A.O. Smith Co.

The story of the A.O. Smith Corporation is one of experimentation, research, and innovation. From humble beginnings as a small machine shop located in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, to its growth into a global corporation, A.O. Smith was one of the first to put significant resources into research and development, constantly seeking out new technologies and their practical application for new products and services.

In 1874, Charles Jeremiah Smith opened a small machine shop on Milwaukee’s northeast side. The business expanded into a number of new markets, most notably the bicycle industry. By 1895, C.J. Smith and Sons was the nation’s largest manufacturer of bicycle components. That same year, Charles’ son Arthur Oliver (A.O.) joined the family business. 

A.O. was soon intrigued with the emerging automobile industry, and he began experimenting with new methods of constructing steel frames for cars. He built his first commercial frames for Peerless in 1902 and Cadillac in 1903. Within a few years, A.O. Smith Company (later A.O. Smith Corporation) was the auto industry’s leading supplier, and by 1911, the company was building 110,00 frames a year, representing over 60 percent of total North American demand. 

Upon A.O.’s death in 1913, his son Lloyd Raymond took over the business. Ray consistently displayed a passion for quality research and engineering. During World War I, he began construction on what would become the world’s first fully automated frame production line, the Mechanical Marvel. By 1921, the massive and complex operation was capable of producing 10,000 car frames a day. The use of this revolutionary factory — coupled with the company’s engineering expertise — helped A.O. Smith become the exclusive frame supplier to General Motors, while continuing to build frames for numerous other automobile companies.

Through further experimentation and research, the company developed new ways of welding metal, including a process that led to an economical and more productive method of fabricating line pipe. This advance contributed to the growth of the oil and natural gas industries.

Continuing its innovation, during the Great Depression the company developed an original process for corrosion protection by fusing a microscopic layer of glass to steel. Several products evolved from this breakthrough, including glass-lined brewery tanks and beer kegs. The same technology led to the development of a glass-lined, residential water-heater tank, an innovation that helped make hot water an affordable convenience for almost any American family. 

Today, A.O. Smith Corporation is still proud to call Milwaukee home. The company has evolved from supplying the bicycle, automotive, and brewing industries to a singular focus on becoming a global leader in water technology. The company is the world’s largest manufacturer of water heaters — with an extensive line of residential and commercial water-heating equipment. It recently entered the water-treatment industry to deliver clean water to consumers in China and other fast-growing parts of the world. A.O. Smith employs more than 15,000 people at facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, India, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Turkey. It has sales and distribution arms in more than 60 countries.