Happy Birthday, Flint & Walling Inc.

Published On: July 1, 2016By Categories: Features, Pumps and Water Systems

Midwest-based pump manufacturer celebrates 150 years in business.

By Jennifer Strawn

Flint and Walling Inc.’s windmills dotted the U.S. countryside in the company’s early days.

Its windmills became such a part of early Americana—U.S. soldiers during World War II reported feeling homesick seeing Flint & Walling’s windmills throughout Europe, North Africa, and Japan.

Now, 150 years later, the company is still celebrating its American roots.

“We’ve changed and evolved over the years, but we have always been focused on moving water,” says Scott Lechner, president of Flint & Walling. “We’re also proud to still be made in the USA.”

Headquartered in Kendallville, Indiana, Flint & Walling is the town’s oldest and largest employer. The company’s factory churned out wooden hand pumps in 1866 when Simeon Flint and David C. Walling—machine shop workers from Norwalk, Ohio—purchased a share of W.W. Hildreth & Co. from owner William Hildreth.

It still assembles and hand tests its smaller-diameter pumps from the same location on the northwest corner of Mitchell and Oak Streets. It’s the Midwest values that has kept the company loyal to the city for all of these years, Lechner maintains.

“We’ve changed and evolved over the years, but we have always been focused on moving water.”

Its employees are also loyal—with many working for the company for 30 years or more. Some are fourth-generation employees who are following in the footsteps of their fathers, their grandfathers, and great-grandfathers.

Bob Tree, a former western regional manager, retired in January after working for more than 30 years with Flint & Walling. The company was always there for him, he says.

“I’m not one to puddle jump from one spot to the other,” Tree adds. “If somebody’s taking good care of me, I’m going to stay.”

Tree took time off in 2012 to fight Stage IV bladder cancer and the company stood by him, he emembers. After several surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy, he went into remission and was able to return to work.

“I worked until I was 70,” he says. “That’s how much I love the company.”

Rita Hoover took a job at the company as an engineering secretary because she was looking for a steady
paycheck. Now, more than 40 years later, she’s still with the company working as an inside sales representative.

“It’s the work environment, people, and the customers that keep me here,” she acknowledges.

Low employee turnover means the company retains skilled employees and is able to build strong relationships with its suppliers, which is one reason Tom Griffin, owner of GCO Supply Inc. in Mobile, Alabama, has purchased from Flint & Walling since 1989.

“You call there and talk to the same people you’ve talked to for 20 years,” he says. “You get to know them as friends, and it’s great to have those kinds of relationships with people.”

Broome Pump in Binghamton, New York, has purchased from Flint & Walling for more than 20 years because they can be sure when one of the Flint & Walling pumps goes in the well . . . it stays there.

“I think part of it, for me personally, is their pumps are American made,” says Keith Woodsinger, sales representative with Broome Pump. “They make the motor here in America and the pump in America.”

Although much has stayed the same over the past 150 years, Flint & Walling didn’t reach this milestone anniversary without continually re-inventing its products and investing in innovation.

The STAR windmill’s success

An illustration of the Flint & walling building in Kendallville, Indiana, from 1898.

The company’s first big success came with the introduction of its Star windmill in 1878.

When windmills were first introduced in the 1870s, they were limited to supplying wealthier farmers; most saw them as expensive and unnecessary.

 

A ribbon of participation from the 1899 National Export Exposition.

But “Hildreth, Flint, and Walling Co.” saw them as an opportunity to grow its business. The company already produced wooden and cast-iron hand pumps. But with the agriculture industry and western states’ population booming, they looked to capitalize on the current labor-saving equipment trend.

The first Star mill was all wood and had a 10-foot wheel. The windmill was well received and beat out competitors’ windmills at fairs including:

  • The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893
  • The National Export Exposition in 1899
  • The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905
  • The International Exposition in 1923.

As a result, the wooden windmill’s design remained unchanged for 40 years. Early advertising published customer testimonials praising the STAR windmill’s reliability. An Ohio-based customer
wrote:

The Star mill is a good one. I have (had) it now four years, and (it) works just as good as when new. . . . There is no doubt but what in a few years every farmer will have one; it is certainly the best investment on a farm. I would not do without the Star for double the cost.

David Walling also perfected two other inventions during this time—the single-acting three-way pump and the double-acting force pump—the company sold under the Hoosier and Fast Mail trade names.

The company was so successful it incorporated in 1886 for $90,000—a substantial amount of money at the time—under the name “Flint and Walling Manufacturing Co.”

An era of innovation

The 20th century marked an era of innovation for Flint & Walling. It faced its toughest times during the
Great Depression, but survived by having employees work just one day a week.

During World War II, the company joined the call to arms by producing pumps for the Allies. These pumps were bolted to trailers containing lengths of fire hoses. The company also produced 20-millimeter shells and casings and rubber patterns for aircraft fuel cells. For their efforts, the Department of the Navy awarded Flint & Walling with the Navy “E” Award for Excellence.

After the war, the company turned its focus once again toward innovation, pioneering the convertible jet pump in the mid-1940s. This improved method of well pumping was less expensive, more flexible, and more reliable than others of its day.

During this time the company created the first:

  • Horizontal jet pump, an innovation in the shallow well market that incorporated a horizontal jet and venturi into the pump head for optimum efficiency and size.
  • Four-volute design, a basic concept incorporated into the pump casting to substantially increase efficiencies. The design is still predominantly used by pump manufacturers.
  • Automatic control valve, a patented device for deep well pumps to provide the best flow of water regardless of variations in pump pressures or water depths.
  • Cartridge seal, a feature that enabled pump disassembly without disconnecting from the plumbing lines.
  • Convertible pump, a design that allowed conversion between shallow and deep well operation for simple merchandising and stocking.

Flint & Walling also became the first manufacturer to produce complete electric jet pump motors and the first to incorporate DuPont Delrin compound into domestic water pump components, which
resisted abrasion and minimized wear.

By 1954, the company ended windmill production and turned toward submersible pumps. It released its first submersible pump in the 1950s. While product developments were modest during this time, the company’s solid reputation helped sales of these pumps to grow.

The company officially became “Flint and Walling Inc.” in 1969 when it acquired several subsidiaries in various industries.

It eventually divested itself of its acquisitions and turned its focus back to “moving water” in the 1970s when the Masco Corp. purchased a controlling interest in the company. Under Masco, Flint & Walling continued to sell more than 900 models of pumps worldwide.

Flint & Walling today

Among products produced today are a variety of submersible motors.

The company returned to its roots as a privately-owned company when the family-owned Zoeller Co. purchased Flint & Walling from Masco in 2000. Since purchasing the company, Zoeller has helped Flint & Walling reinvest in Kendallville by purchasing new equipment, adding more personnel, and funding product development.

In 2004, Zoeller funded the development of Flint & Walling’s own 4-inch submersible motor. The Flint & Walling 4-inch submersible motor and controllers were introduced in 2014 after three years of development and seven years of field testing throughout North America.

“Sometimes the payback is not always a one- or two-year payback,”

F&W president Lechner says. “But it’s really refreshing to work for a company that says it’s the right thing to do for the long-term interest of the company, so let’s go ahead and do it.”

The launch was successful, with more than 70% of the company’s customers purchasing the Flint & Walling–branded motor.

In the coming years, Lechner sees Flint & Walling continuing to change with the industry by focusing more on technology and the ability to control water through variable speed drives and controllers.

Although he’s not sure what the next 150 years will look like for the pumping industry, he’s confident you can count on Flint & Walling to be there for it.

“Everybody is always going to need water and Flint & Walling will also always be a company that helps provide water,” he says.

“Who knows what the next 150 years will hold, but I do know Flint & Walling will continue to change and evolve with it.”


Jennifer Strawn was the associate editor of Water Well Journal from 2004 to 2007. She is currently in the internal communications department at Nationwide in Columbus,  Ohio. She can be reached at
strawnj2@gmail.com.

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