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Fisher Controls International, Llc Business Information, Profile, and History

205 S. Center Street
Marshalltown, Iowa 50158

Company Perspectives:

Fisher Controls International LLC is now a member of the Emerson Process Management family of companies which is a division of Emerson. Becoming part of this new corporation is the latest in the long history of growth and change for the control valve manufacturing company founded as the Fisher Governor Company in 1880.

History of Fisher Controls International, Llc

A global designer, manufacturer, and supplier of control valves and regulators, Fisher Controls International, LLC 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. In addition to valves and regulators, Fisher also designed and implemented final control systems. Fisher's products are used in a number of industries, including chemical, refining, power, and pulp and paper. Fisher is a subsidiary of Emerson Process Management, an operating division of Emerson Electric Company.

Entrepreneurial Beginnings in the Late 1800s

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 device 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. Upon reaching the United States, 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 did not receive a patent for another four years. 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.

Increasing Sales in the Early 1900s

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 also had 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.

Unprecedented Growth in the 1940s

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 demand for the company's automatic control valve equipment was substantial, 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 alert to expanding markets in Europe, but international growth was set back by currency exchanges and export fees.

Global Expansion and Innovation in the 1950s and 1960s

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 new products such 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.

Diversification and Growth Through Mergers: 1970s-90s

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 had operations--including sales, service, and manufacturing--in more than 80 countries and served a range of process industries. Few industries were not touched by Fisher: Fisher-Rosemount supplied companies in diverse areas such 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.

Adapting to New Management and Economic Shifts: 1990s-2000s

With the acquisition of Fisher, Emerson created a new division--Emerson Process Management. In the early 1990s Emerson Process Management's family of companies included eight separate operating divisions: Fisher-Rosemount Systems, Fisher-Gulde Valves, Fisher Regulators, Xomox, Rosemount Measurement, Rosemount Analytical, Micro Motion, and Brooks Instruments. Sales for the division as a whole in 1993 reached $2.3 billion.

The sale of Fisher to Emerson increased Fisher's potential for growth, but it also meant Fisher had to adhere to the business strategies of new management. Emerson planned to increase profits and become more competitive in a global marketplace, and this meant a bit of housecleaning for Fisher, namely cutting costs by moving production to cheaper markets, modernizing and refurbishing some existing plants, and streamlining operations to improve efficiency.

Unfortunately for some of Fisher's workers, Fisher's new plans did not include them. At the end of 1993 Fisher announced it would close down Marshalltown's Center Street plant and move those operations to plants in Texas, Mexico, and Asia, where labor costs were cheaper. Fisher reported that its employees in Marshalltown earned above-average wages for the industry--an average of $26.50 hourly in wages and benefits. Employees in Mexico, in contrast, would earn about $3 per hour. The Center Street plant was one of two Marshalltown plants run by Fisher, and the closure meant more than 300 employees would be laid off.

Fisher continued to add to its now extensive product line by designing and constructing innovative new products and technologies. The FIELDVUE DVC was a digitally based valve controller first introduced in 1993. In 1994 the company created the Y693 gas tank regulator and Design SC, a cryogenic valve. Two years later Fisher introduced PlantWeb digital plant architecture, which tied together open communication standards, software, and new technologies to automate and ensure smooth plant operations. Many of the company's products and technologies in the late 1990s and early 2000s were components of PlantWeb and offered a total system solution to clients.

Also in 1996 Fisher made a contribution to the energy sector with the introduction of the Snug Meter, a natural gas meter designed for multi-dwelling buildings. Marking Fisher's first product in the meter industry, the Snug Meter was significantly more compact than existing models. Fisher reported that it designed the product at the behest of gas utility companies, which felt that compact and portable equipment was mandatory to remain competitive in the energy market.

Acquisitions also helped Fisher grow and diversify, and in 1994 Fisher purchased Con-Tek, Inc., a producer of steam conditioning equipment, and Francel, a manufacturer of natural gas pressure reducing regulators in France. The following year Fisher acquired H.D. Baumann Associates, a control valve producer.

After 80 years in operation, the Center Street plant was officially closed in 1997, the same year Fisher shut down the Woodstock plant. The Woodstock plant, located in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, had been in operation for 42 years. At the same time North American plants were being closed, foreign expansion continued. Fisher announced plans to construct new plants in Hungary and Brazil, and in 1999 a new plant in Malaysia began operation. Also in 1999 Fisher shut down the Medway plant in the United Kingdom and moved its operations to Cernay, France.

In the late 1990s Fisher made a breakthrough in the Japanese market with the introduction of the DeltaV scalable process control system, a comprehensive package of hardware, software, and peripherals. The system was designed to help manufacturers design and operate process control applications. Fisher sold more than 1,000 systems from late 1997, when DeltaV was initially introduced, to March 1999. Few had been sold in Japan, where Fisher's market share was low, but in 1999 the company launched a Japanese language version to attract more customers. Fisher hoped to sell about 100 units in the first year with its sights on grabbing 10 percent of the Japanese process control systems business by the mid-2000s. One of the Japanese companies to buy the system was Coca-Cola Holdings West Japan Co., Ltd., which planned to use the system in a bottling plant.

Fisher continued its international growth in the early 2000s. It opened a cutting-edge valve performance diagnostics laboratory at its Cernay, France, plant in 2002, and in 2003 the operation of a PlantWeb dynamic performance laboratory in Marshalltown began. The Marshalltown lab was Fisher's fifth PlantWeb lab and was designed for dynamic flow testing of control valve performance.

Despite expansion, the sagging economy affected Fisher's operations, and in the spring of 2003 the company announced plans to lay off 75 employees at the Marshalltown plant. Several months later, in July, Fisher said it would close the Posi-Seal plant in North Stonington, Connecticut, by early 2004. The shutdown would result in the layoff of 130 workers.

Fisher had come a long way since its beginnings as a valve and regulator manufacturer in the late 1800s. The company had evolved into a technological innovator and offered total management solutions that combined digital communications, open systems, and intelligent field devices. Fisher planned to remain a leader in the process control industry and to continue to increase its presence worldwide.

Principal Subsidiaries: Fisher-Rosemount Japan Co., Ltd.

Principal Competitors:Honeywell International Inc.; Eaton Corporation; Tyco International Ltd.; American Standard Companies Inc.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1880: William Fisher invents the Fisher Type 1 constant pressure pump governor and founds the company.
  • 1884: Fisher obtains a patent for the Fisher Type 1.
  • 1888: The company incorporates as Fisher Governor Company.
  • 1905: Founder Fisher dies.
  • 1912: Jasper Fisher, the founder's son, assumes control of the company.
  • 1938: Jasper Fisher dies.
  • 1940: Edna, Jasper Fisher's widow, becomes president.
  • 1955: The company opens a manufacturing plant in Ontario, Canada.
  • 1957: Fisher acquires Continental Equipment Company of Pennsylvania.
  • 1969: Fisher merges with Monsanto Company and changes its name to Fisher Controls Company.
  • 1975: Fisher acquires Marshall Die Casting.
  • 1979: Fisher and segments of the General Electric Company of the United Kingdom merge to form Fisher Controls Corporation.
  • 1981: The company changes its name to Fisher Controls International.
  • 1985: Fisher buys Posi-Seal International.
  • 1992: Monsanto sells Fisher to Emerson Electric Company for $1.4 billion.
  • 1993: Fisher and Rosemount Incorporated merge to form Fisher-Rosemount.
  • 2001: Fisher-Rosemount is renamed Emerson Process Management.

Additional topics

Company HistoryMetal Manufacturing & Fabricating

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