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ELWELL PARKER ELECTRIC CO.

ELWELL PARKER ELECTRIC CO.

The ELWELL PARKER ELECTRIC CO., organized in 1893 to build motors, developed the industrial truck in 1906 and pioneered its use and development to transport and handle industrial materials. The Elwell-Parker Electric Co. of America was incorporated in West Virginia on 6 July 1893. The principal incorporator was Alexander E. Brown, inventor of machinery used to load and unload bulk cargoes in Great Lakes shipping. Searching for a source of electric motors for his machines, Brown obtained the rights to manufacture in the U.S. motors designed by Englishman Thos. Parker and his partner, P. Bedford Elwell. The American company began production in the St. Clair St. plant of the Brown Hoisting & Conveying Machinery Co. By 1897 the company had moved to its own plant on Hamilton Ave. at the corner of Belden; in 1907 it moved to its present (1995) site at 4205 St. Clair. In May 1899 the firm made its first motors for battery-driven vehicles, selling them to WALTER C. BAKER. Morris S. Towson (4 June 1865-17 Mar. 1942), an innovative engineer who joined the firm in 1896, designed an electric truck in 1906 to help the Pennsylvania Railroad move luggage. In 1910 Elwell-Parker began to extend the use of these trucks to general industry. A major innovation in 1914 equipped the trucks with a platform that enabled them to raise and carry cargo; these low-lift trucks were produced beginning in 1915. The development of the high-lift fork truck in 1927 and of the pallet a short time later made possible new and more efficient storage methods. The company was reorganized in 1920 with Towson as president, a position he held until his death. The new firm manufactured only industrial trucks.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the company began developing computer controlled industrial vehicles that could be "plugged into" an assembly line or other industrial procedure and function as part of that line. By the 1980s, the company began suffering. Employment and sales were down, and the company was hurt by economic woes in the steel and automotive industry, two of Elwell Parker's biggest customers. The company increased its specialized and automated products, downplaying standard industrial trucks, which were being produced cheaper in foreign countries. The company also allowed some employee ownership, and by the 1990s, 20% of the company was employee-owned. In 1995, the Towson family sold their interest in the company. Morris Towson's grandson Pete Towson was running the company, and ready to retire. Unable to raise funds to continue operating the company, he pondered closing the company, but found a group of buyers. The company was renamed Elwell Parker Ltd., and continued operations, but they were unable to turn the company around. In 2000, after 107 years in existence, Elwell Parker's assets were sold to Hois Liftruck Manufacturing of Bedford Park, Illinois. The new owners closed the St. Clair factory, moving the machinery to its own factories though they have kept the Elwell Parker brand name.


Love, John W. Lengthened Shadows (1943).