John Minor had rocks in his head.
It’s not exactly clear where the conversation took place, but one day in the early 1870s Minor, a prominent New York contractor, approached Simon Ingersoll and told him what was on his mind—rock drilling. Minor had the idea that a mechanical drill would save capital, and gave a pitch to Ingersoll.
Ingersoll had already built a strong reputation as a master creator. As a child, he constructed a small steamboat with a boiler fashioned from a large iron cooking pot, and he went on to invent a self-propelled steam carriage. Ingersoll also came up with a gate latch, a spring scale and a machine that cut and counted wooden plugs used by shipbuilders.
Minor’s talk sent Ingersoll’s mind churning and led to the creation of a rock drill powered by steam. The device added power and speed to the hard task of boring through rock and was the first to be mounted on a tripod, which kept it steady so an operator could drill at almost any angle.
Jose Francisco de Navarro contributed $45,000 out of a total $50,000 invested toward the purchase of Ingersoll’s patents on the rock drill. The acquisition led to the birth of the Ingersoll Rock Drill Co. Henry Clark Sergeant was the first president of the new business and conducted extensive research and development of both rock drills and air compressors. Years later, after an unsuccessful try at silver mining, Sergeant started the Sergeant Drill Co. in 1885 and three years later merged with Ingersoll Rock Drill to form the Ingersoll-Sergeant Drill Co.
Ingersoll-Sergeant quickly gained a presence in the international market. Rock drills were made and sold in England, and in 1874 the Eclipse drill was a popular product in France. Eight years later the Ingersoll Rock Drill Co. of Canada was formed.
But during the later years of the 19th century, Ingersoll-Sergeant engaged in a competitive war with the Rand Drill Co. Both marketed similar lines of product for mining and decided to shake hands and merge on June 1, 1905.
Ingersoll-Rand made an immediate impact. The company’s portable compressors provided power for pneumatic tools used to construct and repair some of the locks on the Panama Canal from 1904-1914.
New products were constantly being introduced and helped spread the I-R name across the globe. Significant advancements were made in the air compressor field, where Ingersoll-Rand launched lines of electric-powered machines. The Class PE, introduced in 1910, featured an improved lubrication system and a five-step clearance control system. Months later, the Class A compressor was replaced by the Class NE-1 model, which varied compressor output by regulating the input of air.
The Great Depression and World War II tested the limits of several, including Ingersoll-Rand. But the company continued to make contributions.
The Type 30 air compressor helped keep the economy productive when the stock market crashed. The small, efficient model served the needs of the automotive industry, and also was used for starting diesel engines, agitating milk, running air conditioning in trains and buses, tapping beer and spraying paint.
The Hoover Dam, however, was no odd job, and Ingersoll-Rand positioned itself throughout the work site. On top of using I-R jackhammers, drifter-type drills, paving breakers and air-operated hoists, stopper drills were used to raise from the diversion tunnels inclined shafts which served as spillways to take care of excess water in the dam.
Ingersoll-Rand continued to fire off products during World War II. The Class PRE compressor, introduced in 1914, became an important tool. It came with the Roger valve, which reduced costs while allowing the compressor to run faster and quieter. XRD compressors were used in the ammonia oxidation process of making gunpowder, and the beginning of ammonia synthesis during the great conflict boosted sales for I-R’s high-pressure compressor business.
Growth was firmly in place after WW II. In 1949, company sales passed $100 million for the first time—$117 million—and recorded profits of $17.9 million. By 1957, sales were $205.4 million, with earnings of $36.4 million.
Beginning of the road
Ingersoll-Rand rolled into the roadbuilding business in the late ’60s behind the SP-54 single-drum vibratory soil roller and a small double-drum vibratory drum roller called the DA-30.
"Back then it wasn’t uncommon for compactors to be towed behind a piece of equipment," John Stang, vice president of sales for I-R’s Road Development business, told Roads & Bridges. "There were quite a number of those that still existed in the marketplace, and a recognition developed that in order to have the stability that you needed for the foundation of roads you really needed a good compaction."
All eyes quickly turned to the large highway business, and I-R jumped in with a double-drum asphalt compactor labeled the DA-50. The machine laid the groundwork for future models, including the 13-ton DD-130.
"We didn’t have anything in the 13-ton-and-above size range prior to that," said Stang. "We really came out of the box and did fantastic as far as establishing a new product class."
Ingersoll-Rand’s compaction strategy ran a steady course through the ’70s, and in the ’80s the company continued to develop the soil line and came out with the SP-56, which was an enhancement of the SP-54.
Still, the main target was asphalt, and soon came a number of key acquisitions. In 1995, Ingersoll-Rand bought Clark Equipment Co., which included the Bobcat line of skid-steer loaders and Blaw-Knox asphalt pavers. Initially, I-R tried to develop its own paver, but couldn’t turn down the Blaw-Knox name.
"It was an opportunity to pick up a No. 1 brand," said Stang.
It also opened up the door of knowledge. Through Blaw-Knox and ABG out of Germany, which was acquired in the early ’90s, I-R has received a quality education on the asphalt market—both nationally and abroad.
"There’s a lot of idea sharing between compaction and paving, so it’s been a great advantage for us," said Stang.
The greatest contribution coming from Blaw-Knox is the role a company should take in operator training. Their program, called The Road Institute, has lit a path for thousands in the market.
Last year, Ingersoll-Rand "reorganized" into a business called Road Development to focus on the roadbuilding business.
"I think we’re going to be looking for acquisitions that complement the paving and roadbuilding industry," said Stang when asked about the future at I-R. "We’re going to be looking to understand from the contractor’s perspective what his needs are and trying to provide solutions. It will be a paving solutions company. I think you’ll see further expansion around that idea."