Akron Steel Treating Co.-A History

Over the years “The Monty Heat Treat News” has had the opportunity to visit commercial heat treater Akron Steel Treating Company in Akron, Ohio, USA several times-each time we have enjoyed hearing about the history of the company. For this reason we read with great interest an article in the “Akron Beacon Journal” summing up the entire story-read on.

“Broken concrete, twisted pipes, smashed bricks, fractured glass, splintered wood. A mountain of rubble is about all that remains of an industrial plant on the southern edge of downtown Akron. A demolition crew has torn down the former home of Akron Steel Treating Co. at 655 S. Broadway just north of Pearl Coffee. The company operated there for nearly 60 years before moving into a new complex at Morgan Avenue and Grant Street in 2003. Italian immigrant Prosper Paolucci Powell (1908-1991), a machinist, blacksmith and welder, founded the company after supervising the heat treating department at Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. during World War II.

In 1943, the U.S. Army approached him about setting up equipment in the garage of his Glenwood Avenue home on North Hill to treat the firing pins of carbine rifles for the military. Sworn to secrecy, he frosted the windows of the garage and began treating 90,000 firing pins.

Heat treatment is a process of heating and cooling metals to alter their properties and improve strength and durability. “We treat metal much like a physician treats the human body,” Powell once told the Beacon Journal. “Without heat treating, the metal would be weak and not serviceable. Our job is to develop its best physical properties.”

After the war, he bought the Army’s equipment, quit his job at Firestone and started his own business. A cousin helped him build a 30- by 50-foot shop at South High and Bartges street, and Akron Steel Treating Co. was born. By sheer coincidence, Powell opened his plant near the former site of the Akron Iron Co., a 19th century mill whose blast furnace created an eerie red glow at night, inspiring the neighborhood’s nickname of  Its business boomed. Workers operated blazing furnaces on three shifts, treating components for the automotive, aviation, utility, railroad and other industries, and servicing 350 machine shops in eight states.

After a series of expansions, the automated plant grew to 25,000 feet by the 1970s. The company escaped demolition during the Opportunity Park urban renewal project, but had to change its letterhead after the city renamed that section of High Street as Broadway in 1973. In 1974, Akron Steel Treating began a $175,000 expansion that added 11,400 square feet of warehouse and office space to the north end of the complex. Powell said he needed the space to eliminate clutter.

“Generally speaking, heat treating plants are the disgrace of the trade,” he explained. “Most of them are dirty, filthy buildings. But in my mind, shoddy housekeeping reflects on the product and that hurts if the customer thinks the same way.” Afterward, the landlocked plant had no room to grow. Powell retired and turned over the business to sons Ron and Joe Powell. In 1990, they bought Freitag Heat Treating Co. on Morgan Avenue and rebranded it as Summit Heat Treating. In 2003, Akron Steel Treating merged with Summit Heat Treating and moved into new buildings at Morgan and Grant.

Today, the company operates a 46,000-square-foot, computer-controlled facility serving more than 1,200 businesses per year, treating everything from hand tools to medical devices to firearms to earthmovers.

“Over three quarters of a century later, our core values of honesty, integrity, and respect drive all that we do — every client, every job,” the company website notes. Not bad for something that started in a garage. The city bought the old plant on Broadway for $680,000 and leased it out. In 2006, ECD Ovonics announced big plans to renovate the complex for $7.2 million and build a $2.5 million addition. Former GM chairman Robert Stempel said the company would develop and build fuel tanks for hydrogen-burning vehicles at the Akron plant.” 

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