Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1950’s: The Decade of Innovation, Inspiration and Elvis Presley

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

It was the 1950’s, the decade of optimism, and Bob Slass was swept up in the fervor, no doubt responding to the innovation of American companies taking place all around him.

In 1950 Xerox produced the first copy machine and RCA demonstrated the first single electron color television tube.

In 1952 General Motors earned $558 million and in 1953 Boeing expanded production of the B-52 bomber.

In 1953 Bob took a job with a company with a long history in the U.S. called Waldes Kohinoor. Waldes had been a European company who pioneered the use of snap fasteners for dresses in the early 1900’s. Prior to this product, buttons, and hooks and eyes, were considered the only satisfactory apparel closures at the time. The company was established by Jindrich Waldes, a talented businessman and entrepreneur.Together with his partner, Hydec Puk, he established Waldes & Company in Prague (Czech Republic) to make the new snap fasteners.

The group established factories in Paris, Dresden, Barcelona and the U.S. The American company was established in Long Island City, New York, in 1919 with 25 employees and incorporated as Waldes Koh-I-Noor, which came from a trademark Jindrich had adopted in 1902 from the famous diamond of the same name. The Company’s corporate name was changed to Waldes Kohinoor, Inc., minus the hyphens in 1958.
Robert Slass at his first engineering job  at
Waldes Truarc (circa 1953)

How Waldes made the transition from producing garment fasteners to retaining rings began with a field exercise carried out by the US military during World War II. According to the industry story passed down by word of mouth, the military captured a German tank on the battlefield. They dismantled it and noticed that many components were held together by retaining rings. Retaining rings were a German innovation with the first patent filed by Hugo Heiermann in 1930, but the devices were never fully embraced by US manufacturers.

Fascinated by the technology and eager to apply it to their own equipment, the military persuaded the company to take on the project and in the 1940’s it successfully produced the tooling needed to manufacture a line of retaining rings under the Waldes Truarc brand.

As industry took off in the US in the 1950’s, so did the use of retaining rings when Bob landed his first job at Waldes. Initially, his job was to check the accuracy of engineering drawings from which the tooling was made to produce the retaining rings. As he progressed, he began to design the actual tooling needed to stamp out the specialized shapes and sizes of the many retaining rings the company produced. In this capacity, he joined a distinguished stable of mechanical engineers and together they became experts in the new product line and were instrumental in setting standards and adding new designs to the standard line. He learned everything he could from these experts.

“I made dies according to the 1950’s advances available,” Bob later recalled. This critical knowledge provided the inspiration for Rotor Clip as Bob later improved on these early designs and made his mark on retaining ring technology that would set new industry standards.

The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left New York in 1957 for greener and more open pastures in California,

Elvis Presley left young girls swaying in the aisles with songs like “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

It was also the year Bob Slass opened Rotor Clip, an enterprise he created with his own hands in the true spirit of American capitalism.

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.