By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
— Haynes International products have been to the moon and they’ve been to Mars.
But even in Kokomo, Haynes’ home for the past 101 years, there are people who have no idea what the venerable company produces.
“‘Do they make underwear?’ We hear that a lot,” said Haynes retiree Mike Rothman. “People just don’t know how important of a company Haynes is.”
That slight frustration, combined with a personal knowledge of the myriad uses for Haynes’ nickel and cobalt-based alloys, led a group of nine Haynes retirees to set the historical record straight.
For the past two years, the retirees — including several former vice presidents — have been crafting a narrative for the Haynes story, and sorting through box after box of records donated by the company.
The first fruit of their labors was unveiled last year when they wrote a 21-page history of Haynes for the company’s 100th birthday celebration.
Since then, they’ve been working on expanding their history in anticipation of writing a book about Haynes. Upstairs at the Elliott House, next door to the Howard County Historical Museum, they’ve got thousands of documents, photographs and artifacts spread out.
The Howard County Historical Society will eventually put all of it in archival storage.
Elwood Haynes, the company’s founder, is better known for his foray into automobile manufacturing. But his “other” company, the one which was founded to produce a better metal for cutlery, is the one which endured.
But the company doesn’t make products consumers can purchase in stores. Haynes sells alloys in billet, sheet, tube and wire form to other manufacturers. Those manufacturers turn the alloy into everything from jet turbine blades to holding tanks for corrosive chemicals.
Haynes alloy was used to replace parts of the Statue of Liberty’s original iron skeleton and to replace the spikes on Lady Liberty’s crown. The engines on all of the Apollo missions and on the Viking Mars lander used Haynes metals.
Haynes alloys, explained former Haynes VP of sales and marketing Charlie Sponaugle, perform a lot like regular old carbon steel at room temperature.
But heat both regular steel and a Haynes alloy up to 1,500 degrees, and the Haynes alloy will stay strong while the steel warps and bends, Sponaugle said.
Made with often hard-to-find metals like tungsten, molybdenum, chromium and cobalt, the Haynes alloys are also much too expensive for anything but industrial applications.
“There are very few people who do what we do,” Sponaugle said. “There are maybe three or four companies worldwide who make this kind of stuff.”
Haynes first grew to prominence during World War I, when machine lathe tools made of Haynes alloy became highly sought after.
The hard alloys could turn out machined parts in a fraction of the time and didn’t wear out, making them ideally suited to the war effort.
In World War II, Haynes reached its employment peak with about 3,500 employees.
During that time, Haynes alloys were used in the superchargers on B-29 bomber engines. The superchargers compressed air, which was then forced into the engines’ combustion chambers.
Because of the superchargers, B-29 crews could fly at 40,000 feet, high above anti-aircraft fire. The devastation wreaked by the B-29 is generally credited with helping to bring about a quicker end to the war.
“We tried to put together examples of how things Haynes International did, over the past 100 years, changed history,” said Ed Bickel, who started out working on the factory floor before heading to the front office later in his career.
The evolution of the company, from a maker of flatware in the 1920s to the caster of airplane engine parts, to the movement away from casting into wrought products (which probably saved the company) is a story which group members say isn’t that different from how some other remarkable American companies grew.
The difference, of course, is that Haynes stayed in Kokomo. Union Carbide, which owned it from 1920 to 1970, didn’t change that, nor did Cabot Corp. (1970 to 1985), nor did the investment bankers/junk bond traders who burdened the company with debt in the 1980s.
Today, Haynes is a healthy company, and is publicly traded [HAYN:] on the NASDAQ exchange.
“The company has come very far and is in some ways getting away from its roots,” Rothman said. “We’re trying to make sure the roots are not forgotten.”
The committee of retirees: Charlie Sponaugle, former VP of sales and marketing, and of business planning Mike Rothman, former VP of engineering and technology Ed Bickel, started as a mill worker, and ended as a director of marketing Dr. H. Joseph Klein, former VP of manufacturing, and former VP of technology Dale Kingseed, former plant manager F. Galen Hodge, former technical director, and former VP of international sales Dwaine Klarstrom, former director of technology Dean Zehring, former inspector and quality manager Amy Russell, former Haynes company librarian