh sent his regrets.

The airport's low elevation, however, caused some problems, and when the Ohio River flood waters spilled onto the field, wags called it "Sunken Lunken." Yet Lunken Airport served the city well during the early days of commercial aviation and continues to this day to provide a convenient haven for general aircraft.

"One of its (Hell's Angels) stars, Jean Harlow, awarded prizes to stunt fliers. Charles Lindbergh sent his regrets."

In the Great Depression that followed, the company hit bottom in 1932 with sales down 77 percent from their 1929 peak. Most factory production workers lost their jobs. Average hourly pay for those few who did keep their jobs did not fall however, and these people enjoyed an increase in real income as consumer prices declined. The company lost money in 1931 and 1932.

In 1933 sales began to increase slowly. Then Lunken-heimer began to participate in the Second World War production boom. This war, like the first, brought a rush of demand for Lunkenheimer products. As American industry equipped itself to be the "Arsenal of Democracy," total employment climbed from 1,621 in 1937 to a high of 2,317 in 1941. During the war, many industrial firms expanded their operations by utilizing new equipment and buildings financed by federal money, which after the war, they purchased from the government at modest prices.

Lunkenheimer chose not to expand its capacity in this fashion and invested only $1.25 million in improving its facilities during the conflict.

Consequently, at the war's end, its plant was well worn and needful of renovation.

New leaders would have to make whatever decisions were required for the Lunkenheimer Co., because Edmund Lunken, son of the founder, died in 1944 after some 20 years in retirement. Then, his son, Eshelby, president of the company since 1919, suddenly died after shoveling snow one evening in January 1945.

During Eshelby's tenure at the top, the company had not expanded its share of the market value, but it had maintained a reputation for high-quality and innovative metallurgy. Not known as a hard-driving executive, his associates referred to him as a "prince of a fellow." Frank Rhame, moved up to replace Eshelby as president and general manager - the first non-family member to head the firm. The first order of business was that there was no choice about renovating the company's equipment. Thus, in 1947 Lunken-heimer borrowed $2 million from two Cincinnati banks to help pay for the modernization.

In 1951, Paul Arnall, who had come to Lunkenheimer from The Ohio Injector Co. of Wadsworth, Ohio, replaced Frank Rhame, who was retiring. Arnall, the fifth Lunkenheimer president, would guide the firm during its final 17 years of independence.

In the 1960s, Lunkenheimer remained a profitable company. Its sales of $16.8 million compared well with the figures of its chief competitors, Powell, Jenkins, Walworth and Crane.

In 1963, the Lunkenheimer family decided to sell its interests in the company to a new Lunkenheimer firm organized by its current management.

After a lengthy legal battle for controlling interests, in December 1967 Lunkenheimer ended its independent existence and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the out-of-state-owned Condec Corp.

Today, Lunkenheimer exists as CVC (Cincinnati Valve Co.), licensee of the Lunkenheimer brand name. The following is from the CVC website (www.lunkenheimercvc.com):

"Cincinnati Valve Co. was founded in 1994, solely to become the licensee of Lunkenheimer Valves. As such, Cincinnati Valve Co. operates the Cincinnati Lunkenheimer plant and foundry, which has been in continuous operation since Lunkenheimer started in 1862.

"Today, Cincinnati Valve Co. concentrates on manufacturing and supplying the many special valves out of a broad line of quality valves that Lunkenheimer is known for, in addition to producing commodity bronze, iron and cast steel valves."

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