Greene, Tweed & Company History

Address:
2075 Detwiler Road
Kulpsville, Pennsylvania 19443
U.S.A.

Telephone: (215) 256-9521
Fax: (215) 256-0189

Private Company
Incorporated: 1903
Employees: 1,200
Sales: $185 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 332911 Industrial Valve Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

When Greene, Tweed products are at work, there's not much to see. And that's the way our customers like it.

Key Dates:

1863:
Greene, Tweed & Co. is established as a hardware wholesaler.
1878:
Company begins purchasing packings for resale.
1903:
The business is incorporated.
1946:
The manufacture of packings at Greene, Tweed aids the U.S. war effort.
1964:
The company sells its GT rings to the aerospace industry.
1981:
A German subsidiary is formed.
1986:
A Japanese subsidiary is formed.
1995:
The company opens a clean room to serve the semiconductor industry.

Company History:

A private company located in the small town of Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, Greene, Tweed & Company is one of the world's leading manufacturers of specialty seals and engineered plastic components. Its products are used in a wide range of applications in the aerospace and defense, chemical, petrochemical, oilfield equipment manufacturing, industrial hydraulics, pharmaceutical, medical, biotechnology, and semiconductor industries. While many competitors in recent years have chosen to concentrate on standardized products that can be produced in high volumes, Greene, Tweed has prospered by focusing on high performance applications.

Origins in 1863

In May 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Greene, Tweed & Co. opened for business in a small office on Murray Street in Lower Manhattan. It was established by brothers J. Ashton Greene and John W. Greene, along with partner Henry A. Tweed. At first the firm acted as a distributor of wholesale hardware and mill supplies. It performed no manufacturing, although several products were produced according to specifications by others and bore the Greene, Tweed brand. By the end of the war in 1865, the company traded throughout the Union states and quickly set out to extend its reach to all of the 35 states and ten territories comprising the United States. Greene, Tweed also expanded its product lines beyond general hardware to more specialize hardware used in shipbuilding, as well as leather goods such as buggy whips, harnessing, and leather belting. In addition, leather was used to help seal the water pumps of the day. "Packings" would evolve to keep pace with changing technologies and remains a mainstay of the company to the present day.

An important turning point for Greene, Tweed occurred in 1873 when it began purchasing packings for resale from another New York company called Manhattan Packing Manufacturing Co. Highly unusual for the period, Manhattan Packing boasted a woman, Eliza D. Murfey, as its founder and principal partner. It was also known for its innovative internally-lubricated packing, marketed as "Manhattan" packing. By 1880, Greene, Tweed's mill supplies business was devoted to packings; in 1889, the company bought out Murfey and her partner and became directly involved in manufacturing.

Greene, Tweed underwent some ownership changes, with Henry Tweed selling out due to poor health. Willard H. Platt, a man with a background in dry goods, bought into the business and for a time operated as a co-partner with John W. Greene. In 1903, the business was incorporated and under this arrangement the major stockholders became John W. Greene, J. Ashton Greene, and Willard H. Platt and his son, Willard R. Platt. In the meantime, the industrial equipment that relied on Greene, Tweed packings became more demanding, running at ever-higher temperatures. Engineers with the company began experimenting with asbestos yarn used in conjunction with the Manhattan internal lubricating method. The result of these efforts was a superior, albeit expensive, product. Almost as difficult as developing the new seal was finding an appropriate product name. It was the elder Platt, having just returned from a trip to the South, who suggested Palmetto, noting that the asbestos packing reminded him of the braided look of a palmetto tree trunk. The name stuck and is still used by a Greene, Tweed Company--Palmetto, Inc.

Henry Demarest Spurs Sales in Early 1900s

In 1899, Greene, Tweed began to procure most of its asbestos yarn from the newly formed Asbestos Fiber Spinning Co., located in North Wales, Pennsylvania, some 20 miles north of Philadelphia (a connection that ultimately led to Greene, Tweed's exodus from New York City). Although the company boasted the industry's highest quality seal in Palmetto, the product was poorly promoted and because of its high price made little inroads in the market. It took an outsider named Henry S. Demarest to change that situation. A self-educated engineer, Demarest became familiar with Palmetto while serving as a purchasing agent for the Henry R. Worthington Co. Ignoring specific requests for Palmetto, he bought cheaper, older types of packing. After enduring ongoing complaints from the firm's engineers, he conducted his own test of Palmetto and was so impressed by the results that he paid a visit to Willard R. Platt. Learning that Platt was unwilling to spend any money to market Palmetto, and firmly convinced that the product held great potential, Demarest offered to promote and sell Palmetto at no salary. Instead, he would split the profits on the sales he generated. Platt agreed to the arrangement, and in 1901 Demarest began a long-term association with Greene, Tweed. He faced the challenge of convincing parsimonious purchasers to buy an expensive product, but he also knew that once they understood that they actually saved money in the long run they would become customers. His favorite ploy was to offer to pack the most troublesome pump in the plant with Palmetto at no charge. Donning coveralls over his suit, Demarest performed the work himself and simply left his business card. Invariably the purchasing agent called back to place an order, having seen for himself how well the seal worked and projected the long-term savings.

Demarest also established a network of distributors throughout the country, supported by catalogues he produced as well as direct-mail advertising, circulars, and advertisements in trade publications. While on vacation in Denmark in 1904, he also took time to set up distributorships in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, creating a foothold in Europe. He established a distributorship in South Africa in 1910, then, following World War I, arranged for distribution in Japan, Korea, Formosa, and Manchuria. In the 1920s, he moved into China as well as South America. Palmetto received some unsolicited, albeit welcome, publicity in 1928 when newspapers noted that Palmetto was in service on the City of New York, the ship transporting Admiral Byrd to Antarctica, where he would make his famous flight over the South Pole.

Greene, Tweed's business was not confined to just Palmetto and other packings. The company produced a number of items brought to it by inventors and licensed to outside manufacturers. These products included an oil pump, buckles used on galoshes and raincoats, the first chain tong wrench, the first split-head rawhide hammer, and the "Favorite" reversible ratchet socket wrench. The Favorite line of wrenches would become mainstays for use in industry as well as the military for many years to come. In December 1919, Greene Tweed acquired Brabson Bros., makers of builders' hardware and brass goods. Although this business prospered for the next several years, in 1928 the brass plant was divested and the hardware lines eventually sold to Slaymaker Lock Co.

With the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, Greene, Tweed like many businesses was severely tested. In December 1932, Willard R. Platt retired as head of the firm and responsibility fell upon Demarest, who at the age of 66 agreed to lead the company through this difficult period. Although he would only live a few more years, dying in July 1937, he succeeded in strengthening the company and leaving behind a solid management team. With another world war on the horizon, the company was well positioned to meet the challenge of supplying America's defense needs. The demand for packings of all types was immense, leading to Greene, Tweed's acquisition of the Asbestos Fiber Spinning Co. in order to secure all of its output. In addition, Greene, Tweed was able to transfer some operations from its overcrowded facilities in the Bronx to the more spacious plant in North Wales, Pennsylvania. The Bronx plant concentrated on braided packings and tools, producing vast quantities of rawhide hammers for aircraft makers and the U.S. Navy, and Favorite wrenches for use in tanks and the building of portable Bailey bridges. The Pennsylvania plant produced new rubber-content packings using asbestos cloth, instrumental in Navy ship boilers. The plant also manufactured GT rings, die-formed rings of neoprene-impregnated seals used in tanks and the recoil mechanism of .50-caliber machine guns.

Postwar Expansion

Following the war Greene, Tweed leased its Bronx facility and moved it manufacturing operations and administrative offices to North Wales. Changes brought by the war also placed new demands on packings, especially for synthetic rubber molded seals. Synthetic rubber had been used during the war as a substitute for natural rubber, but the manmade material resisted hydraulic fluids and was more temperature resistant than the leather packings that were standard in most hydraulic mechanisms. This development opened up a major new market for Greene, Tweed, which now devoted greater resources to the creation of molded packings. Although prepared to convert back to peacetime applications, the company would once again devote much of its resources to servicing the military with the advent of the Korean conflict in 1950. It not only supplied GT rings to restore old tanks to serviceable condition, it also developed special tools for submarines and mine-sweepers, including non-magnetic wrenches and hammers made out of stainless steel. GT rings would also be key elements in new weapons, such as the Polaris missile, which the U.S. Navy added to its arsenal in 1960.

During the 1960s, Greene, Tweed moved beyond its traditional business of manufacturing a variety of hardware products, mostly intended for domestic consumption, and transformed itself into an international provider of highly-engineered, high-performance seals and sealing systems. In 1964, the company took a major step when it became involved in the aerospace market after one of its GT rings was approved for use in the landing gear of the F-4 Phantom. Later, the seals would become part of the landing gear of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. In order to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology, Greene, Tweed made an early and highly expensive investment in a state-of-the-art computer system.

Move to Kulpsville in 1970s

As the 1970s opened, the demand for Greene, Tweed products was so great that the company outgrew its production capacity in North Wales and moved to a larger, more modern facility in nearby Kulpsville, Pennsylvania. By 1973, the company's administrative offices, as well as its engineering and research and development labs, would also make the move to Kulpsville. Greene, Tweed was now heavily involved in the aerospace industry. It patented an advanced T-shaped sealing assembly, which provided high performance and an extended life in a number of aerospace applications. The company was so well respected internationally that the French designers of the supersonic Concorde aircraft specified that GT rings be used in the craft's landing gear. Advances were also made in other areas. In 1978, Greene, Tweed received a patent on the RSA seal, which quickly became a standard feature of hydraulic cylinders in construction equipment manufactured around the world.

In the 1980s, Greene, Tweed produced its first "capped" seal, offering both long life and low-friction properties. The business was then strengthened by the creation of Enerlon, a custom blended material that greatly enhanced the performance of capped seals. The company also introduced a substance called Flouraz, a versatile elastomer that could operate at temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Another innovation was Chemraz, a chemical-resistant elastomer, effective in temperatures that ranged from -20 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Its introduction opened up new opportunities in a number of industries, including hydrocarbon processing, semiconductor, and instrumentation.

To help serve its growing markets, Greene, Tweed took steps to grow its production capacity from within as well as through acquisitions--both domestically and internationally. In 1981, it bought Advantec, makers of PTFE seals and custom components. Later in the decade, in order to support the petroleum exploration, extraction, and processing market, Greene, Tweed opened a Houston, Texas, plant and warehouse. Overseas, the company established a subsidiary in West Germany in 1981, followed a year later by an operation in England and another in France in 1985. Greene, Tweed entered the Pacific Rim market in 1986, opening a company in Japan in 1986.

New Technologies in the 1990s and Beyond

With the need for seals evolving at an almost dizzying rate, Greene, Tweed stepped back in the late 1980s to assess its strengths and determine how to proceed in the final years of the century. The company's president, Phil Paino, told Design News a decade later that management concluded that Greene, Tweed excelled at high-performance, state-of-the art sealing-related products, and as a result the company elected to concentrate on industries where high performance was crucial, such as aerospace, semiconductor equipment, CPI, oil field equipment, and mobile equipment. As Paino stated, "We focused on developing products that meet the increasing technological demands of these industries, providing sealing solutions where the cost of failure far exceeds the cost of the right seal." The strategy served the company well in the 1990s, when many of its competitors decided to focus on standardized products with the hope of enjoying higher-volume production runs and the resulting economies of scale. By staking out the high-performance area, Greene, Tweed not only found itself with far less direct competition, it once again enjoyed the marketing edge exploited by Demarest decades earlier, when he proved to customers that lower-cost seals did not actually provide the lowest-cost solution.

In the 1990s, Greene, Tweed was especially successful in serving the semiconductor industry. In 1995, the company built a clean room in Kulpsville but quickly outgrew its capacity and ultimately opened a factory in Selma, Texas. As a new century began, the need for specialized sealing solutions increased across all markets. To help maintain its creative edge, Greene, Tweed established an Incubator Group to develop new products and open up new business opportunities. Its engineers also worked concurrently with customer's engineers, taking advantage of the Internet to share data and ideas. With new 3D design capabilities, Greene, Tweed engineers were better able to determine where failure in a seal might occur, rather than examine a ruptured seal returned by the customer, as was the case only a few years earlier. From the earliest days of its history, Greene, Tweed displayed a willingness to embrace innovation, and that same spirit promised to keep the company in the vanguard of its industry.

Principal Competitors: CE Franklin Ltd.; T-3 Energy Services, Inc.; UMECO plc.

Further Reading:

  • "Founded During the Civil War, Greene, Tweed & Co. Today Supplies Seals for Space Shuttle Columbia," Hydaulic & Pneumatics, March 1983, p. 82.
  • Greene, Tweed & Co. 1863-1963, Kulpsville, Pa.: Greene, Tweed & Co., 1964.
  • Paino, Phi, "Engineers Work More With Customers Today," Design News, May 21, 2001, p. 110.
  • Peach, Laurie Ann, "They Make Seals Big Deal," Design News, November 2, 1998, pp. 86-88.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 55. St. James Press, 2003.