Grayson Controls (1928 - 2008)

Grayson Controls

Grayson Controls was located in Long Beach, California and was one of the finest and most respected manufacturers of automatic devices for controlling and regulating temperature.  The principal products manufactured were used in cooking, water heating and home heating appliances.  Grayson Controls had employeed over 1,800 people and was the third largest employer in Long Beach.

Incorporated before the Great Depression, Grayson Controls weathered the economic downturn and was one of the fastest growing manufacturing companies in Southern California during the 1930's.  It continued to grow and became one of the largest manufacturers of thermostat gas valves for water heaters.   It was able to command  a market share close to 80% even against competitors such as Honeywell.    Grayson Controls supplied thermostats to Rheem Manufacturing, A O Smith, and other major manufacturers of water heaters.  

History

In June 20, 1927,  John Grayson finally perfected his design of the snap action thermostat for water heating in his one car garage in South Gate, California.

He sent samples to plumbers for testing.  He discovered that there was demand for this product.  With a $1,000 loan, he incorporated his new business under the name of Grayson Heat Control, Inc on May 18, 1928 (He changed the name in 1931 to Grayson Heat Control, Ltd and started issuing capital stock).

In order to facilitate manufacturing of his thermostats on a small scale, and since he was limited in his present one car garage, Mr. Grayson moved to Lynwood, California on Peach Street where his new work shop consisted of a two-car garage.

The demand for his thermostat was tremendous and expansion in some form was absolutely imperative. Rather than resort to remodeling his two-car garage, he decided to look for a suitable site on which to further develop his business venture.  Finally, Mr. Grayson purchased the property on the northeast corner to Imperial and State Street in Lynwood.  He built a small stucco building.  On February 1, 1929, he was able to move in and began to meet the demands of the water heater manufacturers. 

Only two months later, Mr. Grayson realized he needed another expansion.  He wanted to have move space where to do experiments of other thermostatic appliances.  So on April 1, 1929, he had the building enlarged, doubling the space he had thought two months previous would be sufficient.

Having turned his inventive abilities into a new field, developing water heater burners, Mr. Grayson decided to organize a second company for the specific manufacture of these devices.  Accordingly, on July 3, 1929, the state of California authorized  the formation of the Grayson Appliance Company, Ltd and started issuing capital stock.   The new company immediately purchased the southwest corner of Imperial Highway and State Street, and constructed there a duplicate building of the one that a few months previosly had been constructed on the northeast corner.  Here he manufactured several models of  water heater burners.

In 1931, John Grayson invented the automatic cooking clock mounted on a gas range.    It automatically controls the heat and time for cooking with an oven.   It became one of the best selling products for Grayson Heat Control Ltd.

Domestic Manufacturing Company was the dominant competitor in the 1930's.  In 1935, Grayson Heat Control published an internal comparative report telling of the accomplishments in its short six year history.  A list of customers was very impressive.  In fact, Charles Grayson, John's younger brother and General Manager of Grayson Heat Control, Ltd, before introducing John at a company meeting talked about how far Grayson Controls had expanded in seven short years.

In 1936, John Grayson sold all of his shares of Grayson Heat Control, Ltd to Robertshaw Thermostat Company, a subsidiary of Reynolds Metals Company.

The Unitrol trade mark was patented on November 22, 1937 with patent number 361,576.

Rheem Manufacturing Company, one of the leading manufacturers of water heaters, wanted Grayson Controls to be its primary supplier of thermostats in 1938. 

The foundry was built in 1939 when it was decided that it would be more economical to fabricate the castings on site rather than by an outside supplier.  This required the company to purchase more property and the building of additonal buildings. 

Congress in 1940 started a peace time draft in 1940.  John A. Robertshaw sent out a memo outlining how employees called to active duty would be compensated.

In 1940, Grayson Heat Control made a contract with the Army to build controls for the B17 Flying Fortress.  The list of parts were made for several aircraft companies.

In April 1942, the operation of Grayson Heat Control Ltd had a net worth of $2,000,000 and employed over 400 people

In 1947, Robertshaw Thermostat Company decided to merge it's thermostatic controls companies within one organization.  As a result, Robertshaw Thermostat Company became Robertshaw-Fulton Company and Grayson Heat Control, Ltd became the Grayson Controls Division

After being in the same location for 35 years, space was becoming a problem.  Grayson Heat Control Ltd tried to acquire adjacent property from the city of  Lynwood.  Without any success, the management of Robertshaw-Fulton Company decided to move the Lynwood facility to Dominquez Hills in Long Beach, California.  It purchased 29 acres and began building a 250,000 square foot facility at a cost of $2.5 million.  The plant opened for production on January 19, 1955 and was considered one of the most modern manufacturing facilities in the United States.  It was officially opened on February 2, 1955 with small gathering of public and business people.

From the 1950's the dominant competitor was Honeywell.  Tom Arden saw a Wall Street article about Honeywell building a plant in the Los Angeles area.

The engineering facilities (laboratory) was added to the new plant in 1960.

In 1963, Robertshaw-Fulton Company was re-organized and changed its name to Robertshaw Controls Company.

Additional warehouse space was added to the Long Beach plant in 1970 (see photos).

 In 1986,  Reynolds Metals sold all of its shares of Robertshaw Controls to Siebe PLC of Windsor, England.  Within  five years, Siebe PLC dismantled Robertshaw Controls as it had done with other large companies it had purchased.  Grayson Controls was then referred to as the Long Beach plant of Invensys Controls of Carol Stream, Illinois, a division of Invensys (a result of a merger between Siebe PLC and British Tire and Rubber in 1999). 

In October, 2007 Rheem Manufacturing decided to discontinue buying thermostats from Invensys.  This was devasting to Grayson Controls because Rheem Manufacturing was its major customer.   As a result, Invensys made the decision to close the Long Beach plant and move the remaining operation to Mexicali, Mexico.  This was completed on March 31, 2008.