Sideglances
by SARAH GREENE
sgreene@etex.net
Oct 04, 2012 | 841 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A PUBLICATION I enjoy receiving four times a year is the Bagpiper, the handsome slick-paper, magazine style newsletter of Robroy Industries.

The recent summer issue included, in its 20 pages, reports from headquarters at Verona, Pa.; from Stahlin Enclosures at Stahlin, Pa.; from Duoline Technologies. Gilmer, and, by far the largest, the Conduit Division based in Gilmer.

Wanting to refresh my memory on Robroy’s history here, I checked out the online 100th anniversary edit of the Bagpiper, published in 2005.

I learned that one of the company’s distinctions is that only four percent of family-owned businesses in this country have survived into the fourth generation. (Interesting especially to me since The Mirror is also now in fourth-generation hands.)

ROBROY’S story began in 1878 in the little town of Addiewell, Scotland, when Peter McIlroy was born into a family with five brothers and sisters.

The two oldest boys, James and Peter, decided to move to the United States to make a better life.

After some years they had enough money to send back to Scotland for their four siblings. Eventually, all six of them ended up in the small town of McKeesport, Pa., a mill town not too far from Robroy’s headquarters today in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Peter McIlroy went to work in a steel mill where he gained some familiarity with steel pipe. He found that he could work two machines at the same time, and asked for a raise. He got a small raise but a bad reputation and found himself unemployed.

ENDING UP as a night watchman in a black enameled ceilings factory, he spent the long hours alone. With curiosity and a little knowledge about pipe he began dipping small samples of pipe into vats of black enamel, and he found that, if he drew the pipe out very slowly, he could give it a shiny black coating. At about this time he heard about a new product, steel conduit.

Electricity was being run through wires that were strung by something called knob and tube. Steel conduit was a significant improvement because it allowed electrical wires to be run inside a protective tube. But steel was vulnerable to corrosion.

Peter saw an opportunity to protect steel conduit against corrosion through the process of black enamel dipping. To make this a reality, however, he needed money and eventually found a man named Patterson who could supply funds.

IN 1905 Peter McIlroy, and Mr. Patterson started Enameled Metals Co. to make conduit in the mill town of Etna, Pa. They bought pipe from a local mill, cut it into 10-foot lengths, cleaned them, cut threads on each end and dipped them into a vat of black enamel.

The first pipe that they coated and labeled was called the “Pittsburgh Standard” brand —significant because that eventually became the name of the company.

After the Korean War ended in the 1950s there was an oversupply of conduit and business suffered. Bob McIlroy, the second generation CEO, decided to move to another part of the country. Texas was booming, and he looked for a location near the Lone Star Steel pipe plant.

PEOPLE from many different communities were interviewed, but Gilmer’s leaders made the best impression.

A photo in the Centennial Bagpiper shows Bob McIlroy signing the deal for land to build the Robroy plant in Gilmer with directors of the new Gilmer Industrial Foundation — Don Williams, Bill Buie, R.B. Cook and D.T. Loyd.

The new name of Pittsburgh Standard Conduit Co., Robroy Industries, was announced in Gilmer in 1967. The third-generation Peter McIlroy, the company’s head, explained:

“‘Robroy’ was a great name because of our Scottish heritage and because the Rob from Robert and the Roy from McIlroy made a lot of sense. It was a short name, easy to remember, and it didn’t tie us to one product, like conduit, or one city, like Pittsburgh. . .

Gilmer became the hub of activity for the company. It was a great center of operation for us.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.
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