Each weekly post will tell the story of Will-Burt’s evolution from a small repair shop in East Greenville, Ohio in 1894 to the present day as the world’s best mast company.
January 11, 2018
The Will-Burt Company Celebrates 100th Anniversary! – January 31, 1918 was the day Burton W. Cope signed the incorporation documents creating The Will-Burt Company in Orrville, Ohio. A company founded on hard work, integrity, creative thinking and a relentless drive to succeed. Click here to read the company’s press release.
January 18, 2018
The Cope brothers purchased the patent rights to the Cyclone Drilling Machine – a water and shallow oil drilling rig in 1900 and moved their entire business from the hamlet of East Greenville, Ohio to a larger facility in Orrville, Ohio. It was in Orrville that the Cope brothers partnered with William A. Tschantz. The Cyclone Drill Company was incorporated in 1906 and was sold in 1914. Will-Burt’s Cyclone Drill Company became the Sanderson Cyclone Drill Company and lived on for many years.
|Burton G. Cope||William H. Tschantz||John W. Cope with Cyclone Drilling Machine Rig||Cyclone Drilling Machine Workers|
January 25, 2018
Many people have wondered where the name “Will-Burt” originated – here is the definitive answer as told by our founder, Burton Cope, to a reporter for The Daily Record Newspaper in 1942: “There’s a little story about that,” explained Mr. Cope. “After we had sold the Cyclone Drill company in 1914, Will Tschantz and I wanted to do a little experimenting. We had to order some material and I asked Will in what name should we order the material. He was doing some painting at the time, and he had a paint brush in his hand. He stepped to the side of the building and painted the name ‘Will-Burt’ on the wall. We ordered the material in the name of the Will-Burt Company and I have been doing business in that name ever since.”
February 1, 2018
Happy Birthday Will-Burt! – It was 100 years ago this week that The Will-Burt Company as we know it today was incorporated. By this time William Tschantz had left on friendly terms to start his own meat processing equipment manufacturing business in Canton, Ohio. Burton G. Cope sold the remaining equipment and other assets he had acquired from his previous business endeavors to the new corporation. This made him the sole owner with 350 shares valued at $100 each. This total is equivalent to $616,797 in 2018 dollars. The “New” Will-Burt Company continued to make carpenter’s vises patented by John R. Long and equipment to off-load Model T’s that was patented by Burt Cope. Mr. Cope began a search for new opportunities to expand the business…
|Original Incorporation Document||Original Incorporation Document||Will Tschantz with Carpenter's Vise - later rebranded as the Versa-Vise||Equipment patented by Burt Cope to off-load Model T's from rail cars||Offloading a Model T with Burt Cope's invention|
February 8, 2018
1920 was the year that Burt Cope landed the first big job for his new company. He answered an ad in a trade magazine put forth by the Hagan Corporation of Pittsburgh. One productive meeting and a handshake closed a deal that lasted 26 years. Manufacturing of steam room controls began in a new plant constructed by Will-Burt on North Main Street in Orrville, Ohio. The operation was sold to Hagan Westinghouse in 1946.
|Employees in front of the new plant constructed by Will-Burt on North Main Street in Orrville, Ohio built in 1927|
|Will-Burt's first major contract was to manufacture steam room controls for The Hagan Corporation|
February 15, 2018
1928 was a momentous year in which Will-Burt signed a contract to build automatic coal stokers (machines that automatically feed coal into a furnace) for the Automatic Coal Burner Company of Seattle, WA. The significance of this single deal was that by 1931 Will-Burt was building their own stokers and subsequently became one of the dominant players in this industry. Will-Burt continued to build stokers and related equipment and parts until 2015 when the operation was sold to a former Will-Burt employee who continues to provide service parts for homes and businesses to this day.
February 22, 2018
By 1929, the stoker business had grown and an additional building on South Main Street was purchased to house the expansion. Plant 2 as it came to be known was originally constructed by Schantz Organ in 1874 and was the first steam-driven factory in the city. The building was eventually sold because the Schantz family believed that Orrville city taxes had grown too high and they moved outside of the city limits. This plant was part of the Will-Burt organization until its sale in 1995 and eventual demolition to make way for a Rite Aid store.
March 1, 2018
WWII brought in additional business known as “jobbing”. This was sub-contract machine work on parts used in the production of military supplies and equipment. Some of these components were used in Bofors anti-aircraft guns, mechanisms for C54 Douglas cargo planes, gun recoil mechanisms, base plugs for 1000-lb bombs and arms for tanks as well as gears for the navy. As a result of the dedication and hard work of Will-Burt employees, the company was granted the “E Award” for excellence in production of war equipment. Only 5% of companies received this award. This outside work helped the company’s growth and introduced new business relationships with several manufacturing companies around the country.
March 8, 2018
After WWII, Stokers were still the core of Will-Burt’s business. Smaller heaters were added to the product line along with boilers. The home building boom after WWII undoubtedly helped to drive the business. Large systems were sold to schools, greenhouses, chicken hatcheries and even tobacco curing operations.
Will-Burt’s tobacco curer was said to create better quality tobacco that could sell for 25% more than the going rate per pound. The secret was better heat circulation from a Will-Burt stoker-fired heating plant rather than traditional heaters of the time.
Will-Burt also offered related products to greenhouses such as soil sterilization equipment and mechanized shading systems. Both products were derivatives of heating and transmission technology that Will-Burt had developed for the core stoker and heating product line.
March 15, 2018
Will-Burt has always excelled at metal working and the company used this expertise to develop and launch new products. One such product was The Little Farmer Power Cultivator. In 1949, Ed Baer designed this unique machine for the home gardener, along with several optional accessory implements. This self-propelled tiller was powered by a Briggs & Stratton engine and sold via catalog for $89.95.
|Little Farmer sales material from 1950.||Full line of accessory implements for the Little Farmer.||Little Farmer powered cultivator.|
March 22, 2018
When Will-Burt began focusing on consumer products in the 1950’s, the carpenter’s vise was reintroduced to the public. A name was eventually conceived for the versatile vise “Versa-Vise” and was trademarked in 1954. In 1956, a new version of the vise was introduced along with a swivel base and additional accessories. It was launched in October of the same year, with a tagline of “More than a vise, a workshop tool” and sold in stores for $12.95. The Versa-Vise became so popular that The Columbian Vise and Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, Ohio contracted Will-Burt to manufacture the vise under their own private label, Gyro-vise. The ‘Versa Vise’ trademark was renewed in 1974 before its eventual sale in 1988. Today, the Versa-Vise is produced and sold by JonMar Gear and Machine, owned and operated by a former Will-Burt employee.
|Versa Vise registered trademark documents from 1954.||Versa Vise logo registration from 1954.||Versa Vise trademark renewal documents from 1973.|
|Original Versa Vise logo from the 1950's.||Versa Vise promotional literature||Versa Vise promotional materials.|
March 29, 2018
As the company ushered in the 1960’s, Ed Baer passed the CEO torch to his son, William Baer who had been working in the Engineering division of the company. Ed enjoyed a 10-year retirement and passed away on April 29th, 1971.
It was Bill’s strategy to grow Will-Burt’s stoker and heating business through acquisitions. In 1961, Will-Burt purchased the Combustioneer and Freeman stokers line from the Heating Division of the Illinois Iron and Bolt Company. To house this acquisition and provide space for increased production, the Orrville Body Company building on West Pine Street in Orrville was purchased. In 1963, the company purchased the screw manufacturing operation from the Iron Fireman Company. An additional building on South Main Street, directly north of Plant 2 and across the railroad tracks was purchased to house this new operation. In 1966, Will-Burt purchased the remaining balance of the Iron Fireman Stoker Division from Space Conditioning, Inc.
These acquisitions provided the company with the ability to sell many different models and brand names under the Will-Burt umbrella.
April 5, 2018
Coal use by homeowners was beginning to decline by the late 1960’s. Sales were declining by 25% every year. A memo from Bill Baer was sent to all employees in March of 1968 attributing the reason for the lack of profits to: “We employees of The Will-Burt Company are employed in a dying industry”.
Even though Will-Burt was experiencing a downward trend, the company was still healthy with several new products on the horizon such as the Motow Tire Rack, ABC Sandblaster, Open House Merchandising Stand and Soil Sterilizer. Patience and sound judgement was preached by Bill Baer as he certainly was not tolling the death knell. Instead, Bill “looked forward to the future of our company whether we are in the coal heating business or not. Present new products as the future development and manufacture of additional new products will make our company, through our continued cooperative effort and hard work, one of Orrville’s dynamic companies”.
April 12, 2018
Thanks to the descendants of Will Tschantz for sharing a key to the building in Orrville used by Burt and John Cope along with Will Tschantz. Constructed in the early 1870’s by John Dunn as an engine works and cider mill, this historic structure located on West Market Street was used by The Cyclone Drilling Machine Company at the turn of the 20th century before its eventual sale to Ted Sanderson of The Sanderson-Cyclone Company. The building was subsequently used by several companies; including Stoller Floors, Hinkle Pontiac and Bernard Snyder Ford before it was unfortunately lost to a fire on May 4, 2003.
April 19, 2018
Bill Tschantz was the grandson of William H. Tschantz and
worked for the family business, W.H. Tschantz & Sons along with his uncles and cousins. The company manufactured butcher and grocery equipment, however they were struggling to make ends meet. In 1956, the family decided to sell the business to Biro Manufacturing of Marblehead, Ohio and retained Bill Tschantz and other family members to run the meat grinding division that has remained in Canton, Ohio until this day.
The Tschantz legacy came full circle when grandson Bill approached Will-Burt to engineer and manufacture a new type of meat processing machine, the Frozen Block Chipper in 1967. What began as a contract manufacturing agreement to produce a single product, expanded into a long-term relationship building a full line of meat processing products that still stands to this day.
April 26, 2018
Will-Burt’s manufacturing division continued to produce heating products throughout the 1960’s. The company made a strategic decision to expand its contract manufacturing and OEM work which consisted of high-quality fabrication, welding and painting. Will-Burt manufactured alarmed drive-thru teller drawers for Diebold, produced meat processing equipment for The Biro Manufacturing Company and fabricated parts for Hi-Lo scaffolding. Will-Burt also continued to machine parts for local companies including Hyco of Ashland, AMF Bowling of Shelby and Flo-Tork of Orrville.
The ABC Electric Automatic Sandblaster capable of cleaning parts and engraving headstones was manufactured and sold directly to customers by Will-Burt. This machine was advertised to boost shop output, save labor and protect health.
May 3rd, 2018
They can’t all be home runs! Here are some examples of Will-Burt products that might have been ahead of their time or maybe just in too much of a niche market. Many are clever ideas that just did not take root in the market and lasted only a few years.
May 10, 2018
Burton G. Cope started a business enterprise that has spanned three centuries and we primarily know him as a leader of industry. However, Burt had a very human side. He was known to be generous to his employees and the community and even had car troubles just like the rest of us.
May 17, 2018
Thomas Mold & Die (TMD) of Wooster, Ohio had been a
supplier of parts for Will-Burt over the years. In 1970, Will-Burt management decided to purchase TMD because of their tool & die capabilities that would help expand Will-Burt’s contract manufacturing business. TMD, located on West Henry Street also made rubber molds and telescoping masts under the trade name “SKY-HI”. These masts were primarily used to elevate antennas for the communication industry. As history would prove, the acquisition of Thomas Mold & Die would be a watershed moment in Will-Burt’s evolution.
May 24, 2018
Will-Burt developed new contract manufacturing and OEM relationships with many large, well-known companies throughout the 1970’s. Fabrication work was performed for White Trucks which later became Volvo White. Additionally, work for Diebold became more complex as Will-Burt took on installation of wiring harnesses and electronics, along with welding of teller window assemblies. The company also established a long-lasting partnership with Caterpillar; welding, fabricating and painting components for heavy equipment. This business relationship endures to this day.
May 31, 2018
William Baer born in 1916, was an industrialist and community leader that worked for The Will-Burt Company for his entire career. The 48-year legacy of William Baer began in 1936 as an engineer and he worked his way up to succeed his father, Ed Baer, as the company’s third CEO in 1961. Bill’s influence extended beyond Will-Burt into the city of Orrville and Wayne County.
Bill actively served on the Orrville Public Utilities Board for 19 years and been chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and a past president and member of the Orrville Exchange Club. He was instrumental in bringing Wayne College, a branch of the University of Akron, to Orrville.
As president of the Wayne County Airport Authority, he played a major role in the development of the Wayne County Airport. Flying was a passion of Bill’s as demonstrated by the company purchase of an airplane to transport sales and service people around the country.
Bill always lived by the words as told to him by his father “the road to progress is always under construction” which was reflected in his work. In 1980, he was named as Orrville’s Citizen of the Year which reflected his love and concern for Orrville and Wayne County throughout his life.
Bill’s unexpected passing on October 6, 1984, marked the end of the Cope family’s stewardship of The Will-Burt Company.
In 1981, the GTE Corporation’s Government Systems division approached Will-Burt in need of their pneumatic mast technology for vehicle integration to fulfill a contract GTE had secured. Over the next 2 years, GTE and Will-Burt worked to engineer and develop the Patriot (Phased Array Tracking Radar Intercept Of Target) Mast. The first order for 300 masts was placed in 1983. This program was the first indication that the mast pneumatic mast business had potential to positively contribute to the company’s bottom line. In 1984, the company moved the growing mast division to a new building in the Orrville Industrial Park at 401 Collins Boulevard.
The Patriot Masts are used to elevate transmission equipment including radars and antennas for missile defense systems that are deployed around the world. The GTE Corporation sold its Government Systems division to General Dynamics at the turn of the 21st century and Will-Burt continues to manufacture and service these masts to this day.
June 14, 2018
Will-Burt kept the homes and businesses warm into the 1980’s with their line of “Combustioneer” coal and wood fired heating products.
June 21, 2018
In 1981, Will-Burt visited The NAB Exposition (National Association of Broadcasters) and realized there was a new and growing market for pneumatic masts. Live TV broadcasts were becoming popular and were being used as a new marketing platform by local and national television broadcasters. ENG (Electronic News Gathering) vehicles were being produced at a rapid pace. Every one of these vehicles required a device capable of elevating a microwave dish to approximately 50 feet in the air and Will-Burt had the perfect solution. The company’s 7-42 Non-Locking Pneumatic Mast met the need perfectly.
The 7-42 was and still is a lightweight and easy to operate elevation system perfect for raising antennas. By the mid-1990’s, Will-Burt’s pneumatic masts could be found on 98% of ENG vehicles throughout the United States. Will-Burt continues to attend the NAB expo and demonstrate their latest innovations designed to meet the elevation requirements of smaller vehicles and more advanced broadcast systems.
June 28, 2018
Harry Featherstone was promoted to president of The Will-Burt Company after Bill Baer’s unexpected passing in 1984. Harry and the company faced many challenges after a personal injury lawsuit was filed against Hi-Lo scaffolding which was a Will-Burt customer. Hi-Lo scaffolding filed for bankruptcy and subsequently went out of business. Will-Burt manufactured components for this product and had the deepest pockets. This made the company a target as well even though their components did not fail. Will-Burt settled, unfortunately encouraging other predatory lawyers to file additional lawsuits against Will-Burt. This required the company to take action and spend an enormous amount of resources to survive during this dark period of the company’s history; during which board members abandoned the company and insurers cancelled its policies. The company’s owners believed the only option was to liquidate the company’s assets and close its doors for good. However, Harry Featherstone was not ready to abandon the company and employees.
Harry believed survival was a possibility for Will-Burt as an Employee-Owned Company.
July 5, 2018
Will-Burt Orrville factory locations over the years.
July 12, 2018
Will-Burt purchased the rights to build a line of portable, outdoor chemical and hazardous material containment shelters in 1987. EPA requirements were driving demand for these products and Will-Burt’s metal fabrication capabilities aligned well to manufacture the shelters. The division was known as EPI (Environmental Products, Inc.) and Will-Burt sold various configurations to US military installations and golf courses. In 1998 management decided to refocus and sold the business to Benko Products who continue to sell these containment shelters today.
Something from the company scrapbook…
1977 was the peak of the energy crisis. Natural gas and fuel oil were in short supply so demand for coal and coal burning furnaces and the stokers that fed them shot through the roof. Will-Burt was one of the few remaining companies that could supply these products. One grade school was so desperate for Will-Burt Stokers that they asked the kids to write letters to the company explaining why they needed them so badly.
Will-Burt’s manufacturing capabilities were extended into the automotive aftermarket with the production of Trick Flow Cylinder Heads. This was said to add 72 horsepower to the standard 350 cubic inch Chevy small block engine. Will-Burt produced this product for TFS throughout the 1980s and 1990s and it can still be purchased today from Summit Racing.
August 2, 2018
We have been able to work on some very interesting projects over the years. In the late 1990s, we worked with a golf course in Shanghai, China and developed four large telescoping light towers that were mounted in the ground – a first for Will-Burt. The exclusive golf club wanted their members to be able to golf at night when it was cooler but did not the towers to obstruct the view during the day. Of course, telescoping light towers by Will-Burt were the perfect solution!
August 9, 2018
Circa 1905 – A Cyclone Drill Machine loaded on a rail car to the side of the Orrville plant. Ira and Mart, children of Will Tschantz are identified in the photo.
August 16, 2018
We did not know what the contraption was that Ed Baer VP of Will-Burt on the left and Bob McFadden Sales Manager on the right were looking at until we found the lighted sales sign at the Orrville Historical Society. We are assuming that this was used to convert a coal burning furnace to oil and was likely introduced in the late 1940’s. If anyone knows for certain or has one in their basement, send us a message!
August 30, 2018
Will-Burt has always looked for new business opportunities. The company put their metal working and painting expertise to work when they launched their “Open House” metal retail and storage buildings in the 1960’s. This program lasted into the 1970’s.
September 6, 2018
Accurate Electronics was a supplier of several revolutionary products to Will-Burt such as the D-TEC overhead power line safety device for masts and the TacStick (today known as the Hot Stick) handheld high voltage detection device. They also developed a new quartz halogen light for the Night Scan light tower. Will-Burt in turn supplied metal housings for Accurate electronics’ dockside pedestals that were used to supply power and water to boats docked in marinas. 1999 was the year Will-Burt acquired Accurate Electronics of North Ridgeville, Ohio and integrated their capabilities into their expanding portfolio. 2008 was the year that Will-Burt spun off the dockside pedestal business as the company focused on their core capabilities in the mast market.
September 13, 2018
Will-Burt introduced their first Night Scan fold-down light tower at the IFC show in Anaheim, California in August of 1992. By 1993, Will-Burt was in full production and distributing throughout the United States and Europe. Night Scan has evolved over the years and is still an important part of our business and first responder’s equipment. Over 25,000 Night Scans have been put into service so far.
September 20, 2018
Inspiration for new products can come from anywhere. Customers, in-house R&D development or even NASA’s Viking Mars Lander program. Will-Burt was in need of a compact mast drive system.
The technology used in the Mars Lander Sampler Arm was modified to fit at the base of a Will-Burt telescopic mast.
This new mast was Saber™. The Saber mast was
advertised as the most space-saving and easiest to- maintain mechanical system available. It was used in two major military programs including IEWCS of the USA and LAV-Reece of Canada.
September 27, 2018
ISO certification was granted to Will-Burt in 1994. A certified, quality management system is often necessary to win contracts from sophisticated companies and gain credibility in foreign markets. Today, all Will-Burt companies are ISO 9001 certified.
October 4, 2018
Will-Burt landed a major contract to build GSA security cabinets in 1995. This significant award required the addition of nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. Plant 9 located at 401 Collins Blvd. in The Orrville Industrial Park had been primarily producing masts. With the expansion, the location was renamed Plant 2000 which reflected the company’s readiness for the future. This allowed the company to take on even more work from Caterpillar and White GM among others, while also supporting the needs of the growing mast business.
October 11, 2018
Will-Burt has been going to tradeshows for years. In fact, we found records that indicate we were attending shows before we were incorporated. Here are examples of shows from the 1980s and 1990s. “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
October 18, 2018
A key acquisition was made in 2000 with the purchase of Tri-Ex Tower Corporation of Visalia, California which held technology to build mechanical masts and towers. This gave Will-Burt access to numerous military programs including QEAM, ASAS and others.
Will-Burt gained screw-drive elevation and automatic lock technology. Today, improved and patented mechanical mast locks that can trace their heritage back to this acquisition are in use around the world in our Stiletto, Stiletto AL and QEAM masts.
October 25, 2018
Will-Burt is well-known for designing and producing customized elevation solutions for a variety of customers around the globe. One such customer is Disney. We have been developing customized pneumatic masts for the parks since the 1990s, in fact we are working on a project right now. The masts are typically used during shows and parades to temporarily elevate sound and light equipment. The mast with equipment attached, is stored in a covered “pit” and elevated during the performance. When the show is over, everything disappears back into the pit and is hidden from view. Be on the lookout for Will-Burt masts next time you are at a Disney park.
November 1, 2018
Will-Burt began taking on complex, small batch manufacturing projects in the 1980s. Some of our most highly skilled people would tackle these projects and turn them around in record time. In 1990, this operation was given a name: Quick Turn.
Today, Quick Turn tackles a variety of projects from prototypes to emergency parts production to small-batch and complex metal working. Some in the group have been there since it was created in 1990!
November 8, 2018
Will-Burt’s expanding contract manufacturing operation landed a significant contract in 1995 to make government approved (GSA) security cabinets for the Mosler Company. A plant expansion was required and the company was now in the security cabinet business. A few years later Mosler went out of business and Diebold purchased the operation. Will-Burt continued to produce the cabinets for Diebold. In 2013, Will-Burt acquired the business segment from Diebold and we are now one of three companies that manufacture these products for the government.
November 15, 2018
As we explain what Will-Burt does to someone that is not familiar with our type of masts, they often first think of masts for sailing ships. Actually, sometimes they are not too far off. Over the years we have designed and manufactured specially designed telescoping masts to elevate lights and other equipment for ships. The parts and mast tubes are specially designed to withstand the salt water spray and other harsh conditions of the sea. The vessels have ranged from commercial cargo ships to navy cruisers to multi-million dollar private yachts!
November 29, 2018
Will-Burt has always recognized the value of a good distributor – after all, you can’t be everywhere at once. We began partnering with distributors of heating products in the eastern United States in the 1930s. As our business evolved and grew into a global organization our partnerships have changed as well. Today we have over 100 expert local market distributors and agents that help us deliver the best elevation products and manufacturing capabilities to every corner of the world!
December 6, 2018
By the 1990s, Will-Burt’s robust range of masts backed by high quality and continuous innovation enabled the company to become a successful exporter – able to compete in any market. Will-Burt won the Ohio Governor’s “E” Award for Excellence in Exporting in 1999 and again in 2008. In 2004, Will-Burt was named Ohio’s Exporter of the Year – the smallest company to win the award. Today, more than 50% of Will-Burt’s mast business comes from markets outside of the US.
December 13, 2018
Was it Plant 1 or Plant 2? Actually it depends on when you worked at Will-Burt. When the former Tschantz (original spelling) Organ factory at 202 South Main Street was purchased by The Will-Burt Company in 1929 to house its stoker manufacturing operations, the factory and offices became known as Plant 2. Plant 1 was built in 1921 and housed manufacturing operations for combustion control equipment. Both buildings have been demolished in the name of progress. 80% of today’s Orrville operations are located in three buildings in the Orrville Industrial Park at the north end of town.
December 20,l 2018
Enjoy reading the holiday edition of “The Firing Line” – Will-Burt news from 71 years ago this week. Let us know if any of the folks mentioned were your relatives!