John Smith Ltd
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John Smith Ltd.

John Smith Ltd was founded in 1873 by Mr John Smith from Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire. After a short period in Lozells it moved to the main site of Richard Street in Nechells, Birmingham. The original products were a range of tongs and rollers for buckle making, the production being automatic with a secondary finishing operation along lines probably invented by Mr John Smith. The entire production was sold to customers in Walsall, when Walsall was the centre of buckle making and the leather goods trade including harness and saddlery production. Experimental engineering enterprises were undertaken from time to time including early types of bicycle chain, household lighting by acetylene and the supply of the original tyre moulds to Mr Dunlop. Solid silver items were occasionally produced for the ceremonial harness of elephants belonging to Indian princes. Business custom of the time included a specific undertaking by Mr Smith that he would not operate a foundry and, therefore, not compete with his Walsall competitors in the production of a complete buckle.

In 1907 Mr Smith was joined by his son in law and the business of mild steel wire drawing was started in 1911. There was a further diversification into light presswork in 1916. During both World Wars production was almost entirely geared to the national requirement. In 1929 John Smith died. The board then consisted of his son, his son in law and two grandsons who developed and maintained the business as an independent private company. The company's major development took place in the fifties and sixties when production more than quadrupled. During that period a succession of five years plans of expansion and development were undertaken. In 1953 sales were 425,000 and the workforce totaled 185. A major reconstruction of the factory, offices and frontage were carried out between 1953 and 1957. The factory was dedicated to wire drawing, handling mild steel wire in coil and bands, in a wide range of sizes, with bright, phosphate-coated and copper-coated finishes. In the later sixties, early seventies development continued with the installation of new bright and vacuum annealing equipment. The cleaning house was extended and a new boiler and test house completed.

Pressure on space at Nechells led to the establishment of a branch factory at Spon Lane, West Bromwich in 1957 for the development of existing presswork interests and precision presswork. In 1964 another branch factory was opened at Woods Lane, Cradley Heath for the production of metal components. Seventy per cent of the company's customers were within a 30 mile radius of Birmingham but the company served industries throughout the country. Customers ranged from the furniture trade through electronics and the motor car industry to chain making and heavy engineering. At the time of the company's 100th anniversary in 1973 plans were continuing for the expansion of production not only in the existing range but by improving techniques to widen the range. Opportunities were seen with the Common Market with the impending reduction of tariffs. It was believed that many of the products of the component division would be competitive and trade could be developed with the market. However, by 1978 the company had been sold to GKN with the West Bromwich and Cradley Heath sites sold to H.A. Light Ltd.

 

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