Neenah Foundry Company - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Neenah Foundry Company

2121 Brooks Avenue
Neenah, Wisconsin 54956-4756

Company Perspectives:

Neenah Foundry has been producing quality castings in Neenah, Wisconsin, for over 125 years. The commitment to quality and service that started in 1872 is still the driving force behind Neenah Foundry being recognized as the quality and service leader in the industry.

History of Neenah Foundry Company

With headquarters in Neenah, Wisconsin, and distribution and sales locations in 13 states, Neenah Foundry Company is a leading manufacturer of iron castings and steel forgings. In addition to serving industrial customers with custom casting work, Neenah Foundry has a strong presence in the municipal products market. The company's many offerings include tree grates; drainage grates; manhole frames/covers; catch basin frames/grates; gutter inlets; airport castings; catch basin traps and hoods; bridge scuppers; median, subway, and building drains; sign bases; downspouts; floor drains; curb and wheel guards; slab-type castings; and electrical boxes and ballast screens.

A Simple Beginning: 1872-1927

Neenah Foundry's roots stretch back to 1872, when the United States was recovering from the Civil War. William Aylward, who had moved to Neenah, Wisconsin, from Corning, New York, around 1859, foresaw the need to provide farmers with quality plows. With experience gained during his employment at the Moore Brothers Foundry, where he served as foreman, Aylward established the Aylward Plow Works with two employees.

Aylward made regular treks via oxcart to Green Bay, Wisconsin, some 40 miles away, to buy the Swedish pig iron that his enterprise used for manufacturing. Aylward's plows were well received by farmers, and the company branched out to produce other cast iron products including bean pots, barn door rollers, sleigh shoes, and sugar cauldrons.

In From Plowshares to ..., a publication detailing Neenah Foundry's first 100 years, the company explained: "Bill Aylward's early foundry operation was very basic. The melting furnace was called a cupola, but burned coal rather than coke. Automation, such as it was, came in the form of a horse walking a circle on a windlass, pumping the huge bellows necessary for draft. The rest of the shop was hand operation. The hours were long, the work hard, the output limited."

Between 1875 and 1880 the Aylward Plow Works was able to steadily increase its capacity as William Aylward's sons--William, Jr., Edward Charles, and John--joined the business. This ultimately prompted the company to expand its physical infrastructure for the first time in 1881. By this time, production had grown to include cast iron stoves.

Following the dawn of a new century, the Aylward Plow Works continued to expand its product line. Manhole covers and sewer grates, which eventually became "flagship" products, were first produced in 1904. When William Aylward died three years later, the company was appropriately renamed as the Aylward Sons Co.

In 1918 several noteworthy changes occurred when Edward Charles Aylward renamed the company as E.C. Aylward Foundry Co. and relocated operations to a rural area in southwestern Neenah. The foundry continued operations in a 50- by 80-foot structure with clay floors, which was heated by coke-fired salamanders and molten metal. Administrative facilities consisted of a small, one-room office adjacent to the railroad tracks.

A final name change came in 1922, when the enterprise adopted the name Neenah Foundry Co. When E.C. Aylward died in 1926, his son Edmund John "Ed" Aylward--who had joined the company in 1919 after returning from World War I--was appointed manager and senior partner.

At this time, the company employed about 18 workers. After about 50 years of operation, foundry life continued to be grueling. As the company explained in From Plowshares to ...: "Most of our early operations were powered by the muscles of men. Coke was unloaded from boxcars with pitch forks. The cupola was charged by hand, piece by piece. Sand was stored in a small wooden shed next to the tracks. Hot metal was carried in ladles by the molder who 'poured off' his own work. Casters were rolled or carried to the cleaning yard for hand painting and shipment. These methods were common because power tools were unheard of. Yet, our men took much pride in producing quality castings and being part of a closely-knit group."

Surviving Difficult Times: 1928-45

In 1928 Neenah Foundry began to manufacture industrial castings in support of a growing regional printing industry. The following year, however, brought the Great Depression and a period of dire economic struggle for the United States. To avert disaster and maintain operations, Ed Aylward took out a second mortgage on his home. During the 1930s, projects from the Works Progress Administration--an employment relief program that was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal--resulted in heightened demand for municipal castings like manhole covers. This prompted the company to focus heavily on the sale of construction castings.

In From Plowshares to ..., former Neenah Foundry Vice-President Jim Keating recalled how difficult the 1930s were for the company, explaining: "During the depression years, our selling prices became quite ridiculous. We were selling grate bars and miscellaneous castings to the paper mills for less than 3 cents a pound and a 540 lb. manhole cover and frame was machined and delivered to Chicago for $8.50 per set during the period 1929-1934."

Despite the difficult years of the Great Depression, Neenah Foundry managed to achieve growth. By 1942, the company was able to open a credit union as a benefit for its employees, and other improvements were on the horizon.

Automation and Expansion: 1946-71

The advent of World War II brought wartime production business to Neenah Foundry. This was followed by the introduction of automated molding lines in 1946 that expanded capacity and supported growth of the company's employee base, which had risen to 320 by 1950.

More than 75 years after William Aylward established the company, his descendants remained actively involved in its daily operations. Ed Aylward's son, Edmund William "Bill" Aylward, came on board in 1948, followed by Richard John "Dick" Aylward in 1953. A metallurgist who received his education from the University of Wisconsin, Dick Aylward became a vice-president at Neenah in 1959 after making many valuable contributions. In 1960, the company suffered a loss when he died following a short illness.

Developments began to unfold at a steady clip around this time. In addition to gray iron, the company began using ductile iron in 1957, which was stronger than gray iron and more suitable for certain applications. This development allowed Neenah to better meet the needs of its customers.

Ed Aylward became company chairman in 1959, and his son Bill was named president. With a workforce that had grown to 565 employees, Neenah Foundry expanded the following year with the opening of Plant 2, which it described as the world's largest and most automated facility for the manufacture of construction castings. At this time, Neenah Foundry also introduced its own truck fleet. As additional evidence of the company's growth, sales increased some 400 percent between 1950 and 1960. Although Neenah Foundry had served international customers for more than 20 years, in 1966 the company began to formally market its products abroad by sending catalogs around the globe.

The addition of Plant 3, dedicated to industrial castings, followed in 1967. In July of 1969, Ed Aylward celebrated a 50-year tenure with the company his grandfather started. Sadly, he died on September 30, 1970. His leadership had been important to the company's success. In fact, between 1960 and 1970, Neenah Foundry's sales increased 300 percent.

A Second Century: 1972 to the Present

Upon the occasion of its 100th anniversary, Neenah Foundry had much to celebrate. Over the course of a century the company had grown from three employees to more than 1,200. In addition, its three plants had a combined daily production capacity of 800 tons. Plant 2, where the lion's share of Neenah Foundry's construction castings were made, generated 50,000 tons of construction castings annually alone.

In From Plowshares to ..., Neenah Foundry explained that it produced some 24,000 different kinds of construction castings, which were used throughout the world. In addition to a seemingly endless number of municipal and military locations, the company's castings were used at such well-known locations as Disney World, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Kennedy International Airport, and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Along with a vast array of construction castings, Neenah Foundry's Industrial Division offered an equally impressive lineup of 82,000 products. These castings were used in the manufacture of different kinds of motors and equipment, including trucks, cranes, air conditioners, electric motors, transmissions, farm machinery, and even motor housings for U.S. Navy ships.

In addition to its headquarters and production facilities in Neenah, Wisconsin, Neenah Foundry operated regional sales offices and distribution yards. The company employed sales people in major U.S. cities, and also worked with independent representatives and jobbers to market its products. By 1972 Neenah Foundry's international reach had grown to include locations such as Bombay, Guam, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and the Virgin Islands.

E.W. "Bill" Aylward remained Neenah Foundry's president in 1972, marking 100 years of family involvement with the company. At this time, the company's workers were represented by the Pattern Makers Association of Milwaukee and Vicinity, as well as the Allied Workers Union, and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Workers were kept abreast of company news via a bimonthly employee newsletter called the Iron Worker.

During the early 1980s, Neenah Foundry weathered a period of great difficulty within the foundry industry, during which hundreds of foundries either shut down or were acquired by other firms. Even though the company continued to hold a virtual monopoly on municipal castings in the Midwest, it faced heightened competition from foreign firms. By 1985 Bill Aylward estimated that Japanese firms had cost American foundries 25 percent of their industrial market share, according to the January 27, 1985 Milwaukee Journal.

In response to these conditions, Neenah Foundry tightened security by banning cameras from its production plant. The company also invested millions of dollars in new equipment throughout the decade, in order to increase efficiency and productivity. These improvements included the complete rebuilding of operations within Plant 3 in 1987, which supported high-production ductile iron casting for industrial customers.

The 1990s were both eventful and challenging for Neenah Foundry. After the death of E. William Aylward, Sr., in 1992, the company shuttered Plant 1 the following year. The facility, which had been constructed in the early 1900s, was closed because it could not keep pace with modern production demands. The closure resulted in the elimination of 350 jobs. By this time, Neenah Foundry was the nation's third largest castings producer.

The most significant development in the company's history came in May 1997. After 125 years and five generations of family involvement, the Aylward family sold its enterprise to NFC Castings Inc., an investment group composed of Citicorp Venture Capital Ltd. (a subsidiary of Citibank N.A.) and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. The Aylward family's sale of Neenah Corp. included Neenah Foundry Co., as well as two related businesses: Hartlet Controls Corp. and Neenah Transport Inc. At the time of the sale, Neenah Foundry's annual revenues were estimated at $150-$200 million. E. William Aylward's three sons--E. William, Jr., Andrew, and Richard--were the last family members involved with the company.

In 1997 Neenah Foundry continued advancing with the addition of a bar coding/automatic data collection system. According to the July 2001 issue of Modern Casting, the system provided "the ability to track work-in-process cast components from molding to shipping. A portion of this system provides real time information to employees for cleaning parts on the shop floor. The automatic data collection systems provide Neenah management the ability to track and monitor department backlogs and product flow. Production bottlenecks are identified and can be traced to specific jobs."

After it was acquired by NFC Castings Inc., Neenah Foundry began acquiring other companies at a rapid pace. This began with the April 1998 acquisition of Deeter Foundry. Based in Lincoln, Nebraska, the company was one of the largest manufacturers of tree grates and manhole covers in the United States.

Neenah Foundry acquired Advanced Cast Products Inc. of Meadville, Pennsylvania, in September of 1998. The merger resulted in the formation of a nine-company group that provided forging and casting services. According to the same July 2001 issue of Modern Casting, this created "one of the largest municipal construction casting suppliers in North America and provided a larger foundation in other industrial component markets such as heavy truck, compressors, automotive/light truck, railroad and mining."

Neenah Foundry made a number of subsequent acquisitions through the end of the 1990s, including Mercer Forge Co. of Mercer, Pennsylvania; Warsaw, Indiana-based Dalton Corp.; Cast Alloys Inc. of Carlsbad, California; and El Monte, California-based Gregg Industries.

In 2001 Neenah Foundry continued to evolve with the addition of robotic cells in its cleaning and finishing area. That year, the company's use of technology to maximize efficiency and control emissions resulted in a Foundry of the Year award from Modern Casting.

Neenah Foundry was honored again in June of 2002 when the Wisconsin Environmental Working Group, an affiliate of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, gave it the Business Friend of the Environment award. The award recognized Neenah Foundry's use of a special process to curb pollutants from air emissions. According to the June 11, 2002 issue of the Post-Crescent, hydrogen peroxide, water, and ozone were combined with dust during the production process, which was then reused to produce sand molds for castings. This resulted in a lower level of combustible materials.

In the wake of a sour economy that was especially dire for the nation's manufacturing sector, Neenah Foundry was forced to lay off 74 of its workers in late 2002, bringing its Neenah, Wisconsin workforce to 960. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2002, the company's sales totaled $405 million, while its debt totaled $454.6 million that December.

Neenah Foundry reorganized via Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2003, and emerged that October after reaching an agreement to repay its creditors. Heading into the mid-2000s, Neenah Foundry had proved its resilience through more than 130 years of continuous operation.

Principal Competitors: Crescent Foundry Company Pvt. Ltd.; Washington Street Castings, Inc.


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