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Woodward Governor Company

Inheriting such traits as integrity, ingenuity, and frugality from his early Yankee ancestors, Amos Walter Woodward was born on a farm near Winthrop, Maine, July 16, 1829. While still a boy, Amos’ natural bent for mechanics took him to Lowell Massachusetts, and later to Worcester, where he soon became an expert machinist. However despite flattering offers of advancement there, this miller’s son moved westward to Rockford, Illinois in 1858 where he was employed as an expert machinist at N. C. Thompson’s Reaper Works. The plant was located in "The Water Works", an industrial area of water races to power the factories along the Rock River. The machines in the factory were driven by a maze of belts and shafting powered by water powered turbines located in the basement of the building and he noticed the speed of the machines would fluctuate greatly.  Amos became intrigued with how to control the speed at which the waterwheels turned. Although it was the custom in those days for machinists and other shop workers to spend summers helping on neighboring farms, Amos Woodward worked in the “Big Shop” all through the summer of 1868 experimenting with a waterwheel governor of his own conception. Unable to overcome all the obstacles presented that summer, he continued with his experiments through the following winter. By spring he had developed a practical friction type waterwheel governor, on which he received a patent on May 31, 1870.

By spring Amos had solved the problem and developed a practical friction type waterwheel governor, on which he received a patent on May 31, 1870. By frugal living Amos saved enough money from his wages as a machinist to open his own general pattern and machine shop in a rented a 25 by 50 foot in size, small two story frame building in the water power district in 1872. The governor business at that time was not of sufficient importance to require his undivided attention, so pump cylinders, fruit graders, carpet measuring machines and oat grinders were also among the products turned out by this small shop.

The new company struggled, even though he also manufactured and sold pumps, did general machine shop work for others and sold and repaired bicycles. Besides lacking capitol, Woodward also lacked the desire to build a profitable business. He like many other inventors, was more interested in developing new inventions such as a oatmeal machine, orange sizer, peach de-fuzzer, a lathe center grinder, a smokeless hopper fed coal burning kitchen stove and many others. Fortunately, his son Elmer E. Woodward had a greater knack for business and at age 14 entered the governor business to work with his father. Elmer had excellent mathematical skills and an engineering mind and would work his way from the bottom up first obtaining superior mechanical skills and later with experience an engineer of the highest standards.

As Elmer grew older, he became increasingly involved in the company's business affairs. It was then that the enterprise began to prosper. In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the incandescent lamp. This was the start of a new era where electric power would eventually start to replace the water wheel as a means to power machinery. In 1888 the country's first hydro-electric plant was built at Appleton, Wisconsin, and the plant featured Woodward governors to regulate the water flow. Soon plants like this started being constructed across the country and governors built by the Woodward’s were chosen for a good number of them. The word spread about the quality of the governors produced by Woodward and the problem solving attention given to them by Amos and Elmer. In 1891 the business had three employees and was selling about $8,000 worth of governors annually. Not a bad income considering that in 2012 dollars that would amount to $200,000.00

With this new found prosperity the need for larger facilities arose. In 1893 Amos would once again have a connection to the building his former employer was in. Woodward acquired the three story twenty thousand square foot stone and concrete building of the N. C. Thompson Reaper Works at 658 - 660 Race Street, after the reaper works went bankrupt. The first water wheel governors took around five minutes to actuate the water gate over its full range. With refinement over the years the time was reduced to two minutes. In 1898, when Elmer was 36 years old he received a patent for a governor that was an improvement over the one his father had designed. His principle of mechanical compensation allowed for faster operation thus reducing the total time required to just five seconds, the device gave the company an important advantage in the rapidly growing market for governors needed to control new hydroelectric generators.

In 1902 the Woodward Governor Company was incorporated. Amos Woodward would assume the position of President and Chairman of the Board while Elmer Woodward assumed the Vice President and Chief Engineer positions. In 1904 they employed 25 men at their Rockford manufacturing facility. The size and power of turbines and the required accuracy of regulation had created the need for a more powerful and quicker acting governor. The company met the challenge by producing an oil pressure type hydraulic governor in 1910. As the hydroelectric power market surged so did Woodward Governor's sales. Due to the increased demand for its products the Woodward Governor Company moved its operations in 1910 into a five story building at 240 Mill Street in Rockford.

Elmer Woodward continued to tweak and improve the company's governors in an effort to meet new needs in the marketplace, helping the company's revenues to climb. Amos Woodward died on March 23, 1919, a few days short of his 90th birthday. Upon the death of his father, Elmer Woodward was named President and Chairman of the Board and continued to lead Woodward throughout the 1920's and created many more inventions and refinements. Early in 1929 Woodward Governor was employing 50 workers and had established itself as a leader in the design and manufacture of prime mover controls. Prime movers are machines that convert either heat or hydraulic energy into mechanical or electrical energy. Also in 1929 when he was 67 years old, Elmer Woodward hired son-in-law Irl Martin to take over day-to-day operations, while he continued to design new products and make vitally important contributions to the company.

Woodward began developing a governor to control diesel engines that were being used at the time as auxiliary systems in hydroelectric plants. Under his supervision, the company perfected a governor for diesel engines in 1933 that would become the core of the company's product line for several years. Woodward Governor introduced another major product breakthrough in 1934, a governor that could control the pitch of an airplane propeller. An aviation company had approached the company about creating such a control, and several of the company's younger members had gone to work to design the contraption. Unable to solve the problem, they eventually called on 73 year old Elmer Woodward to finish the job. Within several months his team delivered a perfected governor that would give Woodward Governor a much needed entry into the aviation industry. In 1935 commercial DC3 aircraft were equipped with Woodward propeller governors.

On December 31, 1940, 78-year-old Elmer Woodward, worked a full day, returned home, and then died of a heart attack. Irl C. Martin was named president and chairman of the board and assumed complete leadership of the company. The company would expand again in 1941 on Rockford's North Second Street with the construction of a large state of the art factory and headquarters that was designed with worker productivity and satisfaction in mind. This area would later become the City of Loves Park in 1947. It was considered to be one of the most modern industrial plants in the world. It included many advanced concepts for the period including climatic and noise control to name a few. The facilities were constructed for the exacting requirements of governor manufacturing just as Woodward Governor was entering the greatest growth phase in its history. World War II placed huge demands on the company's production facilities as orders for its advanced propeller controls boomed. The advantage that the controls Woodward Governor offered was the fact that they reduced vibration in airplanes and ships by synchronizing and phasing the propellers of two or more engines.

In the 1950's through the 1960's the company continued to supplement its product line with the addition of main fuel controls for aircraft gas turbines and electronic analog controls. Some of the innovations during the 1950's and 1960's were the electrical cabinet actuator in 1957, the first truly electric governor in 1960, fuel valves for aero drive turbines in 1962, control for turboprop engines in 1964 and a unique new electronic control system in 1965. As demand for the company's products increased, Martin expanded the company and in 1955 Woodward Governor built a new factory in Fort Collins, Colorado. Subsequently, Martin oversaw the commencement of factories in the Netherlands, England, Japan, and Australia. Martin officially retired from the presidency in 1960 when he turned 65 years old but remained chairman of the board into the 1970's. Martin's health took a turn for the worse in 1975 and he resigned in March 1976 and died on April 22.

Martin Calvin C. Covert at the helm of the company, a position he assumed in 1976. Under his direction, Woodward Governor continued to create new products including an eight-bit microprocessor synchronizer and a digital synchronizer for aircraft. Covert was responsible for Woodward's expansion in 1977 with a new production facility in Brazil. Over the years many expansions took place at the Loves Park complex. Covert passed away on December 1, 1994 at the age of 70. Covert was retired from Woodward Governor where he worked for 52 years and was still serving as chairman of the board of directors at the time of his death. John Halbrook assumed the position as chairman of the board in early 1995. Woodward Governor continued to research and introduce new products. It brought out innovative new digital controls and had several advanced devices for both aircraft and industrial markets under development and many acquisitions were also completed in the 1990's. In June 2000 Woodward Governor received the largest single contract in its history, a five-year deal with GE Power Systems valued at more than $500 million. GE Power Systems was a unit of General Electric Company, which had long been Woodward Governor's largest customer. Under the contract, the company would supply GE Power Systems with fuel and combustion control systems and components for General Electric Company’s array of industrial gas turbines for the power generation, oil and gas processing, and marine markets.

The Woodward family of employee's at the new facility in Loves Park in 1943

In January of 2011 stockholders approved a name change from Woodward Governor Company to Woodward, Inc. On August 23, 2012 Woodward, Inc. announced that the company intended to establish a second campus in the Rockford area for its Aircraft Turbine Systems business. The decision was made after a year-long investigation of alternatives to address the growth expected over the next decade and beyond.

On July 1, 2015 the company opened up a new state-of-the-art 450,000-square-foot $250 million 70-acre Woodward Rock Cut Campus manufacturing and office complex bordered by Perryville, Harlem, and Forest Hills Roads in Loves Park.

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