The History of Scott Aviation Corporation By: Donald McDavid
SCOTT AVIATION CORPORATION, the name most people still use, is the largest industrial company and employer in Lancaster. Its products are used throughout the world. The breathing device tanks on the backs of fire fighters and rescue workers are familiar toeveryone.
Earle Scott came to the United States from Canada in 1923 at age 17 to take a job as office boy at the American Radiator Company in Buffalo. In 1926 he had persuaded the general manager to transfer him into the Maintenance and Production Department. He diligently studied the techniques of malleable iron manufacture and went to night school to learn molding, pattern making, and blueprint reading.
A friend of Earle’s was returning to Paris, France. Earle soon followed, expecting to work at the American Radiator plant south of Paris. Although he had a fine time in France, the job was a disappointment, and he returned to his old job in Buffalo within a year. But the Buffalo plant had fallenon hard times. With another friend Earle transferred to the American Radiator plant in Springfield, Illinois. He was promised a supervisory job which never materialized, so he signed on as a drill-press operator. After a few days he was fired and returned to Buffalo. A former general manager at his old plant had bought an interest in the new Lancaster Malleable and Steel Corp. in Lancaster, N.Y. Earle went to him and was immediately hired. He remained for 13 years, first as a laborer, later as a supervisor, and lastly as plant superintendent.
Malleable iron is raw iron with a relatively high carbon content (2.5-4.0%) which exists in combined form as iron carbide. Annealing converts the carbon to nodules throughout the iron. The resulting product is tough, strong, ducti1e and can be cast in complicated forms.
In 1927, shortly after Lindbergh’s epic flight, a neighbor of Earle’s bought a WACO biplane. The two of them spent weekends and holidays over the next two years providing barn-storming flights around Western New York for eager customers. The plane had a tail skid which quickly wore out on the primitive runways. Using his foundry experience, Earle came up with a replaceable tail skid shoe of malleable iron. It was a good, long-lasting product, and soon Earle was producing and selling hundreds of them to the limited market of the time. Soon small airplanecompanies like Piper, Luscomb, and Aeronca wanted to switch to tail wheels. Earle’s company, first named,UNIVERSAL ALLOY PRODUCTS COMPANY, produced and sold hundreds of rigid tail wheel assemblies. It soon became clear that a tail wheel that swiveled was necessary. Earle’s company quickly produced them. At this time Lancaster Malleable and Steel Co. was producing castings for Earle as well as aluminum wheel hubs. Earle bought a small aluminum furnace and set it up in his garage at 114 Pleasant Avenue. He also bought some used machinery and set up a machine shop in his basement, hiring a part-time man. At this time, because of the Depression, Earle was working only two or three days a week at Lancaster Malleable and Steel Co.
The company was incorporated with the name UNILOY ACCESSORIES CORP. A California company claimed that they had a copyright on the name UNILOY, so Earle’s company name was changed to SCOTT AVIATION CORPORATION. Early in 1940 it became clear that Earle had todevote all his time to his new company. He left Lancaster Malleable and Steel Co. which, because of a reluctance to invest in new technologies, failed to prosper and closed down in the 1950s. The Battle of Britain was raging in the autumn of 1940. Through contact by a third party, SAC (SCOTT AVIATION CORP.) contracted to make aluminum compass cases for the British. They were pleased with the work and asked Earle to bid on producing the MARK X Oxygen Regulator which was installed between the high pressure oxygen supply on a British bomber and the face masks of the eight man crew. Great Britain was producing these regulators but at an insufficient rate. At first Earle thought that the job was beyond the capability of his small company. He contacted Howard Benzel, an aeronautical instrument technician at the Buffalo Aeronautical Corp. Howard thought it could be done by subcontracting parts from other companies, and was hired by Earle as Chief Engineer.
On June 21, 1941, Earle was delighted to receive a contract for $1,010,000 and was soon producing 750 units per month. With his small staff often working 12-hour days and 6.5-day weeks. By the end of the year the U.S. was at war. An Army Air Corps pro- curement officer at Wright Field asked if SAC could become a second source (along with Bendix) to produce the A-13 Demand Type Oxygen Regulator. Earle and Howard returned to Wright Field with a working sample, bid and won a contract to produce several thousand a month. The total number produced during the war was over 100,000.
While tooling up for the contract, WACO Aircraft Co. began building troop-carrying gliders and wanted tail wheel assemblies from SAC. After solving the problems of designing tail wheel assemblies of sufficient strength, SAC went on to produce tens of thousands during the war. On November 4, 1942, SAC received the Army-Navy “E” award for excellence in the production of war material. In mid-1945 SAC was approached to supply hydraulic landing gear for the first helicopters and went or to be a major supplier after the war.
By 1944 SAC had more than 200 employees and sales of over $2,000,000. As the war drew to a close it was thought that the U.S. had two major problems, namely, 1) the end of war production and the discharge of millions of servicemen would result in economic collapse and massive unemployment, and 2) people, especially discharged airmen, would be buying and flying private airplanes in huge numbers.
Neither of these predictions came true. The huge pent-up demand for civilian goods resulted in a quick and easy conversion from war materials and easily absorbed the returning servicemen. The demand for private airplanes never materialized, especially among those who flew in the war. SCOTT’s postwar strategy was to stay with products for the light aircraft industry but also to diversify into the fire and safety equipment industry. This led to the introduction of the SCOTT AIR-PAK, a self-contained, demand-breathing device, consisting of a compressed air tank (not oxygen), regulator, and firm-fitting facemask.
Although drastically reducing the number of employees after V-J Day, SAC tooled up to produce tail wheels, aircraft control (steering) wheels and aluminum castings for the light aircraft industry which went on to produce 35,000 planes. Most of these remained unsold, and the plane manufacturers went bankrupt, one after another, owing SAC substantial fees. AIR-PAK sales took off slowly, requiring a great deal of advertising and sales promotion. Earle spent a good deal of his time demonstrating and publicizing them. At this time scuba diving was becoming a popular activity. Jacques Cousteau had designed and produced the AQUA-LUNG, where the user wore a nose clamp, goggles, and breathed air in and out through a device in his mouth. Although some people used the SCOTT AIR-PAK under water, SAC developed the SCOTT HYDRO-PAK with a complete facemask. It was the best device on the market, but proved to be too expensive compared with the AQUA-LUNG.
Aircraft sales were recovering, and 1956 produced a record revenue of $3,000,000. Profit sharing was established by Earle, and employees received an average bonus of $250.
SAC developed a military ejection seat “kit” on which the pilot sat and which contained a life raft, food supplies, and an oxygen device that enabled the ejecting pilot to live as he descended through the higher altitudes. After a great deal of engineering time and expense and a difficult selling job, SAC received a second source contract for these kits. A subsequent design inflated the pilot’s pressure suit and provided pressure to prevent damage to his lungs. SAC went on to design and produce an ejection capsule for the B-58 bomber. These survival kits paid off handsomely for SAC. Sales of other products were growing such that revenue for 1960 was over $8,000,000.
SAC’s growth resulted in a perpetual lack of capital. As a result the company had failed to take advantage of a number of new product opportunities because it could not afford the investment. In 1960 the company went public, offering 169,680 shares of stock (50%) for sale at $10.00 per share. Early in 1961 SAC bought WARD TOOL and MACHINING CO. of Alden, N.Y., which manufactured hydraulic cylinders. It was a highly talented but poorly managed company. SAC slowly brought it back to where it was a significant contributor to sales and profit. SAC also established a research and development division in Florida. It leased a 10,000-square-foot building on Walden Avenue to produce high-pressure hydrogen regulators used in the fuel cells of space vehicles. It further added to its line of masks and respiratory equipment in Sept. 1963 with the purchase of ACME PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT of South Haven, Mich.
1962 sales totaled $11,734,000. Employment in Lancaster reached 536 people. WARD in Alden grew to emply 140. An AIR-PAK manufacturing facility was established in Canada.
In February 1963 Earle announced that he would move to be Chairman of the Board and appointed Howard Benzel to be president and to run the company. Howard was a highly respected engineer who was described by Earle as having an uncanny ability to diagnose design and production problems and to correct them.
1963 ended on a sour note with profit down and the need to lay off 25 people and temporarily furlough others. Development and re-engineering costs on some of the more exotic products were rising. Earle began to look for a merger with some other company or even a buy out. 1964 produced a $100,000 loss rather than a profit. On the other hand, WARD expanded, and by 1970 was producing over $1,000,000 in sales of mobile cranes. Because of diversification the Board of Directors approved the name change from SCOTT AVIATION CORP to SCOTT INDUSTRIES, INC.
In 1964, the owner of a small company asked Earle to buy his company producing “Oxygen Candles,” a chemical oxygen generator consisting of sodium chlorate compressed and packaged in disposable containers. Earle offered $1,000 and the owner accepted. This acquisition eventually brought in millions of dollars from their use in nuclear submarines and commercial airliners. These devices were implicated in the tragic airliner fire and crash in the Florida Everglades in the 1990s.
In 1966, Earle decided that he wanted to retire. He was approached by Harry Figgie, CEO of AUTOMATIC SPRINKLER CO. (later called ATO), a small conglomerate with a fire and safety equipment division. ATO bought SCOTT INDUSTRIES in a stock swap. ATO later changed its name to FIGGIE INTL. CORP. and fell on hard times with failure of some divisions, charges of nepotism, and shareholder class action suits. SCOTT INDUSTRIES was one of the few strong remaining segments and emerged in 1998 as SCOTT TECHNOLOGIES, INC.
In 2001, SCOTT TECHNOLOGIES, INC. was bought out by TYCO INTERNATIONAL. INC. in another stock swap. At that time SCOTT was described as, “A leading manufacturer of life support respiratory products with two principal business units: Health & Safety and Aviation & Government. The Health & Safety unit designs and manufactures the SCOTT AIR-PAK, air-purifying products, gas detection instruments, thermal imaging cameras and other life support products for firefighting and personal protection against environmental and safety hazards. The Aviation & Government business unit designs, manufactures and sells protective breathing equipment, pilot and crew oxygen masks, and emergency oxygen systems for passengers and crew members on commercial, government and private aircraft and ships.” In the year 2000, SCOTT TECHNOLOGIES had net sales of $264,000,000 and an operating income (profit) of $43,700,000.
Over the years SCOTT has produced well over a half million AIR-PAKs. The familiar yellow metal tank has been replaced by a much lighter weight aluminum tank encased in a carbon fiber exterior tank. The largest AIR-PAK model is pressurized to 4,500 pounds per square inch, which lasts about one hour. SCOTT still makes tail wheel assemblies, and makes the oxygen regulators for the space shuttle program.
Earle retired to Florida where he built and owned a small airport and continued to invest in the development of high-tech products. He died in 1996, at age 90, from natural causes.
Sources: 1. THE SAGA OF SCOTT AVIATION CORPORATION by: Earle M. Scott, 1973
2. PROSPECTUS - Merger of SCOTT TECHNOLOGIES, INC. with TYCO INTERNATIONAL1 INC., March 30, 2001
3. Conversations with Harley Scott, Earle’s son and Lancaster Town Historian
4. Responses to Questions: Russ Kamis, General Manager, SCOTT TECHNOLOGIES, Lancaster, N.Y.; Jerry Pfeiffer, SCOTT HEALTH & SAFETY, Monroe, N.C.
In 1932, Earl M. Scott founded Scott, then called Uniloy Accessories Corporation, in his basement in Lancaster as a manufacturer the first pivoting tailwheel for airplanes. The company grew steadily for the first few years as manufacturer of several different components and parts used in the aviation industry.
Because of a name conflict with another company, Uniloy changed its name to Scott Aviation. Later that year, Scott's business exploded when the British Royal Force asked Scott to develop a walk-around, on-board oxygen system for its pilots so they could safely fly to altitudes of 30,000 feet over the Burma Hump into China.
From that invention, Scott developed the first Air-Pak SCBA model in 1945 called the 6000 B4A. The price was $160. Thinking there was a market for his product for the fire service, Scott approached the local departments about his SCBA, but it wasn't an overnight sensation. Back then, firefighters were nicknamed "smoke eaters" for good reason. They simply used wet handkerchiefs or canister masks to block out Smoke as they fought fires.
Over the years, Scott Aviation developed more products for flight, including the familiar yellow breathing masks used on commercial airliners, fighter jet pilots' masks, and an underwater SCBA called the Hydro-Pak.
Figgie International, a then large conglomerate of 33 companies, purchased Scott Aviation in 1967.
Seven years later, Scott partnered with NASA to develop the first high pressure (4500 psi). SCBA.
In 1980, Figgie bought Tool Services Co. in Monroe, N.C, and moved the SCBA manufacturing there to operate as Scott Health & Safety. Shortly afterward the Air-Pak® Fifty ™ SCBA was developed and quickly took over the fire market as the SCBA of choice.
For years, Scott has enjoyed over 55 percent market share in the fire service industry with eight of the eleven largest U.S. cities using the Scott Air-Pak SCBA. (1)
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