A History Overview of Rostone
In 1926 a young chemical engineering graduate student at Purdue, by the name of Richard L. Harrison, was encouraged by David E. Ross, a local industrialist and Dean Harry C. Peffer, of the Chemical Engineering School, to follow up certain phenomena that they had noticed in nature which might lead to the synthesizing of stone from very common earthen materials.
When Harrison discovered a definite, if somewhat unstable reaction, at relatively low temperatures, between the alumino-silicic acid found in slate or shale, and hydrate of lime, Ross, in 1927, formed Rostone Inc., to pursue the development. He hired two students graduating that year from Purdue, Paul W. Jones a Chemical Engineer, and Floyd P. Wymer a Mechanical Engineer, to work with Harrison. David Ross was the first president of the new company.
Doing most of the work themselves, the trio, financed by Ross, built a pilot plant near Riverside, Indiana. The site was chosen because of a large outcropping of shale. Living in the garage, the first building constructed, they not only built the factory, but a cottage nearby which was to become their home for the next few years; Most of the early stone was used to finish the interior of the cottage. During this period, from 1927 to 1934, the pilot plant was twice destroyed by fire. The first time was immediately after its completion. The last time was in 1934. Each time it was quickly rebuilt.
By introducing crushed limestone as a filler, and improving the mixing, molding, and curing processes, the basic product was sufficiently developed and tested by 1932 to cause considerable stir in scientific circles.
The new material showed such promise as a building stone that David Ross contracted to build a house of Rostone at the Chicago grid's Fair, "A Century of Progress", which opened in 1933. The house was designed by Walter Scholer, and was conceded to be the most attractive unit at the fair.
In the spring of 1934 two more graduating Mechanical Engineers from Purdue were hired; Maurice G. Knoy and David W. Slipher, to man the house at the fair. Simultaneously, Louis M. Alt, a 1932 Purdue graduate in Mechanical Engineering, who had been working separately for Ross on experimental furnace designs, was brought into the company. By 1935 David W. McQueen and John W. Swezey, both Chemical Engineering graduates from Purdue, were also hired by Rostone. With this cadre an attempt to perfect and commercialize the stone was launched. While the experimental equipment in the pilot plant had been adequate for producing stone specimens for evaluation, the manufacture of the large slabs required for the first two houses (World Fair and West Lafayette) showed conclusively that much heavier pressing equipment was needed to provide the high density vital for optimum weathering characteristics in the commercial product.
A manufacturing unit was therefore established in 1934 on Earl Avenue in Lafayette, in a building which had been the home of the J. Horat Machinery Co. wherein was installed a new, very large hydraulic press, along with the larger steam autoclave (steamchest) needed for bringing about the chemical reaction that hardened the stone. In keeping with an initial concept that Rostone Inc. would remain a research oriented organization, a new company was formed, the R.H.K. Corp., which was to handle the commercial manufacture and sale of the building products The initials R.H.K. stood for Ross, Harrison, and Karl H. Kettlehut, the incorporators. Kettlehut was made president of this newly formed concern.
The middle and late thirties were years of intensive engineering activities on structural and manufacturing methods, and on merchandising efforts. Several hundred residential and commercial applications of Rostone were sold and erected, with the able help of William Shearer as Sales Manager. Shearer was later to become the Sales Manager of another local firm making rapid strides in prefabricated housing, the National Homes Corp. Perhaps because of the timing of the introduction of Rostone at the very bottom of the Great Depression, it was never destined to become a financial success, although many of the buildings erected in the 1950's remain today, more than 40 years later, as monuments to its excellence as a building material.
The Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority House, at 325 Waldron Street in West Lafayette, is an excellent example of the work of the period. When it became evident that despite the efforts of a considerable group of sales, architectural, and engineering personnel, the building product was failing to gather the momentum that had been expected. In depth research was started to determine other potential uses for the product. The work led to the introduction of a reinforced version of the basic reaction, an 'inorganic' plastic, which at very high pressure could be molded into intricate shapes, and which proved suitable as an electrical insulator. The new material was given the name of Rosite.
The year was 1937. Thus came about the first major shift in the thrust of the Company, and an involvement in an entirely different technology and market. This situation led to the reorganization of the Company in '37, merging R.H.K. and Rostone, Inc. into a new company, Rostone Corp., and ultimately the loss of two of the group, Harrison and Swezey. Slipher had left the Company in 1934 to join an early prefabricated housing company. Magic Homes, in New York. With him went Donald Lowman who had joined R.H.K. as an engineer in '34. Both men were ultimately to return to Lafayette to join in the early years of the young National Homes Corporation. The operating officers of the reorganized company were Harrison, President, Jones and Wymer Vice Presidents, and Knoy Secretary. Ross served as Chairman of the Board.
In 1937, the first of the Rosite items were sold in the form of contact mounting arc hoods for electric switches. Although the market was more limited than that initially envisioned for the building stone, the new product was none-the-less an immediate success by filling an urgent need just created by manufacturers of electric motor starters (switches) for non carbonizing, accurate, insulating components of their gear. Ironically, although millions were spent on the introduction of the building stone without success, a few thousand dollars, borrowed from a customer, launched the new business.
The Volume in this field had risen to little more than $250,000 per year by the start of World War II however, and remained constant during the war. It carried none-the-less, the highest priority rating because of the use of electric motor starters in machine tools. After the war growth resumed, the cold molded product line was enlarged with new organic melamine and phenolic binders and a basic patent obtained, through the introduction of alumina hydrate into special compounds. The entrapped hydrate gassified when struck by an electric arc during the operation of the switch, and the gas acted to de-ionize the arc thus markedly assisting in interrupting the current for which the gear was designed. Ultimately this allowed drastic reduction in the size of such current interrupting devices. By 1951 every major motor starter manufacturer in America was using Rosite virtually throughout their line on 15 ampere to 300-ampere switches. International need for the materials led to manufacturing plants in Canada, and in England. In addition, therehave been licenses' granted in Italy, Australia, and Japan.
During these years the Earl Avenue plant was much enlarged, a second factory built at Spencer Indiana, and ultimately the initial buildings on Rt 52 South, now having been enlarged at least three times. It became apparent to the Company that the use of its product could be greatly expanded if it could be provided with greater strength, improved accuracy, and the capability of being molded in much more complex shapes than the cold-molded approach, thus the second major change in the thrustof the concern came about with the introduction of its first organically bonded, hot molded items in 1957.
These new materials were formulated to retain the unique non-carbonizing, arch quenching characteristics of their cold molded predecessors, and vastly Unproved the market potential for the company with-in the electrical field, with much more sophisticated design potential, and the strength to envelop electro-mechanical applications. This required, however, the mastery of a completely new and difficult technology, with new machinery involvement as well.
More recently with the advance design engineers in industry beginning to realize the potentials of strong, thermosetting plastics (non melting), as potential replacements for other materials such as fabricated steel and die cast aluminum, the field of application invited further development. If such strong stable materials as the glass reinforced polyesters and epoxies, which are the cornerstones of modern Rosite, could be molded with inherent non-changing very close tolerances, the elimination of the machinery required on many forged, stamped, or cast steel and aluminum items in industry, would assure a ready market for such a product. Therefore there came about the third major product development, resulting in ultra low shrinking compounds, faithfully reproducing the accuracy of the mold. Immediate applications in hand power tools, and business machines evolved, followed by such items as automotive engine, accessory, and body parts.
As of 1976 Rostone's technology leads the field in these new areas while retaining its pre-eminence in the electrical field. It has done so, not only through the chemistry of its compounds but with new, innovative and proprietary mechanical production means throughout its entire processing technology.
Upon the death of David Ross in 1945, the company retired all its out-standing stock to become internally owned. It operated thus as an employee owned concern until the year 1964 when all its capital stock was sold to one of Rostone's major customers. Allen Bradley Co., of Milwaukee. The company continued, however, as an antonymous operation, retaining its long time customers who are direct competitors to Allen Bradley. Rostone was also a facility of ORC Plastics, Division of Reunion Industries until the facility closed in 2005.
After the reorganization in 1937, the operating officers, all of whom are now retired from active participation, were as follows:
David E. Ross Chairman of the Board 1945-57
Richard L. Harrison President 1945-57
Paul W. Jones Vice President 1945-1957
Floyd P. Wymer Vice President - Treasurer 1957-1965
Maurice G. Knoy Secretary 1937-1965
Ex. Vice Pres. 1959-1967
Chairman 1975 -
Louis M. Alt Vice Pres .-Facilities 1964-1973
David W. McQueen Vice Pres. Purchasing 1964-1974
Robert E. Wilkinson Vice President Research ~ Development 1964-1974
John R. Jamison Vice President Sales 1967-1972
Clarence H. Mugg Vice President, Manufacturing 1967-1974
Robert B. Truitt Vice President Engineering 1971-1972
Executive Vice President 1972-1974
William C. Krantz Secretary 1964 -
Secretary Treasurer 1967 -
Willis D. Sampson Vice President, Spencer Plant 1974-
Thomas E. Deller Vice President Sales 1975 -
D. Douglas Ward Vice President Technical Services 1975
Louis C. Buehler II Vice President Manufacturing 1975 -
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