Cincinnati Lamb Inc. History

Address:
5523 East Nine Mile Road
Warren, Michigan 48091
U.S.A.

Telephone: (586) 497-6000
Toll Free: 877-246-6224
Fax: (586) 497-6216

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Unova Manufacturing Technologies Inc.
Incorporated: 1884 as Cincinnati Screw and Tap Company
Employees: 250 (est.)
Sales: $144.8 million (2002)
NAIC: 333512 Machine Tool Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Cincinnati Lamb is a leading global manufacturer of integrated machine and precision grinding systems, primarily for the automotive, aerospace and heavy equipment industries.

Key Dates:

1884:
Cincinnati Screw and Tap Company is formed.
1900:
Cincinnati Screw is renamed Cincinnati Milling Machine Company.
1914:
F. Jos Lamb Company is founded.
1982:
Lamb changes its name to Lamb Technicon.
1987:
Lamb is acquired by Litton Industries.
1998:
Lamb's parent corporation, Unova, acquires Cincinnati Milling.
2003:
Lamb and Cincinnati are consolidated to form Cincinnati Lamb Inc.

Company History:

With its headquarters located in Warren, Michigan (outside of Detroit), Cincinnati Lamb Inc. is a leading maker of machine tools, with manufacturing operations in the United States and the United Kingdom. Machine tools are used to make precision parts for other machines, the history of which dates to the mid-19th century when gunmakers became the first to make use of interchangeable parts due to military requirements. Machine tools were developed to produce identical parts on a mass scale, creating the so-called American System of manufacturing. As the concept of interchangeable parts spread from industry to industry, the demand for machine tools increased. A subsidiary of Unova Manufacturing Technologies Inc., Cincinnati Lamb combines the assets and heritages of two old-line machine tool companies: Cincinnati Machine and F. Jos Lamb Company.

1870s Origins

Cincinnati Machine is the older of the two companies comprising Cincinnati Lamb. It was founded in Cincinnati in the 1870s by a pair of German immigrants, Fred Holz and George Mueller, who started out in a shop Mueller inherited from his father making fasteners, screws, and sewing machine parts. By the end of the decade, screw-making became the shop's focus, but because the partners could not afford a new milling machine needed to make taps, which would be used to cut threads inside bolts, Holz made his own from scratch, in the process introducing a number of innovations. Milling machines at the time were difficult to use, due in large part to the multitude of cranks and levers positioned awkwardly around the machine. Holz created a centralized control panel and added micrometer dials to the adjustment levels, allowing the operator to make two adjustments simultaneously. Moreover, he added a spindle that could spin counterclockwise, which allowed the machine also to make use of standard drills, reamers, and boring tools. Holz's machine was such an improvement over other milling machines that word quickly spread among other shops in Cincinnati, a city known during this period as the machine tool capital of the world, boasting some 50 machine tool companies. Holz built a second unit for a nearby brassworks, and soon the shop was turning out milling machines in addition to screws and taps, the business so strong that the partners moved to a larger facility in 1882.

Holz's milling machine won a prestigious award at the 1884 Cincinnati Industrial Exposition. In order to ramp up production of the machines, the partners turned to venture capitalist Jacob Bloom, who invested $2000 to buy a stake in the company, which in 1884 was incorporated as Cincinnati Screw and Tap Company, with Bloom serving as president. Due to unfortunate circumstances, however, the company struggled: A flood and a fire forced it to relocate twice. Ironically, one of the company's creditors, Frederick A. Geier, became the driving force behind the establishment and prosperity of Cincinnati Screw and Tap.

Geier, the child of German immigrants, grew up in Cincinnati, where his father had a number of business interests, including investments in the high-tech sector of the day, electricity. The younger Geier moved to Newton, Kansas, where he was hired by a bank because of his ability to speak German to the area's Mennonite population. With the death of his father, he was called back home to sort out his father's estate, which included a woodworking shop that made bungs for barrels, a business Geier believed offered little hope for the future. He was looking for a new venture when in 1887 he visited Cincinnati Screw and Tap to collect a debt. There he met with Holz, who enthusiastically showed the young man his new milling machine. As keen as his father had been about new technologies, Geier recognized the potential of Holz's invention. He bought out Bloom's interest for $7,000. Holz now took over as president while Geier became the company's secretary and treasurer. Mueller stayed on as vice-president, although he too sold out by 1891.

Growth in the 1890s

The company began to concentrate on the production of milling machines, and the screw and tap business was sold off, leading to a new name in 1889: Cincinnati Milling Machine Co., or as its employees called it, "The Mill." Although Holz was president, Geier essentially took over the business functions and allowed Holz to concentrate on the technical side. Most of all, Geier was a passionate salesman. He was known to ride the early-morning milk trains in order to greet potential customers at the door when they came into work. He would then have time to return to the office before the close of the day to do the books and take care of other business. In addition to Holz's original milling machine to promote, Geier had a cutter grinder that Holz developed and was ready to sell in 1889. The device resharpened cutting tools, which previously had to be discarded once they became dull. With two products to sell, Cincinnati Milling enjoyed steady growth in the early 1890s, with sales growing to more than $71,000 in 1892.

In 1893, however, the United States suffered through one of its periodic depressions of the time. Having opened a new plant that tied up all of its cash, Cincinnati Milling was on the verge of collapse. One of the few products that was doing well despite the conditions was the new low-wheel bicycle. Geier found an Indianapolis bicycle manufacturer interested in purchasing a dozen milling machines, but lacked the funds to buy them. Geier called a meeting with his employees to outline the situation. He proposed giving the bicycle company nine months forbearance and asked the workers if they would be willing to take three-quarters of their wages in company script, which he promised to redeem once the orders were paid for. Having little choice, given the state of the economy, the workers agreed to the arrangement, but it proved not to be a hardship since area businesses, which were also in desperate straits, accepted company script as if it were cash. The bicycle maker paid off his debts on time, allowing Geier to redeem the script. Cincinnati Milling was now in a position to supply other bicycle companies with milling machines, which drove the company's business for the rest of the decade.

With improved finances Holz and his team resumed the development of innovative products. In 1900 the company introduced a milling machine that featured the first gear-driven power feed system, replacing the hand-crank mechanism to provide an operator with a variable, yet steady, feed rate. This new product won a gold medal at the Paris World's Fair in 1900. In 1902 Holz struck again, as the company introduced the first milling machine that was independently powered by its own electric motor, a vast improvement over the practice of hooking up the devices to a central steam engine. The old arrangement featured a cumbersome and complex collection of shafts, belts, and pulleys, all prone to get out of alignment and cause an entire production line to grind to a halt while technicians sorted out the problem. Also in 1902, Cincinnati Milling came out with a universal dividing head, which clasped a workpiece tightly enough that it could be rotated with precision, allowing the milling machine to make more precise and complicated cuts.

Holz retired in 1905 at the age of 51, selling out to Geier, who assumed the presidency and continued the company's reputation for innovation, but in a different vein. The company had outgrown its plants, but rather than build more of the same on a larger scale, he decided to build a vertically integrated facility, in short an industrial park where other businesses that Cincinnati Milling depended on would be housed and share the costs--and the savings--of having close proximity. Geier found a 102-acre site, serving mostly as an orchard, in nearby Oakley. He relocated his firm there in 1911 and within a year convinced several other companies to build facilities there as well. At his new plant Geier pioneered another concept. In 1914 he enlisted his brother, Dr. Otto Geier, to establish an onsite employee health and fitness center, one of the first industrial-health programs in the world. Its value would become more than apparent five years later when a flu epidemic spread across the globe killing countless people. Cincinnati Milling fared far better than most companies. Geier also made a contribution to education, setting up a cooperative-education program with the University of Cincinnati, in which students supplemented classroom study with on-the-job experience at Cincinnati Milling and other area manufacturers. It was an approach that would be emulated by universities around the world.

Cincinnati Milling prospered during World War I as huge mechanized armies arose, increasing the demand for machine parts and the machine tools needed to make them. After the war ended in 1918 the worldwide economy lapsed into recession, causing Cincinnati Milling's business to slump as well. By now, Geier was joined by his son, Frederick V. Geier, who urged him to diversify, specifically into grinding machines, which were in much demand by the young automotive industry. The company acquired a controlling interest in Cincinnati Grinder Co. in 1921 to enter the field. But key customer Henry Ford was not pleased with its center-type grinding machine and urged Geier to pursue centerless grinding, which reduced the handling of a part and resulted in higher feed rates. Geier acquired the necessary patents and was able to secure Ford's business as well as those of other automakers, important in the company's rising prosperity in the 1920s and ability to weather the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was during this period, in 1934, that Geier died. He was replaced by his son, who had been groomed to succeed him by working in all aspects of the company's business.

As was the case during World War I, Cincinnati Milling's products were in high demand during World War II. Well before the United States entered the war in late 1941, the company was gearing up for production, so that in 1942 it was able to increase production sevenfold over 1939. After the war, the company also launched a diversification effort. It developed synthetic coolants used on both cutting tools and workpieces. Cincinnati Milling also recognized the emergence of plastic as a material that would replace metal in many applications. In 1968 it offered its first plastics injection molding machine. In 1970 Frederick V. Geier stepped down as president, replaced by his 45-year-old son, James Geier. The company now changed its name to Cincinnati Milacron, a name more in keeping with the company's changing profile. Under the third generation of Geier leadership, the company over the next 20 years produced a variety of plastics processing machines, employing technologies such as blow molding and extrusion in addition to injection molding, and by the end of the 1980s it offered a wide range of plastic processing equipment and services. In the 1990s Cincinnati Milacron completed a number of acquisitions to supplement its plastics business. In 1998 the company decided to focus all of its resources on plastics technology and industrial products units, and sold the original machine tool business to Unova for $180 million and shortened its name to Milacron Inc. Cincinnati Milling now took on the Cincinnati Machine name.

Lamb Origins in the World War I Era

Unova also owned another company involved in the machine tool industry, Lamb Technicon Corp. It was founded in 1914 as F. Jos. Lamb Company by electrical engineer Francis Joseph Lamb. It started out making electrical products, then in the 1920s began to make metal components and dial index machines, which were used to retool dial machines. The company established itself in the automotive industry in the early 1950s when it won a General Motors contract to rebuild 60 grinders damaged by fire. Lamb enjoyed strong growth in the 1960s and over the next 20 years introduced a number of technologies and products to assist in material handling, machine controls, and computer-based monitoring systems. To better reflect its diversity, the company adopted the Lamb Technicon name in 1982. Lamb's sales reached $370 million in 1981, but with the advent of a recession, sales fell off, dipping to $200 million in 1983. Revenues began to rebound in the mid-1980s and the company took steps to be less dependent on the automotive industry, but privately held Lamb was not immune to the shakeout under way in the machine tool industry. In 1987 the company faced another sales slump, caused by decreasing demand for equipment by automakers, and it agreed to be acquired by Litton Industries Inc., a Beverly Hills, California-based defense contractor, in a stock-swap valued at $100 million.

In 1994 Lamb became part of Western Atlas, a company spun off by Litton, and four years later, in 1998, Western Atlas spun off Unova, the same year that Cincinnati Machine was acquired. It was also the beginning of a difficult period for the machine tool industry. With softening demand, Cincinnati Machine cut jobs, and in 2000 Unova hired Credit Suisse First Boston to consider strategic alternatives, which included selling off the company. But Cincinnati Machine was a part of Unova's Industrial Automation Systems division and involved in joint projects with Lamb and sister unit Landis Grinding Systems. Some plants were shuttered but the unit was kept intact. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took their toll, however, as air travel slumped and had a ripple effect on the aerospace industry and Cincinnati Machine, which was very much dependent on the composite manufacturing systems it sold for aircraft production.

In 2002 Unova decided to combine the business operations of Cincinnati Machine and Lamb, a plan that took effect in late 2003. The hope was to cut overhead costs and improve efficiencies. The merged operation took the name of Cincinnati Lamb, with its headquarters relocated to suburban Detroit. The Oakley facility, the longtime home of Cincinnati Mills, was slowly shut down, with operations either moved to Michigan or across the Ohio River to a facility in Hebron, Kentucky. Business in the meantime began to pick up in the aerospace industry, and management was hopeful that with the consolidation of its operation and the investment in new aerospace technologies, Cincinnati Lamb was well positioned to compete in the long run.

Principal Competitors: Giddings & Lewis; Haas Automation.

Further Reading:

  • Frazier, Mya, "Cincinnati Machine Now 'Right Size' for Market," Cincinnati--Northern Kentucky, February 18, 2000, p. 8.
  • Horstman, Barry M., "Frederick A. Geier: His Empire Had Roots in a Debt," Cincinnati Post, November 18, 1999.
  • LaMotte, Kenneth, and Darlyne Case, "Lamb Sought Shelter with Litton," Crain's Detroit Business, March 2, 1987, p. 3.
  • Newberry, Jon, "Vanishing Machine Tools/Cincinnati Machine Moves, Shrinks Operations," Cincinnati Post, October 15, 2003, p. C6.
  • Stammen, Ken, "New Help for Old Industry Firm Competes with Asia Imports," Cincinnati Post, April 28, 2000, p. 8B.
  • Zdrojewski, Ed, "Frederick Geier and the Cincinnati Mill," Cutting Tool Engineering, June 1993.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.