Times Change, but Quality and Performance are Timeless

Aug. 14, 2018
Unit Drop Forge Co. is celebrating its centennial anniversary, showing how longevity is the reward for consistency and reliability

If you traveled back in time 100 years, how much of the world you found there would be recognizable to you? Well, you might see ads for Sherwin-Williams paints or Goodyear tires. You might enjoy a Hershey bar or a Tootsie Roll, or you might buy soap made by Procter & Gamble. Having a high-quality product is a big reason that consumer products have longevity, even in a highly dynamic, market-based economy.

There was plenty of industrial activity in 1918, though how much you’d recognize is less certain. There were Fords and Harley-Davidsons back then, but the industrial economy values product quality and reliability more than brand recognition. It’s axiomatic that any manufacturing company in business for a century or more has proven its value as a supplier.

Unit Drop Forge Co. Inc. was established in 1918, in West Allis, WI, at the same location where today it produces closed-die forgings in carbon, alloy, stainless, and micro-alloy steels.

At first, it was the John Obenberger Forge Co., but soon it was acquired by the Unit Corporation of America.

Takeover and consolidation were fairly ordinary then, as now. In 1928, Unit Corp. of America bought the Universal Power Shovel Co., a construction equipment manufacturer, as well as Fuller and Sons Manufacturing Co., a producer of truck and off-highway equipment transmissions, and truck and trailer axles. Fuller and Sons would play a major role in the life of Unit Drop Forge in later years.

In 1932, Unit Corporation of America went bankrupt, and in reorganizing, it established three separate holdings: Fuller Transmission Co., Unit Drop Forge, and the Universal Power Shovel Co.  In 1937, Unit Corp. of America divested the Universal Power Shovel Co. and changed its name to the Fuller Manufacturing Co., with Unit Drop Forge as an operating division.

That version of Unit Drop Forge operated 15 steam hammers ranging from 1,500 to 10,000 lbs., including an open frame hammer.

In 1958, Eaton Manufacturing Co. acquired Fuller Manufacturing, of which it became a subsidiary holding, with Unit Drop Forge still a division of Fuller. In 1960, Unit Drop Forge became the Forge Division - Milwaukee Plant of Eaton Corp., a status it retained until 1978.

During 1978, after 20 years, Eaton decided to divest the Milwaukee plant.

On January 1, 1979, Unit Drop Forge Co. Inc. was divested from Eaton and established under new, private ownership. The current owners include some of those 1979 investors, and the entire ownership group has been unchanged since 1994, demonstrating that longevity is also a result of good stewardship.

In 1992, Unit Drop Forge acquired the railroad product line and related equipment from the defunct Pittsburgh Forge, and retained several employees of that enterprise to ensure consistency in the quality and productivity of that product line.  

Today the closed-die operation on S. 62nd Street in West Allis has nine steam hammers ranging from 4,000 to 18,000 lb., and its products range up to 24-in. in diameter and 45-in. long. The forgings range in weight from 10 to 300 lbs., and include parts like gears, valve bodies, con rods, crankshafts, hubs, ground engaging tools, and many others. The buyers are manufacturers in off-highway, construction, railroad, energy, compressor, mining, defense, and agricultural equipment markets. 

In the 1990s Unit Drop Forge began to add more capabilities to enhance its supply-chain presence—its value to buyers of closed-die forgings. It developed an integrated CNC finish-machining operation and began to offer welded assembly of components, new capabilities that have helped to grow the list of customers. It continues to invest in engineering systems, capital equipment, and organizational training and development.

“Our anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate a century of world-class manufacturing made possible by the best employees and customers over the past 100 years,” according to Ronnie Janzen, president and general manager of Unit Drop Forge.

“We are a leader in the forging industry and well respected by the many customers that we serve,” he continued, evincing a timeless understanding of manufacturing, of product quality and productivity, and of value to industrial customers. “We are committed to enhancing our position as the premier world-class manufacturer of high-quality, closed-die, forged steel components for another 100 years.”