BRUSH-WELLMAN, INC., formerly the Brush Beryllium Co., is the world's largest processor of beryllium and beryllium compounds. Incorporated in 1931 by Charles Baldwin Sawyer and Bengt Kjellgren, the company had its origins in the research conducted by Sawyer and Charles Brush, Jr. in the 1920s. Funded by Brush's father, CHARLES F. BRUSH, the two discovered new uses for the element beryllium, previously thought of as useless, when combined with other metals. Following the deaths of both Charles Brush, Sr. and his son in the late 1920s, the Brush Beryllium Co. soon became a leader in discovering new uses for the lightweight metal, noted for its high melting point, thermal conductivity, and rigidity at elevated temperatures.
Beryllium products, produced at its plant at 4301 Perkins Ave., made significant contributions to the development of atomic energy and, although the company has never admitted it publicly, there is good evidence to suggest that the company's products were part of key components in the manufacture of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In addition to the field of atomic energy, beryllium products also found widespread acceptance within the aerospace and electronics industries. By 1955 company sales of beryllium metal, alloys, oxides, and ceramics had steadily increased to $4.5 million, and then quadrupled by 1960 with its involvement in the space program. When a plentiful supply of beryl ore was found in the Topaz Mts. of Utah, the company organized Beryllium Resources. In 1971 Brush acquired the S.K. Wellman Co., a manufacturer of metallic friction material used in brakes and clutches for heavy-duty off-road equipment, and changed its name to the Brush-Wellman Corp. In 1992 the company's corporate offices were at 1200 the Hanna Bldg., and since 1963 maintained its Beryllium Products Group at 17876 St. Clair Ave. By 1987, the company employed about 2,550 workers and had revenues of $308 million in 1987 and by 1999 revenues reached $456 million.
In 2000, Brush-Wellman became the largest wholly-owned subsidiary of the newly formed holding company Brush Engineered Materials and its components continued to find new uses in consumer electronics and communication equipment. Despite widespread application of Beryllium alloys in components as diverse as cellular telephones and automotive airbags, its manufacture has not been without controversy. After Brush's Lorain assembly plant was razed by fire in 1948, former employees and some nearby residents exposed to beryllium dust developed an incurable lung illness (later called chronic beryllium disease). A company-funded study of workers at a plant outside of Toledo in 1997 detected the disease or its early development in at least 9.4 percent of those tested and the Energy Department estimates that as many as 20,000 workers may be at risk nationwide. Controversy over the disease, as well as continued conflicts over the cleanup of pollution from cyanide and other industrial solvents at the former site of the S.K. Wellman brake plant in BEDFORD, led to an agreement with city officials to ban the manufacture of any beryllium alloy products at its plants in Lorain.