In the hustle of the rapidly expanding city of Chicago, William Elvis Sloan, formerly of Missouri, established Sloan Valve Company in 1906. He would usher in modern plumbing with his invention of the manual flush valve. A man with many patents to his name, this would mark his first solo-entrepreneurial venture.
Laying the groundwork for his new company in the heart of downtown Chicago, Sloan introduced their new product innovation to the city on Jackson Boulevard.
The early days at the Jackson Boulevard office would see:
Business continued to expand after the initial rocky years, and the plumbing industry slowly but surely recognized the value of Sloan’s flush valve causing sales to increase from $44,000 in 1912 to $385,000 in 1916. U.S. involvement in the First World War slowed this growth slightly as copper became a precious, and thus rationed, war material. The impact of this was lessened, however, by the United States’ limited involvement. Following the war, Sloan went through a period of rapid growth. New facilities were built, important figures to Sloan’s future were hired, and new products and marketing techniques were introduced. When the stock market crashed in 1929 the company weathered the initial crash better than most, but would not see their profits rise again until after 1933.
Sense of Family: During the 1930’s Sloan saw their expansion from the previous two decades slowly reverse. Profits did not drop off immediately as many projects were still being developed, but by 1933 sales were roughly 20% of what they had been in 1929. Many businesses across the nation were closing doors, but Sloan’s dedicated management team developed gradual steps that helped lessen the impact on the company and its employees.
The Second World War brought about massive changes in the company as well. Security around Sloan’s facilities tightened. Production switched from peacetime plumbing products to, almost exclusively, wartime materials like artillery fuses – for which the company would earn the Army-Navy E Award.
As men went off to fight, women entered the factories eventually making up 85% of Sloan’s workforce. After the war, in spite of the fear of recession and the eventual dip in the economy, Sloan picked up where it had left off and began to rebuild its position in the industry.
Regaining and growing as the sluggish years of the immediate postwar era ended, Sloan would see moderate but steady growth for the next two decades. Facilitated by the expansion and eventual move of the main facilities, the company would offer new products, both within the plumbing industry and in previously unexplored areas of business. Also during this time many of the ‘old guard’ would leave, as founding members retired or passed away.
Although difficult to bear, these men, who had built up the company from nothing, entrusted it to a new generation that was focused on keeping traditions alive and improving practices to ensure a fruitful future. New management focused on the operational processes involved with manufacturing. It was here that constant improvements were made, allowing Sloan to remain at the top of the industry. These improvements included:
A New Era:In the 1960’s Sloan moved into new markets, but it was during the next few decades that these areas along with Sloan’s position in the plumbing industry would see growth. The company introduced sensor-activated fixtures and railroad production became a major business segment, as Sloan continued to perfect its mainline products.With the growth came two of the company’s most critical challenges. Due to the economic woes of the 1970’s, workers across America were demanding new work terms. This would result in Sloan’s first and only strike that lasted 9½ weeks, and resulted in the company emerging stronger and more united than before. The second challenge, involving the company stockholders, almost resulted in a company takeover by fellow plumbing industry competitors. This would be a hard fought battle but in its true entrepreneurial fashion, Sloan emerged having learned an important lesson After the turbulence of the 70’s had ended the 80’s and 90’s saw rapid growth from new leadership, new facilities, new acquisitions and extra emphasis placed on the principle of water savings. Although a flood at the Franklin Park facility would cause a short delay in its operations, improved processes and relationships highlighted these decades.
Spreading Innovation:For Sloan the biggest change in the 90’s concerned employee involvement. While the company continued to be successful and grow, it was decided that improving processes and getting those “on the floor” involved could help bring positive change to the way Sloan manufactured its products. This would eventually evolve into the creation of 38 Employee Involvement Teams. The program was eventually dissolved, but it did show to all employees that their input was (and still is) crucial to the success of the company.It was also during this time that further product diversification occurred, which would build upon the growing green movement within the industry. This would result in more efficient fixtures and the new commercial bathroom facility lines. Other divisions, like Sloan’s Railroad and Truck lines, would be sold off due to liability concerns and the high costs associated with maintaining production.
Since the start of the new millennium Sloan has been working to ensure it maintains its position of leadership of the commercial plumbing industry. New government regulations, building trends and concerns from builders and the public at large have caused its efforts to continue to focus on water efficiency. Sloan has built upon its longstanding reputation and research conducted since the 1970’s to becoming the premier authority and producer of water efficiency products.These efforts took off around 2000 with the creation of the Water Efficiency Department, which focused on spreading the word about what Sloan products were capable of. The success of this department led to a reevaluation of the company’s own sustainable efforts, not only in terms of products, but how they are produced, how the company gets its energy and how it can improve the lives of individuals. This reevaluation resulted in the creation of new partnerships, the incorporation of solar and wind technologies and a general effort to make the company cleaner.
The product that started it all, the Royal Flush Valve, the first valve of its kind, was developed and went into production in 1906. Its design allowed for:
This period saw some of the first product modifications to the original flushometer. The introduction of new plumbing products and the development of industry-focused marketing efforts helped Sloan become an innovative leader in manufacturing. For Sloan this was the first of many ‘golden-ages’ and helped make the Sloan name the industry standard.
During the slowed economy and tough times, the family atmosphere at Sloan and company innovation did not stop. The war caused many changes which lead to ingenuities that would help ease the postwar transition.
Key innovations included:
With the post-war boom, new homes, commercial buildings and schools began to pop up everywhere. New developments increased demand for quality products, and as Sloan resumed plumbing product production the company experienced sizeable growth. This growth would allow for continued product innovation, keeping the company ahead of the competition. Key innovations included:
Expanded and improved facilities as well as updated processes brought about many internal innovations. Some new business ventures would not remain under the Sloan name for long, but important advancements in flush valve and plumbing technology would keep Sloan at the forefront.Key innovations included:
As concern over the use of resources like water grew during the 1980’s the idea of building “green” began to grow in the mainstream commercial building sector. Although still in its infancy for much of the 90’s, Sloan would push ahead with ideas that were ahead of their time and would lead to further water saving technologies.Key innovations included:
With the expansion of the company’s sustainability efforts new products were developed to ensure that water efficiency would become a dominant factor in the market place. To this end the following water efficient products were developed:
At Sloan Valve Company:Sloan’s early years saw long-standing business principles and traditions established; most important being:
Crucial to the company’s future, two important relationships were established. First, Ralph M. Nelson, who would be with the company until 1951, was brought on as a secretary but would soon head the nationwide sales efforts. Second, William A. Pope and George M. Getschow became financial supporters of Sloan, which allowed for the development of operations and spread business to new markets. This financial backing would prove to be invaluable in the early years of the company and during economic turmoil and wartime.
Around the World:
At Sloan Valve Company:The prosperity that came with the increase in sales and industry recognition also brought about many internal company changes, which included:
Around the World:Like Sloan, much of the world saw great growth during this period. In spite of being marked by war and ending with the start of the Depression, it was a prosperous time:
At Sloan Valve Company:The worst economic crisis in the world’s history, the Great Depression, further created a close sense of unity and family within the company. This would be instrumental during the national mobilization of the war years, and again in the period of adjustment that would follow:
Around the World:The ups and downs of Sloan mirrored what was going on across the country and the world. The outbreak of war mobilized nations in a way that had never been seen, and the successful conclusion of hostilities had helped reverse the hardships of the prewar economy, leading to postwar growth
At Sloan Valve Company:As normalcy returned to the economy, Sloan Valve Company readjusted and would enjoy a period of self-improvement and celebration. Sadly, this period also marked the loss of Sloan's founder, William E. Sloan.
Around the World:Abroad peace had returned, but the Cold War had settled creating tension between the USSR and Western powers that would eventually spill over into the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In the U.S. evolving social norms and political assassinations kept society in a state of flux and, in some cases, panic.
At Sloan Valve Company:In spite of some tough obstacles, the years between 1971 and 1990 saw the company’s leadership refocus the company on commercial plumbing products.
Around the World:The world around Sloan also saw some turbulent times early on in this period but overall enjoyed a time of prosperity, growth and new beginnings:
At Sloan Valve Company:During the 90’s Sloan would experience significant internal changes with how the company was structured and how individuals viewed their roles. In spite of being short-lived, EI groups and the open dialogue it sparked would help bring those in the Sloan family closer together.
Around the World:As Sloan underwent changes and its teams grew closer, much of the rest of the world would show similar progress. A coalition of countries had successfully halted Iraqi expansions in the Middle East, a new trade agreement and the official end of the Cold War ensured a strengthening of U.S. influence around the world, and successful peace talks began what seemed like a promising peace process in Israel.
At Sloan Valve Company:With water efficiency in full swing, company efforts at creating a cleaner environment push ahead. The creation of a new division, the introduction of new power sources and the acquisition of a long time partner highlights this period. Also a new generation of leadership began its influence at the company as three brothers assume the office of president.
Around the World:While the start of the millennium seemed promising, national tragedy turned the world’s focus away from domestic growth and more towards events abroad. However each coming year brings continued promise with the economy and international relations.