Integrity, Innovation and Customer Satisfaction Since 1874

C. J. Smith 275In the summer of 1874 on Milwaukee’s north side, Charles Jeremiah Smith hung a sign outside his family’s home: 


Business was good for a man skilled in metalwork, and C. J. Smith grew to become a major supplier of metal components for manufacturers of baby carriages and bicycles. Charles’ sons Charles S., George H. and Arthur O. joined their father in business and in the belief that, by applying skill, creativity and mechanical knowledge to any technical problem, one could always find “a better way.”

In 1899, during the earliest days of the automobile revolution, Arthur developed a new, lightweight pressed steel car frame, and within a few short years, he was selling these frames to a “who’s who” of car makers including Packard, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Studebaker, Buick, Chevrolet and Ford. By 1908, more than 60 percent of new passenger cars in the U.S. was built on an A. O. Smith frame.

As the Company grew at breakneck speed, Arthur’s eldest son Lloyd Raymond joined the Company, and after Arthur’s unexpected death in 1912, Ray carried the family company into a new era. Similar to his father and grandfather, Ray believed deeply in the power of technology and its ability to create breakthrough processes and overcome the drudgery of manual work.

Innovation marked Ray’s 30-year tenure as chief executive. In 1921, A. O. Smith introduced the Mechanical Marvel, the world’s first automated frame production line, capable of producing 10,000 auto frames per day, one every eight seconds. Smith engineers developed an improved method of welding, enabling the company to develop a wide range of steel products, including the pressure vessel for oil refining and large diameter steel pipe, inventions that were instrumental in creating the modern oil and natural gas industries. In the mid-1930s, Smith engineers perfected the process of fusing glass to steel, leading to a series of new, glass-lined products including beer kegs, brewing tanks and residential water heaters.

While expanding through new businesses in electric motors, fiberglass pipe and the glass-lined Harvestore® silos, A. O. Smith began to look outside of the United States for more opportunities. In each case, it brought along the A. O. Smith values: doing business with honesty and integrity in a workplace environment of mutual respect and dignity. In expanding abroad, the Company employed its proven formula of using its engineering expertise to develop products uniquely suited to the local market, whether in Canada (1962), Europe (1971), China (1995), India (2008) or Vietnam (2012).

In 2011, the Company sold its electric motor business and embarked on a strategy to become a leading global water technology company. This vision for the future grew through acquisitions of commercial and residential water heater and boiler manufacturers Lochinvar (2011) and Giant Factories (2021) and water treatment experts Aquasana (2016), Hague Quality Water (2017), Water-Right (2019) and Master Water Conditioning (2021). 

Charles J. Smith could not have imagined his small business would become a global manufacturer employing 13,700 women and men. But understanding the value of a commitment to integrity, innovation and customer service, he could not be surprised.