Wood’s Powr-Grip Celebrates 50 Years of Service
Wood's Powr-Grip, celebrating its 50th anniversary, employs more than 100 people.
Since 1964, Wood’s Powr-Grip has provided innovative equipment which uses vacuum to lift, hold, and position nonporous materials, including glass, plastics, engine valves, sheet metal, stone slabs, and appliances.
However, the history for the Laurel, Mont., company extends back even further. In 1946, Howard Wood opened Wood’s Auto Electric, an automotive, electric and small engine repair shop in Wolf Point, Mont. After years of dissatisfaction with the accepted method of holding small engine valves during the lapping process, in the early 1960′s, Howard designed and built the first Wood’s Powr-Grip Valve Grinder. The tool consisted of a small, spring-action vacuum pump mounted in a wooden handle, opposite a rubber suction cup which attached to the flat surface of an engine valve.
“The first of these tools he built for his own use and for his friends, but soon the demand for the unique little tool became great enough to make it available to the general public,” says Lisa Hagel, advertising/marketing coordinator for the company. “As the popularity of the Powr-Grip Valve Grinder grew, a glazier friend suggested that he develop a vacuum cup for handling glass, built around a larger version of the same type of vacuum pump.”
Following a period of trial and error, Wood developed a 4-inch, 6-inch, and 8-inch diameter vacuum cups. “The first Powr-Grip vacuum cups consisted of a handmade steel handle attached to a molded rubber vacuum pad, with a spring-action vacuum pump mounted in the handle,” Hagel describes. “These cups were unique in that a red-line vacuum indicator on the pump warned the user if vacuum loss occurred, and in that a check ball allowed lost vacuum to be restored without breaking the cup’s grip. Neither of these features, the trademarks of today’s Powr-Grip vacuum cups, were available anywhere else in the world at that time.”
Wood began manufacturing vacuum cups for glass handling in 1963, incorporated the business in 1964, and obtained a patent for his design in March of 1966. The cups were first introduced to the American market by traveling salesmen calling on individual glass shops. As popularity of the vacuum cups grew, they began to appear in the catalogs of national and international suppliers of glass handling equipment.
In the late 60′s, Wood developed a battery-powered, sealed foam vacuum lifter for use with overhead cranes and hoists. Capable of handling loads to 600 pounds, the design was the first of many below-the-hook vacuum lifters to be developed. Over time, a wide variety of manual, AC, DC and air-powered vacuum lifters were designed and built to accommodate an ever-growing market.
Wood died in 1983 at the age of 73. While maintaining many of Wood’s founding principles and ideals, in 1990 the company moved from Wolf Point to a larger facility in Laurel, Mont. Now in a third generation of family management, the company has continued to expand its product line and market area, and currently employs more than 100 people. Today, Wood’s Powr-Grip vacuum cups and below-the-hook vacuum lifters can be found in nearly every country in the world and have become standard tools in the glass industry. “After fifty years, Howard Wood’s invention and the company he created are still going strong,” Hagel says. “With both eyes on the future, we look forward to serving you for the next 50 years.”