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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

EATON CORP. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The EATON CORP., a diversified industrial manufacturer which makes fluid power, electrical, automotive, and truck products, was founded as the Torbensen Gear & Axle Co. to make truck axles. Founded in 1911 by Viggo Torbensen, Joseph Oriel Eaton, and Eaton's brother-in-law, Henning O. Taube, the company moved from its original location in Bloomfield, New Jersey to Cleveland in 1915. The following year, the company was incorporated as the Torbensen Axle Co. In 1918, Torbensen Axle became a subsidiary of the Republic Motor Truck Co., then the largest truck manufacturer in the U.S. and Torbensen's biggest customer. In 1919, Joseph Eaton left Republic to form the Eaton Axle Co., which soon became a leading firm in the field. From its new plant in EAST CLEVELAND, Joseph Eaton bought control of Torbensen Axle in 1922, and with the acquisition of two spring manufacturers and, in 1928, a heater manufacturer, the Eaton Axles and Spring Co. (as it was known since 1923) diversified its production to include automobile components. Continued acquisitions into the following decade gave the company expertise in the manufacture of valves, pumps, and precision engine parts. With plants in several states, Eaton was one of the largest automotive-parts manufacturers in the U.S. and its diverse product line enabled the company to survive the Depression.

After Joseph Eaton died in 1949, the company continued on its path of diversification through a continuing series of acquisitions. Although Eaton profited handsomely from the popularity of power steering and air-conditioning (which the company introduced in 1955), it was the 1963 merger with the local and material-handling products maker Yale & Towne, Inc., that moved Eaton into new markets. In 1966, the company changed its name to Eaton, Yale, & Towne, Inc. The firm changed its name yet again in 1971 to Eaton Corp. and throughout the 1970s, the company was adversely affected by declining sales of domestic vehicles. Under the leadership of E. Mandell de Windt, Eaton Corp. carefully planned its future acquisitions with an eye to recession-resistant diversity and balance. As Eaton acquired firms in high-tech electronics indsutries, the company also sold off some of its vehicle divisions and closed unprofitable plants. Locally, Eaton sold Industrial Drives Div. (formerly Cleveland Worm & Gear) and closed the old Tinnerman fastener plant at 8700 Brookpark after the workers refused to agree to concessions. This strategy apparently succeeded and by 1984 Eaton was recording greater profits from electronic products than from vehicle components; although the company would sell its defense electronic business in the late 1980s.

In 1982 the company reaffirmed its commitment to remain in Cleveland by moving its headquarters from 100 Erieview to Eaton Center at 1111 Superior. By 1993, other Eaton operations in the area included its Airflex plant in, BROOKLYN, Telecomputer Center in Eastlake, and Manufacturing Technologies Center in Willoughby Hills. Despite its continued committment to the region, Eaton Corp.'s acquisitions throughout the 1990s characterized a company equally committed to further diversification. In 1994, Eaton acquired Westinghouse Corp.'s power distribution and control business for $1.1 billion, a move that increased Eaton's sales by $1 billion in the first year and allowed the company to further consolidate its position in the industrial electronics industry. In 1999, Eaton purchased Aeroquip-Vickers for $1.7 billion, the company's largest acquisition to date. The purchase gave the company an increasingly strong position in the fluid products industry and, after purchasing the remaining interests in the Japanese SEHYCO (2001) and Chinese JEHYCO (2002) joint ventures, Eaton's fluid power segment was the largest of its four main divisions. While Eaton continued its expansion in high-tech electronics, automotive drivetrains and truck components, the company divested itself of several divisions, including its worldwise axles, brake, and automotive leaf spring businesses, which effectively ended Eaton's original two product lines. By 2003, Eaton Corp.'s diversified industrial manufacturing operations served markets ranging from commercial aerospace, military defense, automobile, and truck components, to industrial machinery and electrical distribution and control equipment. Eaton Corp.'s diverse holdings led to sales totalling $7.2 billion in 2002. With over 51,000 employees worldwide, Eaton Corp. continued to be headquartered at 1111 Superior Ave.

Last Modified: 18 Mar 2004 11:59:35 AM

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