Gallagher Asphalt celebrated 80 years with an anniversary party June 5 at the company’s Thornton, Ill., facility.
Without even a grade school degree or experience running a company, James F. Gallagher Sr. put a second mortgage on his family’s home at the age of 30, to found Gallagher Asphalt Corporation (originally as J.F. Gallagher Co.) on June 5, 1928.
“Dad had lots of courage,” said Donald Gallagher, retired president and James’s son. “Despite his lack of formal education and real world experience, and the fact that an economic depression was just beginning, he still forged on with his dream of starting a paving company.”
After working for an asphalt plant manufacturer as a receptionist and clerk and later as an asphalt and oil salesman for Texaco Oil Company, Gallagher originally started in the business as a “broker” of projects to contractors throughout six counties in northern Illinois. However, in 1934, the company established itself on the city’s south side at 93rd & Ewing after the city of Chicago awarded Gallagher the contract for furnishing the city’s street crews with asphalt. A few years later, the company moved its base of operations to the Thornton quarry where its headquarters remain today.
Gallagher was instrumental in the founding of many of the present contractor associations, such as the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, the Associated General Contractors of Illinois and the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
“Our grandfather was a true innovator and industry advocate,” third-generation co-owner and Vice President of Operations, Dan Gallagher, said. “In fact, there are several asphalt related U.S. patents that bear his name.”
After earning their college degrees and serving their country, Gallagher’s three sons — Jack, Jim and Don — joined the business during the late 1940s through the late 1950s and succeeded ownership from their father in the late 1960s. The company experienced tremendous growth throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with the south suburbs booming. “It was an incredibly exciting time to be in the business,” stated second-generation retired President Jack, a 49-year industry veteran. “The Interstate System was being built, towns were growing by leaps and bounds, huge shopping malls were popping up everywhere and the heavy industrial market — such as steel mills and rail yards were thriving.”
“During their watch, the company made some major strides and became incredibly successful,” asserted Charlie, Jack’s son and the current president. He added, “The second generation played a pivotal role in establishing Gallagher Asphalt as a well-respected paving contractor, employer and community leader.”
Jim withdrew in 1980. Jack and Donald maintained both ownership and management responsibilities throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s. Jack retired in 1995 and Don retired in 1999.
With three large-capacity plants located in Thornton, Joliet and Bourbonnais, Gallagher Asphalt has paved literally thousand of miles of asphalt throughout the Greater Chicago Southland; including over the years such high-profile projects as The Dan Ryan Reconstruction, The Kingery Expressway Reconstruction, I-355, and currently the I-55 widening in Will County. The Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Dragstrip in Joliet and BNSF Logistics Park (a.k.a. the Joliet Arsenal Redevelopment) in Elwood — not to mention thousands of resurfacing projects with virtually every municipality in the South Cook and Will County area.
Now in its third generation of family ownership and management, the company is run by Charlie, Dan and Patrick. Charlie is one of Jack’s two sons. Dan and Patrick are Donald’s sons. Taking advantage of their diverse skills and educational background, each of them oversees different areas of the business; ranging from estimating to construction management to production to sales and marketing.
“While Gallagher Asphalt has been owned by the Gallagher family for 80 years, it has been ’operated’ by a core of employees that are very close to being a part of the family,” said Charlie. “The Gallaghers are most proud of the men and women that have chosen to spend their careers here. Since 1990, we have honored 48 people for their 25 years of service. We have also had many new people join our team. This combination of tradition and new ideas make ’Quality, Service and Value’ an everyday occurrence.”
Although the road building industry in Chicagoland is fiercely competitive, the Gallaghers are committed to growing their business profitably and entering new markets, while maintaining their reputation for being good people to deal with.
Along with the responsibilities of ownership, the third generation is committed to a successful transition to a fourth generation.
“We really are just stewards of this asset called Gallagher Asphalt. It is our responsibility to run and grow the business successfully and then transition to the next generation. If all goes well, my kids and my cousin’s kids will be planning our 100 year celebration,” explained Charlie Gallagher.
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