Family business going strong after 100 years

December 11, 2003
By: Vicki Bell

The average lifespan of a family-owned business is 24 years, and 60 percent of family-owned businesses do not have a clear succession plan. Tell that to the Peddinghaus Corporation and you might be in for a big "Oh really?" In business for 100 years and with a Peddinghaus still at the helm, the family-owned manufacturer of steel construction industry equipment clearly is a statistical exception.

Editor's Note: The Peddinghaus Corporation, featured in this article, is the longest-standing active member of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.® (FMA), the company behind FMA and salute Peddinghaus and wish the company continued success in its next 100 years.

In 1903 Paul F. Peddinghaus acquired a small drop-forge company in Gevelsberg, Germany, and so began the Peddinghaus Corp. Its first products were designed for the blacksmithing industry—anvils, swages, vises, and clamping tools. These products still are sold today throughout the world.

In its first year Peddinghaus employed 23. Today the company has headquarters in Bradley, Ill.; operations in the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Spain, and Holland; and employs 350 workers worldwide. And its product line now includes machines and systems for drilling, punching, shearing, burning, marking, and material handling.

Milestones Along the Way

A milestone occurred in 1914, when the company grew to 95 employees and began producing hand-operated punching machines. Other milestones throughout the company's century in business include:

1930—Came under second-generation leadership with Paul C. Peddinghaus and produced the first motorized punching and shearing machines.

1935— Developed a proprietary hardening process that broadened the product line.

1950—Initiated international trade and exported new technologies.

1969—Established a second manufacturing facility in Bitburg, Germany, and began producing numerically controlled structural beam processing systems.

1974—Came under third-generation leadership with Dr. Carl U. Peddinghaus and added angle iron processing and beam drills to the product line.

1977—Purchased an American subsidiary, Manco Manufacturing in Bradley, Ill., and expanded the facility with a 25,000-sq.-ft. addition.

1979—Introduced the first CNC drilling systems for structural steel fabrication into the U.S. market.

1985—Introduced the cell concept for structural fabrication.

1986—Received the first of 10 U.S. patents for engineering design.

1987—Introduced the first multiple torch bisynchronous robot, model ABCM 1,000, for structural steel fabrication.

1991—Introduced the first punch/plasma unit for heavy plate (more than 1 in. thick).

1997—Shipped the first machine from its new 65,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in Andrews, S.C.

1998—Established sales offices in Asia and Latin America.

2001—Came under fourth-generation leadership with Carl G. (Anton) Peddinghaus and expanded the product line for plate drilling, marking, and thermal cutting sections.

2003—Celebrated its 100th anniversary and announced a 40,000-sq.-ft. expansion to the Bradley facility.

The Toughest Time

Buildings being constructed in Chicago; left – 50-floor Hyatt Hotel Center, constructed by Cives Steel, Wolcott, IN; right – 50-story John Buck Office Building, constructed by Merrill Iron, Schofield, WI

The 100 years the company has been in business have seen wars, including two World Wars, the Great Depression, and several economic downturns. Through it all, the company persevered. When asked which period was the toughest for business, Anton Peddinghaus, CEO, said, "1981 through 1982 was the roughest period—poor economy, high unemployment, and no business at all in the U.S. What kept us afloat were our commitment to our customers and our ability to sell globally. We had global distribution.

"The turning point came during the holiday season, when a customer in the Northeast called looking for a new system. Before the call came in, employee layoffs were imminent. As conditions improved, no layoffs were needed and business again began to thrive."

Everywhere You Look

Indoor ski slope, Xscape project, Castleford, U.K., constructed by Billington Structures Ltd., Wombwell, South Yorkshire U.K.

If Peddinghaus is an unfamiliar name to you, you'll no doubt recognize the names of some of the structures built or remodeled using the company's equipment. Recent projects involving Peddinghaus equipment include remodeling the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge over San Francisco Bay and fabricating steel for various projects in Chicago, including the Wacker Drive Bridge. The company's equipment also was used to fabricate the first steel for the World Trade Center reconstruction.

Everywhere you look, from buildings that feature steel framework, to piers and bridges, to schools, stadiums, airports, hospitals, shopping malls, and other steel structures, chances are Peddinghaus equipment was used in making the structure. One of the most unusual buildings built with the company's machines is the Xscape project in Castleford, U.K. Weighing more than 4,600 tons, the giant leisure and retail complex features an indoor ski slope that is 117 ft. wide and runs 788 ft. down the length of the building. The structure comprises beam and column steelwork, plate grinders, metal decking, and off-site intumescent fire protection.

Virginia Tech Stadium seating, constructed by the Dant Clayton Corp., Louisville, KY

If you happened to catch a Virginia Tech home football game, you saw stadium seating built by the Dant Clayton Corp. using Peddinghaus equipment.

The Secret to Success

How has the company continued to survive and even thrive in the worst of times? How has it managed to reach the 100-year mark when most family businesses close up shop after less than a quarter of a century? One way is by focusing on its customers—through commitment and communication. The company listens to its customers—shop personnel and owners—working to understand and automate the customers' processes. When a new machine is developed, it's used in-house before being released to customers.

Another factor contributing to the company's success is its willingness to embrace new technology. Exciting software developments are in the works that will further automate the steel construction process. The company believes that software has and will continue to revolutionize the industry. Rather than replacing employees, the use of machine automation coupled with computers and software have led to more fulfilling jobs for workers and greater job satisfaction.

What Matters Most

When asked if the family ever thought of selling out, Anton Peddinghaus said, "No, the business is a family tradition of honor. It's not motivated by money, but by family tradition—the opportunity to carry on something worthwhile." When he travels, Peddinghaus takes pride in seeing buildings made with his company's equipment.

Peddinghaus began his tenure with the company working on the shop floor and moved to selling—learning the business from the ground up. Undoubtedly, he absorbed the knowledge passed down from generation to generation and the wherewithal to focus and persevere when things get tough.

Peddinghaus is appreciative of the ups and downs and feels "lucky to serve an industry that serves [the company] back." He sees the industry as being somewhat like a family. "Fabricators compete yet cooperate and collaborate with each other. One may be able to handle only a portion of a job and may pass the remaining part on to another fabricator," not unlike siblings who vie for their parents' attention yet look out for each other because they're family. Interestingly, many of Peddinghaus customers also are family businesses.

The Next 100

With new products in development, the upcoming expansion of the Bradley, Ill., headquarters, and installations in China, Europe, and Malaysia under way, Peddinghaus Corp. is poised for continued growth in its second century and is off to a good start at achieving its goal of remaining the leader in its industry.

Information for this article was provided by Lyle Menke, vice president of marketing for the Peddinghaus Corp., 300 N. Washington, Bradley, IL 60915. To find out more about Peddinghaus, contact Menke at, 815-937-3800, or visit

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209

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