LIMA — On a summer Saturday evening in 1942, employees of the Steiner Brothers machine and die company met in the Crystal Room of Lima’s Argonne Hotel for dinner and the end of an era.
According to a story in the Aug. 8, 1942, edition of The Lima News, the workers were told the Steiner Brothers company was being sold to the Lennox Furnace Co. of Marshalltown, Iowa.
In addition to the more than 200 Steiner employees at the dinner, two of the company’s seven founding brothers — John Steiner and Peter Steiner — were on hand to bid their employees farewell, the News reported. A third brother, Amos P. Steiner, was in Pennsylvania and unable to attend. The other four brothers — Noah Steiner, Ulrich Steiner, Willis Steiner and Phares Steiner — were deceased.
The company that was changing hands that night was born in 1915 in a Pennsylvania boarding house with each of the seven brothers kicking in to capitalize it, according to an account in the 1976 history of Allen County.
The seven Steiner brothers, born between 1873 and 1889 to Jacob and Katharina Steiner, grew up on a farm northwest of Bluffton. “While their four sisters helped with housework, the Steiner brothers worked together to keep the family farm operating,” the News wrote in an April 13, 2005, story.
By 1915, the brothers had scattered, but brother Amos had an idea that would reunite them — a family business. “Mr. A.P. Steiner suggested that prospects for organizing and operating a machine shop were very opportune, on account of the large amount of work on hand and probable continued prosperity,” according to the 1976 county history. “Accordingly, a meeting was called on Sunday, Oct. 24, 1915, at the residence of George Mohr, 226 Church St., Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where Willis occupied a room.”
At the meeting, attended by five of the seven brothers, it was decided each brother would kick in $1,000 toward the organization of the firm, which, the brothers decided, would be located in Lima with Peter Steiner as its manager. Peter Steiner, the history noted, “secured and rented the brick building at the rear of 322 N. West St., belonging to Thomas Brothers of West Wayne Street.” Operations began in the Courthouse Alley shop on Dec. 4, 1915, with five employees.
“The report of the Steiner Brothers machine plant recently compiled by manager Peter Steiner shows that this institution has been making great strides in the past few months,” the Lima Sunday News declared May 14, 1916. “Although only established last December, more than 20 men are employed at the present time and high-grade tools are turned out for such concerns as Willys-Overland Company, Landis Tool Company, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati Milling Machine company and the East Iron and Machine company.” Already, Steiner told the newspaper, the shop was not large enough to handle all the orders the company was receiving.
So, on Oct. 4, 1916, less than a year after opening the Courthouse Alley shop, the Lima Republican-Gazette reported that “A.P. (Amos) and Peter Steiner, of Steiner Brothers, tool manufacturers, announced last night they had booked orders aggregating $100,000 and would begin work immediately on their new factory to be built at Baxter street and the Pennsylvania railroad. The contract will be let either today or tomorrow. The site was donated by the Lima Chamber of Commerce.”
Not even an economic downturn in the wake of World War I could slow the Steiner Brothers shop, as a story in the Sunday News noted. “The reconstruction period means little to the Steiner Brothers, machinists, whose plant is located on Haller Street near Baxter,” the newspaper wrote Feb. 16, 1919. “They are at present working on large orders for precision grinding machines used in the making of ball bearings for automobiles, and state that they are working more men more hours … It is probably the only machine manufacturing concern in Lima which has not been affected by the termination of the war, and as they are interested principally in the manufacture of machines used in automobile construction their future is rosy, and they are working day and night shifts.”
In March 1929, with, according to the News, “an outlook for future orders that was never brighter,” the plant was expanded. “The new building of brick, steel and concrete construction, has been under construction since early in July, will give the plant which is devoted to manufacture of dies and special machinery, 6,000 additional square feet of space,” the newspaper wrote.
Then, 27 years after the Steiner brothers opened their machine shop in the downtown alley, it became the Steiner Division of Lennox Furnace Co.
The News praised the remaining Steiner brothers in an Aug. 21, 1942, editorial. “Although only three of you remain, I personally feel that you can look back upon your achievement in the industrial world with a feeling of satisfaction.”
The editorial went on to welcome the new owners with a wish that “your stay here be pleasant and profitable for yourself and your company and the loyal workers who helped build up this Lima industry.”
Those loyal workers would be kept busy as part of the U.S. industrial effort in World War II.
“One of Lima’s smaller industries playing an important part in the war effort is the Steiner Division of the Lennox Furnace Co.,” the News wrote Sept. 24, 1943. “Working 100 percent on war work with no civilian activities of any kind in the plant, this industry’s 275 employees are kept busy day and night in activities that are helping toward the goal of final victory.” Most of that work, the News added, was for the U.S. aviation industry.
That effort was increased when, in January 1944, Lennox began converting two floors of the former Banta candy company building on the northeast corner of South Central Avenue and East Elm Street for “production machining parts for war planes,” the News wrote when the plant opened in March 1944.
In 1955, Lennox bought a 15-acre tract on the east side of Cable Road midway between Elida and Allentown roads as the site of a new plant. Originally, the new building was to house all the tool and die-making facilities of the plant at 635 N. Baxter St. as well as the production machining facilities of the Lennox plant in the old Banta candy factory building. The Baxter Street plant, meanwhile, would house the Lima Register Co., also operated by Lennox.
By December of that year, however, it was decided Lima Register would occupy the Cable Road plant while the other Lennox tool and machine operations would be consolidated at the Baxter Street plant. General manager N.S. Hoerle told the News on Dec. 8, 1955, that “the change in plans was made because of the rapid increase in sales by Lima Register Co.” Hoerle added that expected future increases in sales at Lima Register “soon would force the register company to expand further — which would be virtually impossible at the present Haller and Baxter streets location.”
In 1966, the Lennox tool and machine operations housed in the Baxter Street plant were sold to Warner & Swasey, a Cleveland-based tool manufacturer. In early 1980 the Warner & Swasey plant was taken over by the Bendix Corp. and eventually became a part of Bendix Automation Co. division of Allied Corp. In 1984, according to a story in the Jan. 10, 1991, edition of the News, Cross & Trecker purchased the Warner & Swasey portion of the division from Allied for $65 million. In 1991, Giddings & Lewis, a company based in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, acquired Cross & Trecker. Today the Baxter Street plant is operated by American Trim.
Next week: Lima Register and Milcor
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.