75 and Going Strong

All these years later, Franklin Electric continues to be a pioneer in the field.

By William Wagner

Franklin Electric moved into its current headquarters in 2013 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

It may seem like hyperbole to say that Franklin Electric helped create the water pump industry as we know it today. But these are humble people rooted in a humble Midwestern work ethic, so we’ll dial it back a notch and simply call them “pioneers.”

“The term ‘pioneer’ is an excellent way to describe the many people who have taken the necessary calculated risks to drive the growth of Franklin Electric,” says Gregg Sengstack, chairman of the board and CEO of Franklin Electric. “There isn’t time to name them all.”

Franklin Electric, now based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2019. The time is right, then, to look back on the company’s storied history and gaze into what promises to be an innovative future.

It all began in 1944 at Bluffton, Indiana, where E.J. “Edward” Schaefer and T.W. “Wayne” Kehoe started a modest motor manufacturing business. Within five years, they filed the patent for what would prove to be the first reliable submersible motor for water systems, blasting the water pump industry into the modern age.

“Edward Schaefer’s innovation of the world’s first reliable submersible electric motor for water systems was the cornerstone for what Franklin Electric was built on,” Sengstack says. “In many ways, the approach used back then still drives the company’s thought process today. We strive to be an indispensable partner that provides the ultimate customer experience every time they do business with us.

“As for the industry, the obvious reliability of the motor encouraged many to convert surface pumping operations to deep well submersible applications. In many applications, they could pump more water at a cost-effective rate. Being underground portrayed a more aesthetically pleasing look in many cases and ultimately protected the pumping system from harsh above-ground environments.”

Today, Franklin Electric is a global enterprise with facilities in countries ranging from Brazil to Japan. Its sleek headquarters in Fort Wayne are a far cry from the scruffy brick building in Bluffton where Schaefer and Kehoe set their plans in motion, but the company’s core values remain the same.

Franklin Electric began in a single-brick building in 1944 in Bluffton, Indiana. Today, it has offices, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities all around the world.

“Franklin Electric has experienced tremendous growth over the first 75 years, but I’m proud to say that we’ve maintained the small-company approach in most ways,” Sengstack says. “We like to say that we’re a really big small company. We’ve remained customer focused in everything we do, and most of our customers know us on a first-name basis. We’ve accomplished so much throughout our history, and with customer satisfaction still leading the way as our driving force, we’re positioned to accomplish even more in the future.”

And that’s really saying something considering what the company is accomplishing today. Franklin Electric, with its array of products, has placed itself as a leader for systems and components designed to move water and fuel. Whether it’s a small rural home with a water well or a sprawling commercial facility with massive pumping capabilities, Franklin Electric’s stamp is on a variety of systems working all around the world.

The key to Franklin Electric’s longevity is a sense of curiosity that is imbedded into the company’s culture. Franklin Electric always has had an eye toward the future, enabling it to adapt to whatever changes the industry might bring.

“From the technical side, there just aren’t many short answers anymore,” says Mark Reeder, director of training and technical communications for Franklin Electric. “That’s a direct result of the higher value that our industry delivers to the end user today. What I mean by that is if you contrast our products today versus just a few years ago, we (now) offer higher efficiencies, more precise levels of control, and better protection against hazards. All of this capability means more sophistication in the product itself.

“But with that higher level of sophistication comes a higher degree of technical expertise required on the part of the installing contractor. As manufacturers, we in turn have to increase the depth of our technical service and be ready to answer the questions and issues that inevitably come up in the field. That includes clear installation manuals, relevant training, and just good overall support.”

Indeed, education and training are two of the main ingredients in Franklin Electric’s secret sauce.

Edward Schaefer (third from left), one of the founders of Franklin Electric, was honored in 1951 with an award for achievement and community spirit.

“We believe that the investments we’ve made in education are possibly the greatest thing we’ve done for the water well pumping and water well drilling industries,” says Robert Stone, retired senior vice president and president of international water systems at Franklin Electric. “Our investment in education provides returns to us and the industry.

Adds DeLancey Davis, vice president of Franklin Electric and president of Headwater Companies: “Training is a core feature of Franklin’s business model and has been for quite some time. Franklin management recognized years ago that the key to long-term business success was to focus on professional water systems contractors and to ensure that they have the tools to provide complete systems solutions to end users.
Training has always been a two-way street for Franklin. At every training session, we hope to learn more than we teach. At each training session, we have the opportunity to better understand applications, the environment products are being utilized in, and issues our contractors are encountering.”

Franklin Electric has no intention of falling behind the curve. Its march toward the future is well underway, in part with a foray into solar technology. In 2016, for example, it introduced its Fhoton SolarPAK, a solar-powered groundwater pumping system.

Green technology is an important part of Franklin Electric’s strategy going forward.

“We’re very focused on high-efficiency systems that reduce the carbon footprint versus what is being used today,” Sengstack says. “In doing so, we look for opportunities with single products like our new MagForce high-efficiency motor, and we also provide complete systems that are designed to deliver greater efficiency to offer a lower cost of ownership. That focus will remain strong moving forward.”


William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area and can be reached at william.wagner7@gmail.com.