ABMA Celebrates Founding Member Osborn
Tue February 14, 2017
In 1887, as construction was beginning on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Punxsutawney Phil was making his debut on the first official Groundhog Day, a Cleveland-based engineer named John Osborn purchased brush designs and manufacturing equipment to found the Osborn Manufacturing Company to make horse and other specialty brushes.
A short time later the company was sold to Franklin G Smith and Henry Sherwin, who was from what is now Sherwin Williams.
Franklin G Smith Henry Sherwin
Thirty years later, it came alongside six other brush manufacturing companies that are still standing to establish the American Brush Manufacturers Association in 1917. Nowadays, Osborn sits on the Safety and Standards Committee for the ABMA.
"We helped author ANSI B165.1.," says Brian Keiser, director of global development and engineering for Osborn. "We also do most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to revising the standard. This allows the ABMA and Osborn to drive consistency in the market with safety and standards on brush products."
While the business has changed hands multiple times over the last 130 years, the name Osborn stuck and has become synonymous with not only safety and quality, but also loyalty and innovation. These traits were perhaps at their highest demand in the 1940’s, when the US went to war with the Axis forces.
At that time, Osborn was one of the smaller brush manufacturers in the country, and yet was America’s largest maker of rotary power-driven brushes, a line of tools that would soon prove Osborn to be "as important to war production as those of any other single manufacturing unit in the entire country," writes Merrill Denison, author of Bristles and Brushes.
The United States government called upon Osborn’s expertise with the rotary power-driven brushes when airplane manufacturers kept bumping into the same snafu in production lines. With a goal to manufacture 50,000 airplanes, all progress was halted at one seemingly-insignificant step:
"...the preparation of a positive metal-to-metal contact for the thousands of rivets that go into plane construction," writes Denison. "Such contact was essential to avoid sparking during flight and was initially obtained by cleaning the skin surface with steel wool by hand. This single operation required a tremendous expenditure of time and labor..."
And then came Osborn's special apparatus: a small, portable, power-driven end brush, just three quarters of an inch in diameter. Now, in lieu of cleaning the skin surface by hand, the operator simply had to center the brush in the rivet hole and - boom - airplane assembly increased 1,000-percent!
By 1943, the smallest part of the brush industry, the rotary power-driven brushes, had made one of the greatest impacts on war production. Osborn's George Rowland joined Phillip Thayer, Chief of Washington’s Bristle and Brush Section, as assistant chief to help with any other technical problems that arose throughout the rest of the war.
For Osborn, the transition from pre- to post-war would morph the company's self-image from a traditional American brush-maker to a company that today sees itself as a global innovation driver. Osborn now has factories in 15 countries on four continents. They've grown from producing tiny tools for airplane assemblage to being the world's largest provider of foundry equipment, power brushes and maintenance products.
In the 1920's, nearly 30 years after the completion of the Eiffel Tower, Osborn formed the Societe Anonyme des Machines - Osborn (SAMO) and setup this wholly-owned subsidiary near Paris. This location opened Europe and the world to Osborn and remained an Osborn subsidiary until 1986. Osborn's success with SAMO led to a similar arrangement for its power brush line in Germany and ultimately to Osborn growing into Osborn International.
This transformation would not have been as seamless without Osborn's long legacy coming under the ownership of Jason in 1998. Under Jason, Osborn was able to establish itself officially as a true global company. In 2014, Jason started to trade publicly traded at NASDAQ, the most recent milestone in Osborn's broad history.
Nearly 130 years after John Osborn first purchased those fine wire brush making materials, Osborn International now produces over 10,000 standard finishing products and more than 100,000 customized solutions to customers in more than 120 countries. These products range from a fraction of an inch to over 18 feet, from squeegees to detail brushes used to clean solar panels.
"We are the industry leader in brush technology with more than 400 trademarks, licenses and patents," says Keiser.
Over the years, Osborn has gone from sharing a building with a candy and noodle factory to boasting robotic testing in state-of-the-art labs. As productivity became more efficient and Osborn grew through acquisitions and expansions, the owners moved the business from Cleveland to their current headquarters in Richmond, Indiana, in 2004.
No matter how much the company continues to grow over the coming years, the Osborn name will forever be known as a true solutions provider - and, unlike the unpredictability of Punxsutawney Phil, Osborn will always deliver as an industry leader and innovator in brush manufacturing and beyond. Thanks for your contributions, Osborn!