Western Wire Products Company has been a family business since before its 1914 incorporation in St. Louis, Missouri. Its origins date back to 1907, when the uncle of the company’s founders invented a machine that made woven wire fabric. The patent on this machine is considered by some historians to be the original precursor to today’s chain link fence.
The woven wire was made into door and bar mats and sold door-to-door by family members. Soon the woven fabric was being used as a bed spring marketed by the Great Western Wire Fence and Manufacturing Company. “The Never Sag Knitted Wire Bed Spring” gave a lifetime guarantee and became part of the furniture lines of several St. Louis stores and national wholesale hardware companies.
In 1912, Ira J. Young, the family inventor, applied for a patent on a machine for forming split pins, later known as cotter pins. He manufactured and sold cotter and split pins under the name of Wire Manufacturing Company and later sold his interest in the company to his brother, Harry M. Young, and Alvin L. Bauman, a non-family member who was a partner. The Wire Manufacturing Company’s assets were transferred to Western Wire Products Company, which was incorporated on February 26, 1914. On November 28, 1914, Ira Young dies at the age of thirty-three.
The cotter pin prospered with St. Louis being a railroad center. Almost a century later, the cotter pin, offered in a wide variety of metals, shapes, sizes and finishes, has continued to be one of Western Wire’s anti-checking irons for railroad ties. These went into production in the mid-1930’s and are still produced today for the logging and lumber industry.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Western Wire’s prime St. Louis location on the Mississippi was acquired by eminent domain for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial project, which would later include the famous Gateway Arch.
The depression proved difficult for a bedspring competitor of Western Wire, so in 1932, Western Wire Products Company bought part of the American Bed Company building (35,000 square feet) at 1415 South 18th Street near Lafayette Square. The officers decided to forego their stock and dividends to pay for the building without borrowing. The company would remain at this Lafayette Square location for almost seven decades.
Over the years, new products have been added to the company’s product line. When innerspring mattresses and box springs became popular in the 1940’s, Western Wire’s bedsprings were phased out. Handy-Andy Vise Stands for plumbers were first made in 1927. This device was to assist plumbers and pipefitters in threading pipes. This product was discontinued in 1950 when power-driven pipe threading equipment and pre-threaded pipe became used more extensively. Insulator fasteners for electric fences were developed in 1940 and remained a product for approximately thirty years. Beyond its standard product line, Western Wire responds to requests for special, customized wire shapes and fasteners.
Harry M. Young’s son, H. Melvin (“Bus”) Young, Jr., became the acting president of Western Wire upon the death of Alvin Bauman in 1957 and the retirement of Harry in 1958. Bus Young had worked at Western Wire as a boy. His only major break in employment was his four years at the University of Missouri.
Bus felt strongly about employee benefits and convinced his father to provide paid vacation long before it became the norm in the business world. Sharing profits with employees was an important philosophy, so a profit sharing plan was implemented in the mid-1950’s. Becoming a pioneer with its long and determined effort, Western Wire successfully sought a ruling from the IRS permitting the deductibility of profit distributions to employees. The company’s current profit sharing plan dates back to 1957. Harry M. Young, Sr., died in 1965, and Bus Young was formally elected president.
In 1999, Bus retired at age 83, after more than 65 years with Western Wire Products Company. During his final years as an employee, he turned the lead management role over to his son, Gene. Gene B. Young commandeered the complete relocation of Western Wire from St. Louis to Fenton, thereby allowing Bus to experience his last year with Western Wire at the new facility.
Gene B. Young represents the third generation of Young family presidents of Western Wire Products Company. He worked summers at the company while he was a student and became a full-time employee in 1975 after graduating from Vanderbilt University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He took a leave of absence to obtain his MBA from Washington University.
In addition to the Young family, Western Wire Products Company has a history of long-serving employees in both the plant and the office. The company now serves customers in all parts of the United States and exports to Europe, South America, Mexico, Asia, Australia and Canada. Western Wire Products Company has been privileged to provide needed products to its country for every war since 1912. A Western Wire product went to the moon. Its hog rings and ringers were called in to use at ground zero in New York City. The company’s machinery has modernized over the decades and now includes the latest in multi-slide and special wire-forming equipment. However, several of Western Wire Products Company’s still-running, reliable cotter pin machines date back to Ira Young’s 1912 invention.