Nooter Corporation History
St. Louis, Missouri 63104-4430
Telephone: (314) 421-7200
Fax: (314) 425-7807
Sales: $660 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 541330 Engineering Services
Vision Statement: To be our customers' preferred choice.
- John Nooter starts his own St. Louis business.
- John Nooter Boiler Works purchases its first commercial site.
- Nooter Corporation becomes holding company.
- Nooter discontinues fabrication business after more than 100 years in operation.
Nooter Corporation is a St. Louis, Missouri-based holding company for a family of subsidiaries, located in both the United States and Austria, involved in providing engineering solutions and other services to a broad range of industrial customers. Nooter owns two companies involved in fabrication. Scholler Bleckman Nooter, operating out of Ternitz, Austria, supplies high-performance, multi-layer tanks and containers for industrial and agricultural uses. Optimum Engineering Solutions (Openso) is a Glen Carbon, Illinois, consulting engineering company, primarily serving process petrochemical plants and related industries. Openso holds a worldwide license on Nooter's proprietary methods of fabricating equipment from such metals as titanium and zirconium. Nooter has two companies involved in field construction. With its home office located in St. Louis and a field office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Nooter Construction is involved in all phases of field construction, primarily serving the chemical, paper, petrochemical, refining, and utility industries. Houston-based Wyatt Field Service Company concentrates on the refining and petrochemical industry, offering field fabrication, maintenance, and emergency repair services. Nooter's St. Louis Metallizing Company is a major thermal spray and finishing shop, offering metal and ceramic coatings that minimize wear and corrosion to parts and machine components. Nooter's Pressline Service, Inc. subsidiary is devoted to the needs of newspaper pressrooms, including press overhauls, retrofits, and color unit additions. The company also maintains a parts division and provides maintenance and engineering support. Finally, Nooter also owns Superior Corporate Travel, Inc., providing greater diversity to the company's business mix. Superior offers corporate travel services for air, train, and ship. About one-third of the workforce owns stock in the private company.
Humble Beginnings: 1880s-90s
The man behind the Nooter name was John Nooter, Dutch by birth and seaman by trade. An expert in the rigging of sailing ships he was able to find work in St. Louis as a rigger in the early 1880s for the John O'Brien Boiler Works. In 1896 he struck out on his own in St. Louis. His first major contract was painting trolley poles for the Lindell Railway Line. From the proceeds he acquired a sheet-metal bending roll and a small hand punch, which allowed him to set up shop as a stack fabricator in his backyard and put to use the knowledge he gained during his time at John O'Brien. He named his business the John Nooter Boiler Works Company.
1904 St. Louis World's Fair Provides Boost
Nooter enjoyed a major boost from the work he received in preparation for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (officially known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, but the fair was pushed back a year when it became apparent that the organizers needed more time). The event was planned on an epic scale, taking place on more than 1,200 acres with 62 nations and 43 states participating, not to mention the Olympic games that were also held in St. Louis during the run of the fair. Preparations for the fair were further complicated by an 1899 cyclone that caused severe damage to the city and placed an even greater premium on construction services, and in turn benefited the John Nooter Boiler Works, which continued to work out of the founder's backyard. An important contract of this early period was the construction of a stack for the Lindell Hotel. It was also during this time that Nooter took on a partner, his neighbor Tom Ryan. As the young company grew, it took on another partner in John Eschmann, Sr., one of Nooter's former coworkers at John O'Brien and who now became shop foreman. Ryan was key to Nooter's ongoing success. Tragedy struck in 1910 when Ryan fell off a smokestack and was killed, leaving Nooter and Eschmann to carry on the business by themselves. By 1911 they had laid a strong enough foundation that the company was finally able to graduate from Nooter's backyard and purchase a plot of land in order to erect its first building on the site of Nooter's present-day factory.
John Nooter Boiler Works during the second decade of the 20th century was mostly involved in the making of horizontal return tubular boilers. It also continued to erect riveted smokestacks and did some tank work. In the 1920s Nooter kept pace with the rise of new metals and such new tools and technologies as acetylene welding, electric welding, and the air hammer. In the middle of the decade the company began to weld vessels in carbon steel. By the end of the decade, Nooter was regarded as an expert in the electric welding industry. The company also reached a crossroads in its history. Instead of mass producing a line of products, Nooter elected to focus its attention on making higher-end, custom-fabricated metal plate products.
In the early 1940s Nooter first began producing stainless steel vessels, but like most companies its normal work was disrupted by the United States' entry into World War II. Not only did many skilled workers leave for military service, but Nooter also shifted its focus to serving military-related industries. For its part in the war effort, Nooter produced process vessels needed for the manufacture of explosives, gasoline, synthetic rubber, and penicillin. During the postwar years of the 1940s, Nooter took advantage of new materials, such as InConel, Incoloy, Carpenter 20, and Hastelloy B and C. Nooter soon gained expertise, making it a highly sought fabricator of these materials. The company also benefited greatly by the postwar economic boom that drove industries to employ new equipment that relied on Nooter's advanced metalworking abilities.
Nooter's major customers in the 1950s were oil and chemical companies. Early in the decade Nooter began to work with zirconium in order to fabricate heat exchangers and reactor vessels for chemical processors. A notable achievement of the decade was the construction of the vessels used to manufacture the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, which would eradicate a disease that had plagued generations of children. During the 1950s Nooter also expanded on its welding expertise, adding such technologies as submerged arc, tungsten inert gas shielded arc, and consumable electrode inert gas. Because of the company's growing diversity, it was decided in the 1950s that "Boiler Works" was no longer suitable, and the company shortened its name to Nooter Corporation.
Nooter continued to make technological advances in the 1960s, fabricating with solid titanium, followed by solid zirconium, and solid tantalum. In 1963 Nooter became the first company in the world to use these materials in reactive metal clad welding, which led to the construction of reactive metal clad pressure vessels and heat exchangers that were sold around the world. Until this point the company had done no business outside of the United States. It was also during this period that Nooter developed a number of other technologies, including multilayer vessels, inner bore tube welding, hot gas cycle testing, and plasma arc weld overlay. In addition, during the space race of the 1960s, Nooter used its expertise to help in the bid to send men to the moon.
Nooter's export business began to accelerate in the 1970s, primarily selling to England and Germany. Nooter achieved a notable distinction early in the 1970s when it constructed a 109-foot-long zirconium column for use with sulfuric acid. At the time, it was the largest zirconium column ever built. In keeping with its tradition of staying on the cutting edge of technology, Nooter also became an early user of Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacture (CAD-CAM), which in the 1980s the company began to rely on increasingly in the design of vessel components. But because so many of its products were custom made, encompassing too many variables, becoming completely robotic was not viable for Nooter. The company's only standardized product was a giant kettle--measuring 13 feet across, over six feet deep, and weighing in excess of 100 tons. Nooter produced as many as 40 of the kettles a year for the lead smelting industry.
Company Veterans Taking Turns at the Top: 1990s
In truth, Nooter was still very much dependent on its human capital. A major factor in the success of the company was its ability to retain skilled people at all levels and maintain continuity in the business. This trait was evident by the changes in top management during the 1990s, as one longtime executive after another retired and was replaced from within the ranks of the company. In January 1995 George Hays retired as chairman of the board and chief executive officer at the age of 65. He began his tenure with the company in 1955 as a sales engineer. Hays was replaced by Gene R. Smith, who started as a sales engineer with Nooter in 1956. He retired two years later, replaced by 62-year-old George P. Bouckaert, who had been working for the company since 1960. In 1999 he retired, succeeded by 63-year-old Frank Martin, who started out in 1959 as a sales engineer for a Nooter division, Missouri Boiler and Tank Co.
By the middle of the 1990s Nooter was posting annual sales in the $350 million range, a significant increase over the estimated $20 million turnover of the mid-1950s. Much of this growth could be attributed to a steady climb in export sales, which now accounted for half of Nooter's business. Rather than remain complacent, the company's string of leaders bordering on retirement age took steps to diversify the business mix. Pressline Services, for instance was established in 1995 as a subsidiary of St. Louis Metallizing Company, growing out of a two-year press overhaul project Nooter had taken on for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1992. The company rebuilt six massive presses, with St. Louis Metallizing restoring components by use of thermal-spray coatings. The project was so successful that three of the top people involved--St. Louis Metallizing's project manager, the Post-Dispatch rebuild project manager, and the technical support representative from the press manufacturer--approached Nooter about launching a field service company to the newspaper press market.
Either through acquisition or by starting greenfield operations, Nooter diversified into such areas as corporate travel, so that by 1998 management decided to reorganize the business. For decades Nooter Corporation was linked to the company's century-old fabrication business, which was now renamed Nooter Fabricators. The Nooter Corporation name was then applied to a new holding company that would oversee all of the operating units. Ties to the company's traditional business were short-lived, however. In 2001 Nooter Fabricators was closed, the business unable to compete with Japanese and Korean competitors and crippled by diminishing domestic demand. Nevertheless, Nooter was a thriving company in the areas that it chose to participate. Revenues grew from $535 million in 2001 to $660 million in 2001. In 2002 Frank Martin retired as chairman and CEO, replaced by yet another company veteran, Russ Osiek, who started out with Nooter as a sales engineer. There was every reason to believe that he would maintain the company's long history of success.
Principal Subsidiaries: Scholler Bleckman Nooter; Optimum Engineering Solutions; Nooter Construction; Wyatt Field Service Company; Nooter's Pressline Service, Inc.; Superior Corporate Travel, Inc.
Principal Competitors:Tyco International Ltd.; Emerson Electric Co.; Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
- Flannery, William, "Nooter Is Making Its Mark Making Weighty Products," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1996, p. 10.
- "Nooter Corp.," St. Louis Business Journal, March 27, 2000, p. A44.
- Stamborski, Al, "Nooter Corp. Transforms Itself," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 1, 1998, p. B1.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.61. St. James Press, 2004.