• U.S.

Business & Finance: First Firemen

3 minute read

Rare is the bright young businessman who would not like to get control of a good little company, manufacture a good product, sell it under a good trade name. Two young men who did that were Thomas Harry Banfield and the late Cyrus Jury Parker, partners in a Portland, Ore. construction firm that they founded in 1909 with $700 cash. They did not discover their product until 1923, when they bought a local iron works as an adjunct to their contracting.

Among the iron works’ assets were jigs, tools, drawings for a mechanical stoker. The original owners carried the stoker on their books at $5,000. The new owners considered it worthless. Idea for the stoker is supposed to have occurred to a greenhouse operator who got sick & tired of hopping out of bed to stoke his furnace on cold nights. The iron works had actually turned out a few crude stokers, using a feeder worm similar to that in a meat chopper. Several months after the iron works changed hands, inquiries began to straggle in from people who had seen the stoker in operation. Suddenly realizing they were missing a trick, the two contractors dusted off the old plans, developed an improved model along lines already laid down in big power house installations in which coal is fed from beneath the fire, not dumped in on top. Soon the small stoker was launched nationally under one of the pattest trade names ever coined—Iron Fireman.

Today Iron Fireman Manufacturing Co. is the biggest U. S. maker of mechanical stokers, with plants in Cleveland and Toronto as well as its home town of Portland. Last week at a directors’ meeting in Portland President Banfield announced that profits for 1935 were more than $600,000—best year in history except for 1929 when Iron Fireman showed earnings of $770,000. At the same time Iron Fireman’s directors voted to increase capitalization 20% to finance expansion. Rights will be given to stockholders to buy 60,000 shares of new stock.

Iron Fireman has made money every year since it was incorporated in 1926, though profits were pretty slim in the middle of Depression. A large part of the profits have been ploughed back, and a 50% stock dividend was paid in 1934. That year Iron Fireman introduced a model which put coal on nearly an even footing with the automatic appeal of oil or gas, since the coal was conveyed from bin to furnace without the intervention of a shovel. Aside from convenience, the strongest selling point for mechanical stokers is economy. More heat is obtained from less coal. Stokers have offered hope to the coal industry, since they mean real competition for the oil burner. I

ron Fireman’s executives stand high in Portland because they stuck to their home town, though the Pacific Northwest seemed an unlikely spot to start a plant producing a heavy mechanical product for world-wide distribution. Harry Banfield’s old contracting partner and predecessor as Iron Fireman’s president was killed in an airplane accident in 1928. Mr. Banfield was badly hurt in the same crackup. Quiet, reserved, he still likes to build bridges on the side, sometimes does. Vice President Edward C. Sammons was named “Portland’s First Citizen for 1935.” Another high-powered Iron Fireman is General Sales Manager Clarence Theodore Burg, an ardent Rotarian who made all his salesmen wear flaming red neckties during Depression, urging them to preach “red tie optimism.” In self-defense he has had to wear red ties himself ever since.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com