Western Wire Products | Our Colorful History
Western Wire Products Company has been a “family business” even before its 1914 incorporation in St. Louis, Missouri. Its origins date back to 1907 when the uncle of the company’s founders invented a machine that made woven wire fabric. The patent on this machine is considered by some historians to be the original precursor to today’s chain link fence.
The 1907 woven wire was made into door and bar mats and sold door-to-door by family members. Soon the woven fabric was used as a bed spring, marketed by the “Great Western Wire Fence and Manufacturing Company.” “The Never Sag Knitted Wire Bed Spring” gave a lifetime guarantee and became part of the furniture lines of several St. Louis stores and national wholesale hardware companies.
In 1912, the family inventor Ira J. Young applied for a patent on a machine for forming split pins, later to be known as Cotter Pins. He manufactured Cotter and Split Pins under the name of Wire Manufacturing Company and soon sold his interest in this company to his brother, Harry M. Young and Alvin L. Bauman, a non-family member who was a partner. The Wire Manufacturing Company’s assets were transferred to Western Wire Products Company, which had been incorporated on February 26, 1914. Being in bad health and knowing death was imminent, Ira Young transferred his shares of Western Wire stock to his brother, Harry M. Young. On November 28, 1914, Ira Young died at age 33.
During the Depression in the 1930’s, Western Wire’s prime St. Louis location on the Mississippi River was acquired by eminent domain for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial project. This Memorial later included the famous Gateway Arch. The Depression proved difficult for a bedspring competitor of Western Wire, so in 1932 Western Wire Products Company bought part of the American Bed Company building (35,000 square feet) at 1415 South 18th Street near Lafayette Square. The officers decided to forego their stock dividend in order to pay for the building without borrowing. The company would remain at this Lafayette Square location for almost seven decades.
First manufactured by Ira Young in 1912, the Cotter Pin product prospered with St. Louis being a railroad center. Almost a century later, the cotter pin, offered in a wide variety of metals, shapes, sizes, and finishes, has continued to be one of Western Wire’s primary products. The railroad industry was also served by Western Wire’s anti-checking irons for railroad ties. These went into production in the mid-1930’s and are still produced today for the logging and lumber industry.
When inner spring mattresses and box springs became popular in the 1940’s, Western Wire’s bedsprings were phased out. Handy-Andy Vise Stands for plumbers were first made in 1927. This device was to assist plumbers and pipe fitters in threading pipes. This product was discontinued in 1950 when power driven pipe threading equipment and pre-threaded pipe became used more extensively. Insulator fasteners for electric fences were developed 1940 and remained a product for approximately 30 years.
In 1978 Western Wire purchased the balance of the old American Bed Company building complex, which added another 110,500 square feet in two stories, adjacent to the South 18th Street site. This area of St. Louis eventually became a designated historical district, and over time Western Wire found itself surrounded by the renovated residences and restaurants of Lafayette Square.
In anticipation of a needed move for more efficient space, in 1987 the company purchased acreage in Fenton, Missouri. With construction of a new factory, in 1998 Western Wire Products Company vacated its 18th Street facility of 66 years. It is now the flagship of Sun Valley Business Park of Fenton, with 132,000 square feet on one level.
Western Wire Products | "Throughout Time - Throughout the World"
Over the years new products have been added to the company’s product line. Examples are: ring cotters, clinch pins, pipe hooks, perforated hanger bar, one and two-hole pipe straps, tie wires, tag fasteners, spring (roll) pins, hitch pin clips (also called hair pin cotters), lock pins, hog rings, “Handy Hog Ringers,” upholstery rings, J hooks, S hooks, V hooks, D rings, safety pin fasteners, tinner’s tape, humped cotter pins, wedge-fast cotters, key snaps, key rings, stud guards, lock washers. Several products are made to military specifications. Beyond its standard product line, Western Wire responds to requests for special, customized wire shapes and fasteners.
The company now serves customers in all parts of the U S. and exports to Europe, South America, Mexico, Asia, Australia, and Canada. It has been privileged to provide needed products to its country through all wars since 1912. A Western Wire product went to the moon. Its hog rings and ringers were quickly called into use at Ground Zero, New York City. The company’s machinery has modernized over the decades and now includes the latest in multi-slide and special wire-forming equipment. However, several of Western Wire Products Company’s still-running, reliable cotter pin machines date back almost to the 1912 invention of an original founder.
Western Wire Products | Leadership
Harry M. Young’s son, H. Melvin (“Bus”) Young, Jr., became the acting president of Western Wire upon the death of Alvin Bauman in 1957 and the retirement of Harry in 1958. Bus Young had worked at Western Wire as a boy. His only major break in employment was his 4 years at the University of Missouri. Bus felt strongly about employee benefits and convinced his father to provide paid vacation long before it became the norm in the business world. Sharing profits with employees was an important philosophy, so a profit sharing plan was implemented in the mid-1950’s. Becoming a pioneer with its long and determined effort, Western Wire successfully sought a ruling from the IRS permitting the deductibility of profit distributions to employees. The company’s current Profit Sharing Plan dates back to 1957. Harry M. Young, Sr., died in 1965 and Bus Young was formally elected president.
In 1999 Bus retired at age 83, after more than 65 years with Western Wire Products Company. During his last years as an employee, he had turned the lead management role over to his son, Gene. Gene B. Young commandeered the complete relocation of Western Wire from St. Louis to Fenton, thereby allowing Bus to experience his last year with Western Wire at the new facility.
Gene B. Young represents the third generation of Young family presidents of Western Wire Products Company. He worked summers at the company while a student and became a fulltime employee in 1975, upon his graduation from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He took a leave of absence to obtain his MBA from Washington University.