February 9, 2007

Johns Manville

And the men behind the brand are...
Henry Johns and Charles Manville

Just as fire has always fascinated man so to have materials that can be set ablaze without burning. The asbestos story in America is the story of two men: Henry Ward Johns and Charles Branton Manville.

From his childhood Johns was captivated by the heat and fire resistant properties of asbestos. Fires were common tragedies in the 1800s extracting a heavy toll on human life. When he reached the age of 21 in 1858 Johns left his West Stockbridge, Massachusetts farm and came to New York to start a small business as a jobber of roofing materials.

Ten years later Johns received his first patent for an asbestos product.
He gave it the cumbersome name "Improved Compound For Roofing And Other Purposes." He developed a new pipe covering and in 1874 asbestos was discovered on nearby Staten Island. Johns' business success spread.

He hired a travelling salesman named Reed, who before getting his first commission check had secured so many orders for asbestos roofing that he had to be recalled because the factory couldn't keep pace. For all his excellent work Reed's reward was a factory job.

Charles Manville worked in the grocery trade in Neenah, Wisconsin for most of his life. In 1878, at the age of 44, he set out for the South Dakota gold rush.
He returned to Milwaukee four years later, poorer for his troubles.

He began the manufacture of steam pipe and boiler covers. In 1886 he found a mixture of wool felt and blue clay that was a superior insulator and went into a successful business with his three sons. Manville bought Johns’ business west Ohio in 1897, one year before Johns’ death. In 1901 the two companies consolidated under the leadership of the respective founder's sons. Thomas Manville was the first president of the new Johns Manville.

Thomas Manville would introduce 1300 items made of asbestos, earning the title "Asbestos King". He ran the company as a one-man show. Fortune reported in 1913, "Manville took little advice, borrowed no money, dickered with no competitor." Manville boasted that he "never spent a nickel on laboratories or chemists." But he sold the heck out of asbestos, increasing sales to $40,000,000 a year when he died suddenly of heart disease in 1925. His father outlived him by two years, dying at age 93 in 1927, and his success lives on even longer. Johns Manville is still the undisputed leader in the asbestos industry.

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