In 1904, Fred Ayer started his own jobbing machine shop in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Beginning with four men, the facility was available to local industries for repair type items. In 1906, F. H. Ayer Manufacturing Company was incorporated with the State of Illinois.
During these early years, the newly founded company produced many items in conjunction with their day-to-day job shop endeavors. These included railroad channel pins, spark plugs, washing machines, an original automotive ratchet socket wrench set and the Ayer drill press.
In 1926, Louis Ayer, Fred Ayer's son, joined the company and shortly thereafter, Fred Ayer died. At this time, Frank W. DeBolt was made a full partner. In 1937, when Louis Ayer passed away, the business was acquired by the DeBolt family.
At this time, the company employed about twenty people and the facility included a pattern shop in the back half of the machine shop. All machines were powered by a central engine through the use of overhead line shafts and flat belts.
The channel pin business proved to be a profitable one until the early 1940's when a new product eliminated the need for the pins. F. H. Ayer was, however, into the manufacture of pump components from the Labour Pump Company, Nagle Pump Company and American Manganese Steel along with the general contract machine work.
During this era, the original wooden support beams were replaced with the overhead steel structure still used today in the original machine shop building. The lineshaft drive and central engines were also replaced with individual motors and multi-speed gearboxes on the individual machine tools.
In the early 1940's, Ayer began work on transducer housings in conjunction with American Manganese Steel. These units housed sonar equipment used by the U. S. Navy and helped in the war years. Housings were eventually built for the Sangamon Electric Company, Springfield, Illinois. These housings entailed several different prototypes as well as the steady manufacture of proven designs. Many exotic materials were used and the scope of the machine work involved often became quite intricate. Throughout these years, F. H. Ayer worked hand in hand with the prime contractor, Sangamon Electric Company, to improve methods, designs, and material types.
Other items that contributed to the war effort were the production of nose cones for aircraft shells and die work on tooling to produce shell casings.
During the war years, the first half of the present center building was added. The government would only allow an addition of 40% floor space, so it wasn't until about the 1950's that the remaining half of the present center section of the machine shop was built. About this time, two other product lines emerged: Hammermill hammers; many types of roofing, and shingle knives. The sales effort of the company changed in that these products were used nationwide, making F. H. Ayer less dependent upon local industry.
Further diversification in the years to come included the engineering and development of specialized pail and barrel handling equipment, the F. H. Ayer dredge pump, and the manufacture of six complete walking beam hot beds for Inland and Calumet Steel.
Metallizing became a part of the facility leading to the Ayer's ceramic-coated shaft sleeve for pumps. Special production machines were designed and manufactured for nail manufacturing, box folding, conveyor lines and concrete road reinforcing mats.
Pump rebuilding had become a larger part of the business and, in 1978, a separate facility of 6,000 square feet was erected specifically for this purpose. This rebuilding made the pump replacement parts business ever more attractive and led to Ayer's first steps into the field of C. N. C. machining in the early 1980's.
As part of a commitment at F. H. Ayer to increased growth and diversification, the setting up of a new division called the Rolling Mill products took place. The function of this division is to utilize existing expertise, equipment, increase customer base and solicit business from areas of the United States and Canada that previously had not been touched.
Ayer's existing knowledge of steel mill operations seemed to blend very well with much of the business available from the rapidly growing mini-mill industry. Having had several years of experience in machining entry and exit guides for mini-mills, manufacturing guide boxes and rest bars, we felt a natural course would be the expansion of this expertise by adding engineering and sale personnel to our staff. Three highly qualified engineers were added, possessing skills in design, trouble shooting, pattern manufacture, castings and general foundry expertise as well as sales. This division is now responsible for approximately 12% to 15% of our yearly sales. In 1990, Ayer sold the guide business to Centerville Machine & Pattern Company.
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