Tuesday, March 3, 2015


(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

Robert Slass started Rotor Clip Company in 1957 in a small, 2000 square foot facility in Farmingdale, New York.

“It was like a large living room,” he would say with a smile, as he spoke of those days.

He bought used equipment and refurbished it.

He bought broken stamping presses and made one good one, using parts from the other machines.

He experimented with ways to produce retaining rings from a strip of steel with as little waste as possible, which significantly reduced costs to the customer.

Today, the company he founded occupies over 238,000 square feet in Somerset, New Jersey, and services a variety of companies in North America, Europe and Asia with tapered, constant section and spiral retaining rings, wave springs and self-compensating hose clamps.

“There were a lot of guys like me who started businesses in their garages and American corporations would buy from them,” Bob recalled one day. These small spaces were hotbeds of innovation after World War II, where ideas could be tried and perfected with a minimum amount of investment. Eventually, some of these companies, like Rotor Clip, became leaders in their industries.

Some notable examples:
The first Rotor Clip building in Farmingdale, New York, was
like a "large living room" according to Rotor Clip founder and
entrepreneur, Robert Slass.

1. The roots of HP were nurtured in a garage in Palo Alto, California, with Bill Hewlett and David Packard scraping together an initial investment of $538 in 1939. By 1966 HP entered the computer market and is now one of the world’s largest technology corporations. (The one-car garage where it all began is a designated California historic landmark).

2. Bernard Silver and N. Joseph Woodland were graduate students at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940’s. They got involved in a project proposed by a local grocer to invent a way to encode product data so supermarket items could be automatically checked out. Woodland spent time on the beach at his grandparent’s home in Miami Beach, Florida, drawing shapes in the sand that would form the basis of a graphic version of the Morse code he had learned as a boy scout. He and Silver patented the idea in the early 1950’s, and sold it eventually for $15,000, not realizing that it would someday evolve into the bar codes that would be used on virtually every product.

        HP’s original garage operation in Palo Alto, California.
 Today, the structure is an historic landmark.
 (Credit: David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
   3. In 1956, Bette Nesmith Graham of Dallas, Texas, was working as a secretary in an office. She wanted to find a better way to correct typing errors, so she invented a liquid that you could use to “paint” over the mistake, then re-type the correct letter(s). The color of the liquid matched the paper, so the error was often undetectable. Demand for the product she called “Liquid Paper” increased to the point where she turned her kitchen into a laboratory, mixing up product with her electric mixer. Graham’s son, Michael Nesmith (later of “The Monkees” fame), and his friends filled bottles for her customers. Years later, she sold her company for $47 Million.

  4. Ruth and Elliot Handler started making picture frames in their California garage. They took the scraps of wood and made furniture for doll houses. That garage experience eventually led to their most successful product under the company name “Mattel”: the famous “Barbie” and “Ken” dolls. http://www.history.com/news/great-american-garage-entrepreneurs

      Entrepreneurs like Bob Slass have always been at the heart of any successful economy. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “…one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” This risk-taking characteristic leads to technological breakthroughs that benefit people in the form of improved products and services.

      Entrepreneurial risk taking has its roots in the industrial revolution in both Great Britain and America. Early industrial entrepreneurs dared to believe things could change, that they could improve people’s lives through their ideas and inventions and make the world a better place to live. Prior to this, people were fatalistic; they believed you were stuck with the hand you were dealt and there wasn’t much you could do about it.

      But early entrepreneurs set their sights on problems and through dogged determination solved them. For example, James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine; he solved the problems of these first models. He eliminated the need to cool the piston in order to retract it after the steam drove it forward, greatly saving energy and costs. He also invented the concentric bearing which applied the power of the engine to the shaft in a circular direction. Machinery could now be hooked up to this rotating power source using belts, revolutionizing factory efficiencies and output.

      Similarly, Thomas A. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he solved the problems of the earlier versions. He was relentless in his pursuit of a filament that would last long enough to make the light bulb practical for consumer use. After countless hours of experimentation, he settled on a tungsten material coated in carbide. He also created a vacuum on the inside of the bulb which added to its life. We can only imagine how mesmerized the crowd was that came to his Menlo Park, New Jersey, lab in December 1879. There they saw light bulbs that could burn for hours and give off light without the smells and dangers associated with other light sources in use at the time like candles and kerosene lamps.

      When others encounter problems and proclaim, “There’s nothing more we can do,” and “That’s just the way it is,” that’s where the entrepreneur’s work begins. They refuse to accept limitations or give up on an idea though it may take years to refine. From perfecting a longer-lasting light bulb, to improving the design and efficiencies of retaining rings, entrepreneurs all over the world apply their skills to the relentless pursuit of solving problems.

      And the rest of us are the chief beneficiaries of their efforts.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here  and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

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