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Allis-Chalmers History of Bullock Electric Norwood Works

My family and I are fascinated with history. We love to watch the Ancestry sponsored television programs and are always entertained with stories of history and heritage portrayed by the celebrates captured in these programs. We have our own account but had allowed the membership to lapse, originally created with outdated email addresses and personal contact information. It took a phone call between my wife and I with customer service, however we were able to re-instate our account.

Our son, Andrew, co-contributor to this blog, has an undergrad history degree, and obviously shares our love of history and heritage, as does his brother Alex. After sharing our account information, Andrew went to work. We were especially interested in learning more about my Grandfather, Harold Andrew Johnson's, WWII record. I knew he served in the Navy and I also knew that my Grandmother, Elma Mae Johnson, called the draft board in 1943, explaining, "I have a perfectly fit 36 year old father of three sons who needs to work."

More details can be found for old Harry can be found at our page

My father, Harold William Johnson (1937 - 1990), always shared stories about his father's talent for steam and electric engines. He would talk about how Harold Sr. always drove Stanley steamers, loved coffee, and always had a pot of hot coffee under the hood, warmed by the steam engine heat. When bystanders would inquire about the car, he would pop the hood, offer a cup of Josephus, then engage in conversation. This left me with the desire to learn more about how he acquired these skills ? He draft card was the key.

Listing his employers name as Allis-Chalmers, I took a deep dive into the company and how it came to be in Norwood Ohio, an enclave of Cincinnati. As a student of business I'm always fascinated with the additions and subtractions from the fortune 500. Only 52 US Companies have been on the Fortune 500 Since 1955. Allis-Chalmers acquired Bullock Electric, Norwood Ohio in 1904 and eventually dissolved into the Siemens Corp in 1999.

Edward P. Allis was born in Cazenovia, New York in 1824. After graduating from Union College in New York state, he and his college roommate migrated to Milwaukee where they began a leather tanning operation in 1846. Ten years later, Allis decided to sell his share of the partnership, just before the “panic” (recession) of 1857. He waited out the financial crisis, getting back into business in 1861 by buying Reliance Works, a troubled maker of flour mills and sawmills, at a bankruptcy auction. Reliance had declined from forty workers to twenty, but Allis saw opportunity in its plant and machinery. Profits rose during the Civil War. By war’s end, Allis employed seventy-five men.

Allis, who was primarily focused on the business and finance side of the works, began to hire the best specialized engineering minds he could find. He wanted to ensure that every product the company made was the best. In 1873, he hired George Hinkley, a specialist in sawmills. Hinkley perfected the commercial bandsaw, enabling much higher productivity in the booming lumber industry of the northwestern US.

By 1889, when Edward Allis died at the age of sixty-four, his company had 1500 workers. It was the nation’s largest maker of flour mills, a key competitor in sawmills, and most importantly, a giant in steam engines. While three of Allis’s twelve children held executive positions, the company also had the talented executives and engineers that Allis had assembled, led by Edwin Reynolds.

In 1901, at the instigation of Edwin Reynolds, the Edward P. Allis Company put together a new company, Allis-Chalmers. The Allis company was merged with Chicago’s Fraser & Chalmers, a major maker of mining equipment; the Gates Iron Works, also of Chicago, a maker of ore crushing machinery; and the Dickson Manufacturing Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which made blowing machines and air compressors.

While Reynolds had spent his life working on steam engines, he realized that electricity was becoming the nation’s main motive force, and in 1904 acquired the Bullock Electric Company of Cincinnati. Thus Allis-Chalmers had expertise and engineering leadership in steam, water, gas, and electric engines.

The first of the seven branch plants added to the company was the known today as the Norwood Works. Before this Cincinnati, Ohio plant came into the Allis-Chalmers family in 1904, it had built up a successful reputation in the electrical field as the Bullock Electric Manufacturing Company. The acquisition marked the beginning of Allis-Chalmers production of heavy electrical equipment and gave the company an early start in the onrushing electrical era. A few years later General Electric took control of Allis-Chalmers by buying most of their common stock. Allis-Chalmers created a joint venture with Siemens and was acquired by Siemens in 1985. It paved the way, too, for jobs like the hydro-electric units installed in 1918 and 1922 at Niagara Falls for the Niagara Falls Power Co. These were the most powerful complete hydro-electric units ever installed by one company up to that time.

As hard as the company worked to stay alive, it all unwound in the 1970s and 1980s. Allis-Chalmers offloaded its construction equipment to a partnership with Italy’s FIAT. They spun the farm equipment businesses off to a partnership with Germany’s Deutz; this ended up as today’s American company AGCO, a strong competitor. The power business was turned into a joint venture with the great German electrical company Siemens, becoming Siemens-Allis. Over time, Allis-Chalmers sold out its interest in all these partnerships and finally dissolved in 1999.

Gary Hoover Executive Director American Business History Center

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