Fisher Controls International, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History
St. Louis, Missouri 63105
History of Fisher Controls International, Inc.
A global supplier of control valves and regulators, Fisher Controls International, Inc. is one of the largest and oldest process control companies. Fisher's Type 1 pump governor was invented by the founder in 1880 and remains--virtually unchanged--part of the company's product line today.
Those unfamiliar with the work of control valves and regulators might dismiss them as simple hardware store items, but they are more vital than their modest names imply. They help to maintain steady pressure in the pipes that carry gases, fluids, or steam to keep those pipes from exploding.
Company founder William Fisher was first inspired to create a control devise after he and others spent hours trying to keep a city from being engulfed in flames. Fisher had moved to the United States from England at the age of 14. Once they reached America, his family settled in Iowa. Working in a small engine shop, Fisher became well-versed in the major power source of the era: steam. After he helped to install new water facilities in two other Iowa cities, Fisher was invited to apply his knowledge of water and steam to the waterworks system in a third city.
As a fire raged all night in Marshalltown, Iowa, Fisher throttled the city's steam-driven pumps by hand in order to keep the pressure in the city's mains steady. It seemed to him that a device could be made that would control the pumps and maintain them at a constant pressure. After months of experiments, the young man designed the Fisher Type 1 constant pressure pump governor.
Joining with a town machinist, Fisher pooled $600 to buy a manufacturing building. The pumps were in production in 1880, although Fisher didn't receive a patent for another four years. In order to keep the company afloat, Fisher also repaired machines and sold bicycles and Kodak cameras. In fact, Fisher was an exclusive sales representative for Eastman Kodak cameras and supplies in 1898.
The company scraped together $30,000 by 1888 and was incorporated as the Fisher Governor Company. Fisher spread the gospel of his new invention through his membership in the power plant engineering association and, soon enough, word of mouth kicked in. Company sales reached $44,000 by 1905. Only two years later, Fisher's invention was laboring away in power plants throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.
As demand for the product increased, so did the need for variations of the pump. A vertical-type reducing valve became the first of a series of controls that were added to the Type 1. Not long afterward, lever valves, exhaust relief valves, back pressure valves, and steam trap valves were added.
Business boomed, but the company lost its founder in 1905. His widow, Martha, took Fisher's place as president, while their son Jasper traveled the country as a cigar salesman. Jasper Fisher came home and took the company's reins in 1912, when annual sales were about $60,000. At that time the company had nine machinists and assemblers and five office employees.
Knowledgeable about sales, Jasper Fisher knew that quality products were not always enough to be successful. A sales agency was established in 1913, and Fisher traveled the continent himself as the company launched its first nationwide advertising campaign. As World War I unfolded, demand for Fisher's products in various industries rose dramatically, particularly in the petroleum industry. The company soon employed 60 workers. By the end of World War I, Fisher was on more solid financial ground. It had also developed new technologies and products.
Fisher enjoyed substantial profits from the growth in the steel, petroleum, power, and gas industries in the early 1920s. The company's automated valves were indispensable in each of these burgeoning industries, so Fisher grew with them. This was fortunate, because the Great Depression of the early 1930s devastated the nation's economy. Half of the factories in the United States were forced to close their doors during the Great Depression, but Fisher managed to stay open. Sales were limp and production was minimal, but the plants stayed alive. As soon as business began to grow stronger in the late 1930s, Fisher updated machinery and added new products to its line. The company even finished an addition to its manufacturing plant in 1940.
During this time, the company lost another helmsman. Jasper Fisher died in 1938. Like his father, he was well-loved by employees and colleagues. Jasper's son, J.W. "Bill" Fisher, joined the company's finance department in 1940. Jasper's widow, Edna, became president and her son Bill became vice-president in 1944. Although this succession seemed a continuance of Fisher tradition, the company had in fact shifted its management style. A strong board now led Fisher. The two Fishers were elected to their positions.
Although the company had enjoyed growth spurts earlier in its history, nothing in its past matched the surge of growth experienced by the company during World War II. The appetite for the company's automatic control valve equipment was huge, as valves were used in the production of ships, planes, tanks, and guns. Fisher also supplied valves that were used in the manufacturing of life-saving drugs, as well as valves used in oil refineries and gas production, and chemical and synthetic rubber manufacturing.
Despite a shortage of materials and men, the company built new plants and machines and operated 24 hours a day to meet demand. The shortage of manpower put a premium on automation, and any ideas that reduced labor were lauded. In light of its wartime achievements, the company received an Army-Navy "E" flag in 1943, given in recognition of "superior production achievements of vital war materials."
The technological advances spawned by World War II continued after the conclusion of the conflict. Although Fisher was faced with labor problems, a new manufacturing addition was installed in 1948 to help meet rising sales. Edna Fisher retired in May 1954 and was succeeded by her son, Bill. At this point, Fisher was very alert to expanding markets in Europe, but international growth was set back by currency exchanges and export fees.
Fisher addressed this dilemma by entering into a licensing agreement with Elliott Automation of the United Kingdom in 1950. Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies would jointly manufacture Fisher valves and controllers. In 1955 Fisher opened a factory in Ontario, Canada, to meet the demands of that country's expanding oil and natural gas industries.
By the late 1950s, Fisher's expansion was swift. The company moved into a new office building designed to house its research, engineering, sales, and administrative departments, which had been cramped because of the growing need for factory space. In 1957 Fisher purchased the Pennsylvania-based Continental Equipment Company. Continental was known for its superior butterfly control valves, which were used by process industries. In the late 1950s process industries, like so many other industries, were being revolutionized by electronics. Fisher, which was determined to flow with the changes, established electronic design and assembly departments. Assemblers acquired a new technical language and tool skills in these departments, and soon they were generating such new products as electronic level controllers and transducers.
This emphasis on new products and technologies remained throughout the 1960s. Overseas growth continued at the same time. Fisher entered into a new licensing agreement to manufacture in Japan in 1960. This allowed the company to use manufacturing facilities in Japan to produce all Fisher products sold in that market. The following year, Fisher opened a temporary factory in Monterrey, Mexico, until a permanent plant was opened near Mexico City in 1965. In order to be closer to its LP-gas customers, the gas regulator division of Fisher moved to Texas that same year. Manufacturing capacity continued to explode in 1967, when Fisher enlarged two more plants and opened a new eight-acre facility in Marshalltown, birthplace of the founder's inspiration. A joint venture named Nippon-Fisher was launched in 1969, whereby Fisher manufactured and sold its products in Japan and the Far East.
Fisher also merged with Monsanto Company, the country's fourth largest chemical company. Monsanto purchased 67 percent of Fisher in 1969; the remaining 33 percent was purchased in 1983. At that time, Monsanto was determined to diversify. Upon joining the company, Fisher began manufacturing a line of electronic instrumentation that Monsanto had developed. Fisher's name, to reflect its own diversification, was changed to Fisher Controls Company. Bill Fisher resigned as president in 1969, but stayed on as chairman of the board until 1974. Tom Shive became Fisher's president in 1969.
Electronic instrumentation was Fisher's theme for the 1970s. The line of analog instrumentation developed by Monsanto for process control was the progenitor of the PROVOX distributed control system, which Fisher introduced in 1980. The company invested heavily in product development and the buildings needed to make them. Fisher opened its first European manufacturing facility in 1970, in Cornwall, England. The plant made electronic instrumentation. Two years later, the company's engineering team moved to a new facility large enough to accommodate its expanding needs. Repair facilities were added to the company's services in the early 1970s and proved popular enough to be quickly expanded, with representatives in Louisiana, Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, and Alberta, Canada. These facilities repaired control valves and instruments.
Marshall Die Casting joined Fisher in 1975, after supplying aluminum and zinc die castings to the company for more than 30 years. A new line of rotary-shaft valves was unveiled in the 1970s. The product line was immediately successful, and a new plant was opened in 1976 just to manufacture this popular line. Fisher Brazil, a facility that produced both control valve and instrumentation products for South American countries, opened its doors in 1977. Two years later, portions of the General Electric Company of the United Kingdom united with Fisher to form Fisher Controls Corporation of Delaware, a manufacturing, sales and service system poised to install Fisher's products worldwide.
In 1981 Fisher's sales reached $650 million. North and South American customers made up 60 percent of those sales. New service centers were opened in the United Kingdom, followed by a new valve manufacturing plant in Medway, England. Fisher also acquired Posi-Seal in 1985.
Fisher's place within Monsanto began to chafe both companies, however. Monsanto, which had decided to focus its operations on agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and food ingredients, sold Fisher to Emerson Electric Company in 1992 for $1.28 billion. Fisher experienced an increase in its 1991 operating income when Monsanto decided to sell it, but sales for that year were $928 million. The wedding to Emerson seemed to be a sensible one. Emerson produced electrical, electronic and other products for consumer, commercial and industrial markets. Its sales for 1991 were $7.4 billion. The purchase made Emerson the largest provider of process control equipment. Fisher also entered into a joint venture with Tianjin Fourth Automation Instrumentation Factory in China in 1992. The arrangement was made to produce control valves for Asian markets.
Emerson orchestrated the blending of Fisher's strengths with those of Rosemount Incorporated, a much younger company with innovative products used in the aeronautics and space industries, as well as control and instrumentation product lines and temperature and pressure transmitters. The Fisher-Rosemount family of companies dominated the global market of process management in the early 1990s. It offered the widest line of process automation products, including process management systems, control valves, regulators, transmitters, and analyzers. The combined companies have operations--including sales, service and manufacturing--in more than 80 countries and serve a range of process industries. Few industries are not touched by Fisher: Fisher-Rosemount supplies companies in such diverse areas as chemical processing, plastics, glass, refining, oil and gas production, natural gas distribution, power, pulp and paper, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and metals and mining.
Principal Subsidiaries: Xomox Corporation; H.D. Baumann, Inc.
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