Wyman-Gordon Company History

P.O. Box 8001
Grafton, Massachusetts 01536

Telephone: (508) 756-5111
Fax: (508) 839-7500

Public Company
Incorporated: 1883
Operating Revenues: $380 million
Employees: 2,200
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 3463 Nonferrous Forgings; 3462 Iron & Steel Forgings

Company History:

Wyman-Gordon Company is one of the largest manufacturers of forgings, castings, engine components, and composite structures for the aerospace, mining, agricultural, construction, and forestry industries. The company lists an impressive string of accomplishments, including the following: it was the first to commercially develop the science of "heat treating," the first to manufacture a titanium support beam for the landing gear of the new 747 airplane, and the first to produce the largest closed-die forging of titanium in the world.

In 1883 H. Winfield Wyman and Lyman F. Gordon, recent graduates of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, started a company for the purpose of forging loom crankshafts. The Wyman-Gordon Company factory consisted of a small wooden building with five board-drop hammers, two Bradley Helv hammers, and two die sinking pieces of equipment. A 50-horsepower Wheelock steam engine provided power for the machines, and a total of eight people worked in the firm. Horace Wyman and Albert Gordon, the fathers of the two young men, both worked in management at Crompton Loom Works, and were instrumental in helping the new company procure contracts for loom crankshafts made of iron and other various forgings for micrometer frames and pistol parts.

The company's process of forging, an ancient art, is a well-known procedure for shaping various kinds of metal. The forging consists of a piece of metal that has been heated and worked between dies to create a shape. The part of the process that involves "working" the metal actually gives the piece a certain ductility and toughness that is not gained by any other process. Castings, on the other hand, are achieved by pouring molten iron, for example, into a previously shaped container that is subsequently removed when the metal solidifies. Forged metal has always been considered to have more beneficial properties than cast metal.

As Wyman-Gordon's reputation for high-quality forged metals began to spread along the eastern coast of the United States, the company began to garner contracts from new industries such as the bicycle, railroad, and automobile businesses. The company began to forge metal parts including pedals, sprockets, and spindles for bicycles, as well as automatic couplers for railroad cars. The most important contracts, however, which came between 1902 and 1904, involved forging crankshafts for 35 young companies that were producing the newfangled "horseless carriages."

With the beginning of World War I, Wyman-Gordon was contracted by the United States government to provide forgings for airplane engines. The Curtis Jenny, a large biplane with a 90-horsepower engine, was the first project for which the company provided crankshafts and other forgings. Soon Wyman-Gordon was manufacturing various engine and airframe forgings for almost every airplane used by the U.S. military during World War I.

After the war, and continuing throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the company developed a close relationship both with the commercial and military airplane industries. Wyman-Gordon became the leading and most sought-after producer of engine and component forgings for airplane engines and airframes. Parts not only for engines, but crankshafts, propellers, and landing gear formed the nucleus of the company's products during these two decades. With increasing requests for its heavy-duty, durable forgings, the company expanded its factory in Worcester and opened a new facility in Harvey, Illinois.

World War II helped Wyman-Gordon achieve even greater prominence within the industry. The company was contracted by almost every American airplane manufacturer to supply engine parts and airframe components. During the war, every plane in combat included either engine parts, a crankshaft, structural airframe components, propeller mechanisms, or landing gear parts that were forged by Wyman-Gordon. By the end of World War II, the company had forged more aviation parts and components than that of the entire rest of the industry combined.

As World War II began to wind down, the aviation industry changed dramatically with the development of the jet engine. Wyman-Gordon had built its reputation on forgings for propeller airplanes, which sometimes included over 120 forgings for a single propeller mechanism. The early jet engines, by contrast, included perhaps a dozen large forgings with no propeller. In addition, forgings made for airplanes before the jet age were only required to meet standards for tensile strength. New jet engines required forgings to meet not only the standards of tensile strength, but also standards involving greater durability, heat tolerance, and lighter weight.

During the 1950s, Wyman-Gordon met the challenges posed by the development of the jet engine with characteristic efficiency. The company retooled its facilities and kept up with the torrid pace of ever-changing jet engine designs. Engineers at the firm worked on forgings for turbines and compressors, calculated increased speeds and stresses on various metals used in aviation designs, and helped airplane manufacturers improve the operating temperature for jet engine forgings. In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the company was producing a lower number of forgings for jet engines than for the earlier piston-driven engines, but the value per part was much higher.

The growing demand for additional power, in combination with the request for lighter-weight forgings, led to the development of new alloys. Wyman-Gordon was at the forefront of these developments as one of the few facilities in the United States capable of forging titanium. The first major forging involving the metal was for compressor discs used in Pratt & Whitney engines. These engines were part of the design for the Century Series fighter planes which flew combat missions during the Korean War. Additional titanium components were sold to Westinghouse and General Electric for use in engines designed for both commercial and military use. During the mid-1950s, Wyman-Gordon forged titanium components for engines that powered the B-52 bomber, the Boeing 707, and the KC-135 transport aircraft. Structural applications of the titanium alloy were used by the company to cast the engine for the Minuteman Missile.

The company's production facilities grew at a rapid rate to meet the demands for new alloys and highly technical applications of these metals. Outside North Grafton, a short way from Worcester, Wyman-Gordon constructed a series of three hydraulic presses with an 18,000 ton capacity, a 35,000 ton capacity, and a 50,000 ton capacity. The 50,000 ton capacity hydraulic press was the largest forging press ever built in the United States. The company also developed new techniques to produce alloys such as titanium, including forging superalloys at extremely high temperatures within a vacuum and compacting metals in powder form under such high pressures of intensely heated gases that they take the shape desired.

By the early 1960s, Wyman-Gordon facilities and technical expertise were recognized throughout the industry as the best in the United States. At this time, the U.S. Air Force asked the company to design and produce an airframe for the SR-71 aircraft. Company engineers responded by developing an alloy that was nearly 60 percent stronger than any of the known alloys employing titanium. When Boeing asked Wyman-Gordon to produce a giant titanium support beam for the landing gear of its new 747, Wyman-Gordon used its 50,000 ton hydraulic press to create the largest closed-die titanium forging ever achieved in the industry. The company went on to produce over 1,000 more of these forgings in later years. During the Vietnam War, engineers at the firm developed titanium forgings for the F-4 fighter plane, and also produced more forged titanium rotor hubs for helicopters than any other American company.

During the early 1970s, Wyman-Gordon produced an increasing number of titanium forged engine components for the Titan and Minuteman missiles. The U.S. Airforce development of the F-14 and F-15 fighter planes also required an increased number of titanium forged engine components and structural airframe parts. At this time, Wyman-Gordon was the leading supplier of forged titanium engine parts, including such items as fan discs and compressors. In fact, the company's presence was so dominant within the industry that every commercial and military jet airplane, and every model of helicopter and missile, included a titanium forging produced at one of the Wyman-Gordon plants.

In 1978 the company received requests for forged titanium parts for 280 different types of aircraft from commercial airplane manufacturers. Two years later, requests for forged titanium parts had ballooned to include more than 700 different types of aircraft. Unfortunately, however, producers of titanium sponge and melters remained skeptical about the growing demand for titanium and refused to increase their capacity. As a result, companies that forged titanium were placed on an extremely limited allocation system. Since Wyman-Gordon was the largest forger of titanium engine parts in the United States, the company was hard hit by the unexpected turn of events. Determined not to let this happen again, Wyman-Gordon decided to enter the field of titanium manufacturing and production.

In the early 1980s, at a cost of only $12 million, Wyman-Gordon acquired a majority stake in International Titanium, Inc., in Moses Lake, Washington. With technical advice provided by Wyman-Gordon engineers, International Titanium began to produce titanium sponge using the most up-to-date technology. Continuing its strategy of vertical integration, management constructed a brand new Aerospace Alloys Center in Millbury, Massachusetts. At a cost of $11 million, this facility enabled Wyman-Gordon engineers to melt and alloy the sponge delivered from International Titanium. This new facility was built near the company's Grafton plant, and soon provided nearly half of all the titanium ingot used by Wyman-Gordon's plants. The company now controlled all the essential technologies involved in producing titanium components, including sponge manufacturing, melting and alloying, and the forging process. As a result, customer orders began to increase due to customers' confidence that Wyman-Gordon could provide an uninterrupted supply of titanium forged parts.

The increase in orders for titanium parts forged by Wyman-Gordon was short-lived however. By the late 1980s, the decrease in orders from commercial airline companies, and the end of the Cold War which resulted in declining defense expenditures, began to undermine Wyman-Gordon's traditional base of support. The company responded by laying off employees and reducing administrative and organizational costs. Yet even worse times were ahead. By early 1993, the aerospace industry business had declined by a whopping 40 percent since the lucrative days of the mid-1980s.

Although new orders, such as Britain's contract with Lockheed for a fleet of C-130J cargo-carriers, a U.S. Air Force contract with McDonnell-Douglas for a number of C-17s, and projections for an annual increase in commercial airlines by the end of the decade promised a long-awaited resurgence for companies doing business with the aerospace industry, they were not enough to return Wyman-Gordon to profitability. Faced with grim financial prospects, management decided to acquire Cooper Industries' Cameron Forged Products Division in order to create a giant nickel alloy and titanium forging producer. The two companies held approximately 20 percent of the American titanium market, and the merger was reported to be the largest in the declining aerospace industry. In addition, Wyman-Gordon joined with Pratt & Whitney and Western Aerospace Ltd. to create Western Australian Specialty Alloys Proprietary Ltd. The new firm was formed to enter the superalloys market, but came under immediate criticism from competitors who claimed that the market was already saturated and that the joint venture would only hurt the industry. Wyman-Gordon management responded that their investment was for the long term, and could not be affected by the industry's short-term problems.

Principal Subsidiaries: Precision Founders, Inc.; Sierra Cast, Inc.; Wyman-Gordon Investment Castings, Inc.; Wyman-Gordon Composite Technologies, Inc.; Wyman-Gordon Scaled Composites, Inc.; Wyman-Gordon Precision Composites, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Albert, Steven, "Why Wyman Now?" Forbes, June 20, 1994, p. 272.
  • Burgert, Philip, "Western Australia Venture Draws Flak," American Metal Market, July 22, 1993, pp. 11--15A.
  • Carter, Joseph R., Wyman-Gordon Company, Newcomen Society: New York, 1993.
  • "Cooper Industries Is Sellings Its Cameron Forged Unit," New York Times, September 18, 1993, p. 35L.
  • "Pratt Joins Australian Deal," New York Times, March 7, 1992, p. 41L.
  • "Wyman-Gordon Company," Automotive News, January 24, 1994, p. 45.
  • "Wyman-Gordon Company," Wall Street Journal, January 19, 1995, p. B2E.
  • "Wyman-Gordon Shareholders Approve Cameron Deal," New York Times, May 25, 1994, p. D4L.
  • "Wyman-Gordon to Acquire a Cooper Industries Division," New York Times, January 18, 1994, p. D4L.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.