The History of the Abrasives Specialty Business

By Herbert E. Cook | 1987


Continued requests by numerous members of the general abrasive industry for a background of its specialty business has prompted this treatise by the author, Herbert E. Cook, my father, the only person who had actual access to its beginning in 1942. It relates the actual beginning and its development into a national and international industry to provide needed products in the automotive, aircraft, foundry, and other varied industries in the manufacturing field, such as those working with metals, wood and plastics. We feel it has filled the need for such a requirement and we trust those searching for such a work will find it fulfilling.

— Paul C. Cook

The evolution of the abrasive specialty business began in the dental laboratory of the late Albert Field in 1942 in Dayton, Ohio.

Field learned the dental technician trade in a vocational school in Chicago, Ill. His first job at the trade was in this dental laboratory in Dayton, which he later purchased from the widow of the former owner. Prior to his attendance at the vocational school he was employed in a tool shop there where he served an apprenticeship as a toolmaker and it was this experience which gave him the incentive to develop and invent various items for the market in the dental laboratory field and to distribute them through dental laboratory supply houses through­ out the United States and Canada. His new firm was known as the Field Dental Specialty Mfg. Company and it proved successful financially from the beginning, mainly because he still operates the dental laboratory for the actual financing of the new venture. In the meantime, Field had obtained three patents on dental laboratory products.

Being an ingenious inventor in improved methods for finishing artificial teeth, his first patent, No. 2,290,098 of July 14, 1942, on what is commonly known as a cartridge roll, for which he developed and built the first manually operated winding machine for their production. Later, he developed non-slip tapered steel mandrels for use in the operation of the rolls in high speed grinders. The narrow abrasive strips from which the cartridge rolls were wound contained a perforation throughout one side of its length to provide a homogenous bond on one end after having passed over a glue roller in the winding process. This served the purpose of its being held together at high speed operation and eliminated the expense and necessity of having to use masking tape wound around them to contain them in their configuration until the adhesive had cured. Since the cartridge rolls proved to be such a valuable development Field then obtained a copyright on them known as “Strongstitch” and this, too, helped in their distribution. Many attempts have been made to develop automatic winding machines to produce these cartridge rolls to no avail due to the many variables encountered in their production. One man to my knowledge did develop such a machine but due to the complicated procedures involved in its operation and its slow production it could not produce the rolls on a profitable basis, although the quality was excellent.

Prior to my entering the abrasive field in 1942 I was an account executive for an advertising agency in Dayton and one of my accounts was that of the Field Dental Specialty Mfg. Company, for which I had prepared a small catalog, distributor discount sheets, a few small advertisements and a few direct mail pieces. Mr. Field liked me and my work and he later offered me the job as his first sales manager at a salary exceeding that I was receiving from the agency. Not caring for the agency business nor its management I accepted his offer. Today I realize it was the beginning of my successful entry into the abrasive field.

The beginning of the Field Abrasive Mfg. Company was the result of an order for 10,000 cartridge rolls from the National Cash Register Company shortly after my employment there. An engineer from that company came into the plant one day while Mr. Field was making a set of false teeth for his father. Seeing the advantage of using the cartridge rolls for finishing false teeth he soon realized their value for finishing metal molds in their plant and he requested a few samples for trial. This eventually resulted in our having received many more profitable orders from the cash register company and our actual recognition of what we had. While orders from the dental trade rarely exceeded more than 1oo pieces, a low dollar volume sale, we became excited about the possibilities in the industrial field. Needless to say, we successfully exploited this discovery into a profitable business and after our experience in the local industrial field through contacting the various tool shops, pattern shops, foundries, and several manufacturing plants we also discovered various other applications for the use of abrasive specialties. We then concentrated our efforts on the development of other products and a catalog for distribution to industrial supply houses throughout the United States and Canada.

In the meantime, Robert McAdams, who worked for Field Abrasive Mfg. Co. as a cartridge roll winder, left this company to work for Dayton Abrasive Products in a similar position, at the same time moonlighting at the American Express company. Next he broke off from Dayton Abrasive Products to start his own business, American Abrasives, in Lewisburg, Ohio, near Dayton, which he operated for a few years, after which he joined his son, John McAdams, who in the meantime had started Abrasive Fabricators in Brookville, Ohio, also near Dayton.

In 1983 Standard Abrasives, Inc. acquired Abrasive Fabricators as a move to expand their line of specialty products and at the same time they retained its president, John McAdams, as president of its Brookville division.

Standard Abrasives, Inc., was formed in 1959 by Joseph McKay, Jr., and Melvin J. McKellar, who formerly operated Imperial Tool Company, an industrial supply house in Los Angeles. In 1964 McKay and McKellar obtained two patents on quick-change discs, the first known as CQR discs and the second is known as SocAtt discs, the latter replacing the CQR type. These discs were designed to compete with the “Stik-On” type of pressure-sensitive discs which were most popular at that time and which type remains popular in the industrial market. In the early 70s Standard Abrasives licensed the Norton Company to private label the SocAtt discs under the name of “Speedlock”, and in 1973 the Carborundum Company also became a licensee for them. Also, in 1981 Merit Abrasives, Inc., headed up by Aleck Block, also became a licensee wherein they were allowed limited use of the Standard patent. And on September 6, 1966, Aleck Block and Joseph Purcell, Jr., of El Monte, California, obtained Patent No. 3,270,468 for a similar quick-change disc and holder which was assigned to Merit Products, Inc., of Los Angeles, California, of which Mr. Block was President.

To my knowledge the first popular patent to be issued in the abrasive specialty field was that for a spirally wound band obtained by Wm J. Maddox, being Patent No. 1,883,747, on October 18, 1926, and it was manufactured by EvenCut Abrasive Company of Cleveland, of which Homer Coe was president. Since 1975 this firm has been owned and operated by William “Bill” Mitchell, who has had an extensive experience in the abrasive manufacturing business.

On July 18, 1929, Patent No. 1,929,274 was issued to W. J. Ellis of Cleveland, Ohio, on a similar type of band and this was manufactured by the Cleveland Container Corp., a division of the Carborundum Company, and it was managed by Frank Brooks. They later licensed Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co. and the Behr-Manning Co. (now Norton) to manufacture them. After their demise Frank Brooks started his own firm, Precision Abrasives, in Cleveland to make bands but “retired” later after selling the business to a New Yorker.

In the meantime, the EvenCut company had developed and marketed expanding rubber sanding drums for use with the bands and they, too, became popular items because the bands could not be used without them. These sanding drums and bands were first purchased by Field Abrasive Mfg. Company from EvenCut on an OEM basis and they became the first “outside” specialty product to be included in their catalog.

To my knowledge, other than the EvenCut company, Superior Abrasives, Inc., in Dayton, Ohio, is the only specialty manufacturing firm making these bands at the present time. Patents on these items have long expired, and of course it is possible some of the large cloth manufacturing firms still are making them but it is doubtful, as we are aware that some of them acquire them from the specialty manufacturing companies cheaper than they can manufacture them themselves. It is known too that the manufacture of abrasive bands alone cannot support a management due to the necessity of having to feature low prices in order to obtain volume business. As evidence, Clayton Derthick and a co-worker of EvenCut Abrasive left to form their own company, known then as Acme Abrasives, ostensibly to manufacture abrasive bands, in which they had the expertise. They existed for a few years but later floundered because of the keenness of the abrasive market.

The next patent to be obtained by Albert Field was for tapered abrasive cones on November 2, 1946, being Patent No. 2,410,870, which today are commonly known as cone points, available in various degrees of taper. This was followed by his obtaining Patent No. 2,622,377 on December 23, 1952, for an abrasive product commonly known as tapered abrasive spiral rolls. Prior to his obtaining this patent the Behr-Manning Company had obtained a patent on this product known as the Manchester patent but the Field patent contained a stub nose rather than a fragile sharp nose and it was considered by the patent office to be an improved product.

On February 1, 1945, Patent No. 2,700,852 was issued to Field for a quick-change abrasive square pad. This included a female threaded grommet in its center for use on a male threaded steel mandrel. These features also were covered for use with quick-change discs of all types, such as plain discs, slotted discs, and overlap discs.

Later, on November 12, 1946, Patent No. 2,916,872 was issued to Wesley C. Meinerding of Canton, Ohio, for a triangular shaped abrasive pad. This configuration did not prove practical in the market when competing with the square type pads as developed by Albert Field.

On July 31, 1962, Herbert E. Cook obtained Patent No. 3,046,709 on a similar product which contained a male threaded quick-change feature, thereby providing a competitive product for marketing through his own company, which was established as Superior Rotary Tools, Inc., which now is Superior Abrasives, LLC. Cook left the Field Abrasive Mfg. Company on January 2, 1960, to go with Michigan Abrasive Company of Detroit, Michigan, as a sales manager, retiring from this firm in January, 1962, when he established Superior Rotary Tools, Inc. He retired from that company in January, 1979, to relinquish the presidency to his son, Paul C. Cook, and his wife, Jean, who served as vise-president and secretary-treasurer, and later became a partner in the business. Paul was well qualified for this responsibility as earlier he had worked for Field Abrasive Mfg. Company during summer school vacations and later in afternoons after school and on Saturdays. Also, when I started my own business, he came with me from IBM and continued to learn all phases of the business well and he eventually became the plant superintendent. And his wife, Jean, formerly a secretary to an executive of the Dayton Power & Light Company, was well qualified to take her place as its vice-president and secretary-treasurer and later as a partner in the business. Also, the long continuation of the firm is assured because their three sons, Mark, John and Tom, have assumed responsible positions in sales and management.

The Grandfather of the Abrasive Specialty Business

A majority of the abrasive specialty manufacturers of today gained their experience in the business as employees of either Field Abrasive Mfg. Company, with Albert Field, or with that of his brother, Henry Field, of Dayton Abrasive Products. Henry first worked for his brother Albert Field, and later broke off to start Dayton Abrasive Products. Then Henry’s son-in-law, Seymour Stayman, worked for him and he later broke off to start the Adhesive Research Company in Troy, Ohio. Also, Henry’s son, Art Field, after learning the business through working for his father, then broke off to start his own firm, Abrasives Engineering, Inc., in Los Angeles, California. And, in 1959 Frank Ali, who had worked for Albert Field as a salesman for approximately two years and had experience as a toolmaker, broke off to start Ali Industries in Fairborn, Ohio, also near Dayton. And later Frank Champion, a former Sales Manager for Field Abrasives Mfg. Company, broke off to start his own business, Crownflex Abrasives, in Dayton. Champion, however, is not a manufacturer of abrasive specialties but buys them in the market and sells direct to his customers. In the first stages of his business he was an importer of abrasive flap wheels, etc. from Germany.

Doubtless it now is obvious to the reader that the evolution of the abrasive specialty business was centered around Dayton, Ohio, with Albert Field being the “Grandfather.”