Winfred Ira Clark sold his first Ingersoll Rand product in 1927.
1927 was an important year for both the W.I. Clark Co. and Ingersoll Rand. First, Ingersoll Rand became involved in an extraordinary project in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and second, Winfred Ira Clark sold his first Ingersoll Rand portable air compressor. This long-standing partnership continues today.
The W.I. Clark Co. of Wallingford, Conn., started in 1925 as a small distributorship of construction equipment. In the beginning, the company sold only two product lines — concrete mixers and Ingersoll Rand air compressors.
“Ingersoll Rand was the first account my father went after,” said Gordon Clark, son of the W.I. Clark Co. founder. “Back then air compressors were designated by size, and the first compressor we sold was a 5.5 by 5.”
Over the years, the company has expanded its product lines to include other portable equipment, such as light towers and generators, as well as larger construction equipment. Today the W.I. Clark Co. has sold Ingersoll Rand air compressors longer than any other dealer in the United States.
Ingersoll Rand and its portable air compressor have a distinguished history. Ingersoll-Sergeant Drill Company and Rand Drill Company were very successful manufacturers of drilling equipment in the late 1800s. Both companies were noted for innovative designs, albeit for different industries. Ingersoll-Sergeant focused on tunneling and rock cutting, while Rand Drill concentrated on mining. In fact, it was Rand Drill that developed the first portable air compressor when it mounted an air compressor on wheels to be transported by horses. It was in 1905 that both companies formally merged to become Ingersoll Rand Company.
In 1912, Ingersoll Rand introduced the first handheld, automatic rotation drill. The jackhammer was the first significant product introduced and patented by Ingersoll Rand. It revolutionized drilling and proved to be very important starting in 1927 when Gutzon Borglum began carving the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt into the side of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Jackhammers had the ability to drill into the rock at various angles making the tool necessary during every phase of the project. Mount Rushmore monument is fine-grain granite rock estimated to erode only one in. every 10,000 years, which means this landmark will last 500,000 years before it wears out.
Another major piece of Ingersoll Rand history involves the Hoover Dam. During the Great Depression Ingersoll Rand made significant progress on air compressor and drilling technology. The Type 30 and Type 40 air compressors were introduced in the 1930s. The Type 40, designed to be a high-capacity compressor, was useful in mining and tunneling projects.
The Hoover Dam was the largest concrete structure in the world at the time — and the biggest job using Ingersoll Rand equipment because of the millions of tons of rock that needed to be excavated. Type 30 two-stage compressors along with larger compressors were used for the heavy drilling work, and the compressors also were used to circulate cold water through pipes to expedite cooling of the newly poured concrete.
As someone who has watched the landscape of the industry change over the years, Gordon Clark offered a unique perspective on what has sustained the Ingersoll Rand brand throughout its history.
“It’s not only a quality in the products, but also the personnel,” said Clark. “Many of the top people at Ingersoll Rand started out in sales. They were very cognizant of the problems contractors and distributors faced in the field.”
Clark witnessed the technology of air compressors change over the years, from pistons, to vanes and now with rotary-screw units.
In the 1970s, the 185-cfm air compressor was introduced to the marketplace and proved to be a very successful line for Ingersoll Rand. The unit sold so well that the W.I Clark Co. used to order this model in trailer loads. Clark said it’s still the most popular size of Ingersoll Rand air compressor, operating at 185 cfm at 100 psi.
Today, a 1927 air compressor is on display in front of the W.I. Clark Co. headquarters, which reminds everyone of the history of Ingersoll Rand and the W.I. Clark Co.