A. O. Smith employees celebrate 140 years of integrity, innovation, and customer satisfaction

Smith Family 140th Celebration

Milwaukee, Wis. — It was a family affair last night, as members of the founding Smith family joined A. O. Smith employees and local officials to celebrate the corporation’s 140th anniversary.

The event, which was part of a year-long celebration at A. O. Smith locations worldwide, was held at Discovery World and hosted by Ajita Rajendra, chairman and chief executive officer of A. O. Smith Corporation.

Mayor Barrett 140th CelebrationMilwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett shared a proclamation naming Oct. 14 as A. O. Smith Corporation Day in the city. The proclamation, which outlined A. O. Smith’s lengthy history of innovation, noted the company “has remained headquartered in Milwaukee throughout its 140-year history, contributing to the city’s diverse and vibrant economy and has positively impacted the community through the A. O. Smith Foundation.”

Rajendra later read a proclamation from Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin congratulating the company and its employees on the many contributions made throughout its history.

One of the featured speakers at the event was Bruce M. Smith, a fifth generation member of the family and a director of A. O. Smith Corporation.  “The family through the generations has been staunchly supportive of the company and very proud to be part of a much larger entity than ourselves,” he commented.

“Looking back, the generations (who built A. O. Smith) had some things in common,” Smith continued.  “They believed innovation drove the business, coupled with great customer service. It’s clear to me the people working at the company . . . share those beliefs.”

Echoing those sentiments was his cousin, Mark Smith, also a member of the fifth generation and a director.  “Reflecting upon the elements that helped ensure our long heritage as a viable, growing, corporation I believe there are several key characteristics,” Smith observed.  “The first is our ability to re-invent ourselves. The second is our commitment to innovation and technology.  The third is our commitment to employees and the ability to attract talent.  The fourth is our family commitment to long-term success.”

Equally as important, Rajendra pointed out in his presentation, are the values that have been passed down throughout the history of the company.  

“The Smith family believed in doing business with honesty and integrity. They surrounded themselves with employees who shared those beliefs.  And while the company is completely different than it was 140 years ago, the values remain the same because that is just the way we do business.   All of us, as employees, are very fortunate to work for a company that places such a high priority on doing business with honesty and integrity.”

Lily Bembenek Longest Service Employee MKEAs part of the ceremony, Rajendra recognized Lily Bembenek as the longest-serving A. O. Smith employee in Milwaukee. Bembenek was hired on June 17, 1968, giving her 46 years of service.

What is today known as A. O. Smith Corporation was founded in the summer of 1874 by Charles Jeremiah Smith. The English immigrant set up his business on the north side of Milwaukee making products out of iron and steel. Within a few years, the business expanded to become North America’s largest manufacturer of bicycle components, and three Smith sons had joined the enterprise including Arthur Oliver (A. O.) Smith.

It was Arthur O. Smith who took the business into its next major venture.  In 1899, he developed a lightweight, pressed steel automobile frame that quickly became the standard of the industry. Among his early customers was Henry Ford, who ordered 10,000 frames for his popular-priced Model N car.  By 1910, A. O. Smith Company was North America’s largest manufacturer of car frames.

Since its earliest days, the company has leveraged its engineering talents to develop new products and processes.  Among the major achievements by A. O. Smith engineers are:

  • Improvements in welding technology that enabled arc welding to become the preferred method of joining metal;
  • The development of the world’s first automated car frame production plant in 1921, capable of making 10,000 frames per day with just 180 employees;
  • The mass production of large diameter welded line pipe, an innovation that contributed to the growth of the domestic oil industry and the launching of the natural gas transmission industry in the U. S.;
  • The development of the glass-lined residential water heater in 1936.  Glass-lined water heaters remain the standard of the industry, and A. O. Smith Corporation today is a leading global residential and commercial water heaters and boilers.

Members from the Racine Symphony Orchestra played at the event courtesy of the United Performing Arts Fund.

To see more photos from all of our 140th Anniversary events around the world follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn. #aos140