In the summer of 1874, Charles Jeremiah Smith started a small business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making “hardware specialties.” The entrepreneur could not have imagined that his one-person business would grow and thrive to become a global manufacturer with more than 16,000 employees. What C. J. Smith did know and understand was the importance of taking care of his customers, solving their problems, and helping them find “a better way.” He believed strongly in doing business with honesty and integrity.
The business that C. J. Smith founded grew quickly, supplying metal parts for baby carriages and bicycles. Two of his sons, then a third – Arthur Oliver Smith – joined the Milwaukee business. A. O. Smith and his brothers shared their father’s belief in technology and innovation. In 1899, during the earliest days of the automobile revolution, A. O. Smith developed a new, lightweight steel car frame. Within a few short years, he was selling these frames to a “who’s who” of car makers including Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Ford. A. O. Smith’s son, Lloyd Raymond, carried on the family company, expanding the automotive business and introducing the world’s first automated frame production line, the Mechanical Marvel, in 1921. Ray Smith’s engineers also discovered an improved method of welding, enabling the company to develop a wide range of steel products including the pressure vessel for oil refining and large diameter steel pipe – an innovation that contributed to the creation of the oil and natural gas industries.
Ray Smith built an engineering organization unmatched at the time. Among the many technologies company engineers investigated was the process of fusing glass to steel. This led to new products including glass-lined beer kegs, large glass-lined brewery tanks…and, in 1936, the process for glass lining a residential water heater tank. Glass-lined water heaters quickly became the standard of the industry and remains so to this day. New businesses, including electric motors, fiberglass pipe, the innovative Harvestore® structure, and others all were established during this period.
As the company grew, it began to look outside of the United States for more opportunities. It expanded into Canada and Europe, opening small water heater operations to serve those markets. More recently, it became one of the first U. S. water heater manufacturers to enter the Chinese market. A. O. Smith employed a familiar formula in China, using its engineering expertise to develop products uniquely suited to Chinese consumers.
It also brought along the A. O. Smith values, doing business with honesty and integrity and developing a workplace environment of mutual respect and dignity. A few short years later, the company entered India, becoming the first U. S. water heater company to serve the Indian market. Today, A. O. Smith Corporation is a global water technology company manufacturing residential and commercial water heaters and boilers and water purification equipment.
As the company’s history timeline illustrates, A. O. Smith’s history is one of finding creative ways to solve customer problems and make them more successful. It also is a history of achievement – the innumerable contributions of the men and women who make up the company. By following the credo of Integrity, Innovation, and Customer Satisfaction, A. O. Smith’s employees will ensure the company’s prosperity and success for another 145 years.