Ninety years have passed since the Iowa Manufacturing Co. got its start and more than 40 have gone by since its founder’s death. But Howard Hall’s legacy is still felt on every jobsite where portable equipment crushes rock today.
After serving his country in France during World War I, Hall, an Iowa-born man, and longtime friend John Jay purchased the assets of a bankrupt company, Bertschey Engineering Co., in 1923. They shaped that company into the Iowa Manufacturing Co., which rose like a rocket after Hall and Jay discovered a young engineer, Guy Frazee, who had designed a rock crusher unlike any before it.
“It was a fledgling company that was for sale,” says Ernie Buresh, 87, who served on Iowa Manufacturing’s board in Hall’s later years. “I think he put together the funds, and maybe his wife’s family helped him to borrow the money to buy the company.”
The crusher Iowa Manufacturing developed combined crushing, conveying and screening into one machine, and its portability allowed it to play a vital role in the nation’s developing road campaign throughout the first half of the 20th century. The timing of the company’s inception was impeccable as the automobile was taking off and demand for better roads was quickly growing.
Road building itself demanded better equipment, though. Multiple pieces of equipment were necessary to build roads prior to Iowa Manufacturing’s rise. And more equipment meant more capital costs and high labor costs were necessary to move equipment from jobsite to jobsite.
But Hall revolutionized road building, constructing a chassis-mounted machine that could handle raw material at one end and produce sized, finished material at the other.
His original concept later morphed into a unit that added a second crusher, as demand for even more roads – and even better ones – increased. A horizontal vibrating screen replaced a barrel-like revolving screen in this unit, creating a faster, more compact and more accurate machine. Iowa Manufacturing’s original crusher design was also the impetus for other crushing, screening and washing equipment it developed in future years.
“The growing highway construction industry requires on everyone’s part considerable work and planning,” Hall wrote in 1961. “The future holds a great challenge, both for the contractor who must undertake and complete these tremendous projects and also for the equipment dealer who must have the necessary qualified service available to his customers and finally the manufacturers like Cedarapids who must work and plan ahead, develop better equipment, newer operating techniques and to make available efficient and lower cost-producing items for handling the big jobs as well as the small jobs.”
Historically, Hall’s rock crusher also proved critical to the United States’ success in World War II, giving the military a machine that could construct land strips and roads for U.S. troops and be moved at up to 50 mph.
“The loyalty and cooperation of our customers has been our greatest asset,” Hall wrote. “They have greatly contributed to our growth and have helped our company to maintain our leadership in the field of aggregate producing, bituminous mixing and bituminous paving equipment. Cedarapids customers have always felt free to offer suggestions for improvements in our products. Their many suggestions have enabled our company to develop new methods, to improve our products and to expand our research facilities.”
Hall, the man
Although Hall’s legacy in the aggregates industry is the portable rock crusher, his legacy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, extends far beyond his role as Iowa Manufacturing’s president. Hall was a great community leader and philanthropist. In one instance, Hall had an employee who had a son with cancer, and the only place the son could receive treatment was in Canada. So, as an alternative, Hall led an effort to start a radiation center in Cedar Rapids.
“He was going to find a solution to a problem – not that it was curing cancer – but he helped people find resources that were right in their backyard,” says Kristin Novak, program officer at The Hall-Perrine Foundation, a foundation that bears Hall’s name and has distributed nearly $140 million in capital grants over 61 years.
Hall left quite a mark on Cedar Rapids. Not just within his own businesses, but in recruiting other industries to settle there. Buresh points out that that Cedar Rapids cancer center bears Hall’s name, as does a radiation center in the city.
In addition to philanthropy, Hall was an animal lover, accepting a cub lion as a gift from a friend in the circus. Hall’s social circle included President Herbert Hoover – he once hosted Hoover and President Harry Truman at his home – and he had ambition, common sense and a welcoming personality, according to Buresh.
“He’d walk through a plant and he knew every worker by their name,” Buresh says. “That’s the way he ran the company, asking them how they were doing; do you have any new ideas. This is the way he operated. He was just an ordinary guy. He never intended to have anybody think he was more than what he was.”
Hall rose to great heights in his career despite a limited education. He did not earn a high school diploma, but Buresh says other qualities drove him to success.