Joshua Lambert was born on his father Solomon’s homestead in 1837. As a formal education was not available in those early days of Michigan Statehood, Joshua spent his youth learning the trade of blacksmithing. In the early 1880’s, Joshua went into business with a man named Nelson J. Clayton, under the name “Clayton, Lambert & Co.”
In 1888, having developed new designs for blowtorches and firepots, Nelson and Joshua began operating under the name “Clayton & Lambert Manufacturing Company”. In 1891 the company was incorporated under the laws of the state of Michigan by Nelson Clayton, Joshua Lambert, and Joshua’s three sons, John, Charles, and Bert, each holding equal shares.
By 1899, demand for the Company’s products had increased beyond its production capacity, and a larger manufacturing facility was sought out. In 1902, a new factory was constructed on the corner of Beaubien St. and Trombly Ave. in Detroit. The new headquarters consisted of a two-story 117’x120’ general factory building, and a two-story 60’x217’ foundry building. By 1909, C&L had become the nation’s largest manufacturer of heat tools, having 80% of the US market along with a sizable export market.
The torch and firepot business continued to prosper, developing strong distribution throughout the United States and Canada. The Company’s products were evaluated by users as the finest of their kind in the world. The Clayton & Lambert policy of fair, equal dealing was known and respected by all in the trade.
In the spring of 1913, Nelson J. Clayton passed away, leaving the Lambert brothers to run the company.
The Detroit plant location soon found itself in the very center of feverish activity in the automobile industry. In 1915, the Company established a metal stamping division for the manufacture of fenders, hoods, radiator shells, gasoline tanks, and running boards.
Clayton & Lambert experienced some quick changes with the onset of World War I. During the ensuing years, the Company concentrated on the War effort, making hundreds of thousands of powder time-fuses for the Allies, pressed steel truck cabs for U.S. Army vehicles, and of course, large quantities of torches and firepots for all U.S. Services.
After the cessation of hostilities in 1919, so great was the demand for automotive metal stampings, that the Company built a large modern stamping plant known as its Knodell Division. In the following decade, the Knodell Division, with its many possibilities and a growing automotive industry, attracted a large number of the brightest young mechanical engineers to its facility. Their knowledge, combined with the great improvements in the quality of deep drawing steel from the mills, allowed great advances in tooling and metal forming of such difficult shapes as one piece fenders, doors, hoods, instrument panels and the like. (Later on, one of these young men served a term as President of the Ford Motor Company and another one as President of the Martin Marietta Company.)
In 1925, Clayton & Lambert Mfg. Company sold its Knodell Division to the Hudson Motor Car Company.
In 1929, Clayton & Lambert Mfg. Company was incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware.
During the depression years, Clayton & Lambert managed to keep its torch and firepot business in tact. Continued research eventually led to a contract with the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, which gave the Company the opportunity to design a completely new and novel reversible cartridge case tank for storage of 5 inch, 38 caliber cases. Admiral Stark, then Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, was more than pleased with the quality and workmanship of the new cartridge case tank and the redesign work done on other items, reflecting a savings to the Navy of approximately two dollars per unit.
At the start of World War II, a shortage of brass made it necessary to make 40-millimeter cartridge cases out of steel. The Bureau of Ordnance, already familiar with Clayton & Lambert’s manufacturing ability and its executive personnel, chose it as the contractor best fitted by experience to solve the problem and produce a new steel cartridge case. The Navy awarded Clayton & Lambert a contract to produce 36,000,000 cases at two plant locations – Clayton & Lambert’s French Road-Detroit Plant and a plant to be located in Ashland, Kentucky, where the steel was to be made.
For a steel cartridge case to be successful, many problems had to be overcome and manufacturing processes had to be developed that would deliver safe, workable cases that would not stick, drag or backfire in a rapid fire gun.
At that time, Mr. Laurie Rautio left the metallurgical teaching staff of Ohio State University and joined Clayton & Lambert’s executive staff. With his expertise added to our staff and with the brightest minds in the steel industry, the Company began tackling the project. Presses, annealing ovens, heat treat ovens, tools, dies, gauges, head turning screw machines, conveyors, platers and hundreds of miscellaneous items had to be designed, purchased and installed in the two plants. High priority was allocated to the project and the production of the new cases started on schedule. Clayton & Lambert reduced the unit cost from an estimated $1.25 each at the start to about 65 cents at the end. For their amazing efforts, each plant won the coveted Navy “E” Award.
Clayton & Lambert’s fully heat-treated steel cases came through the war without a single reported malfunction in the field. On September 1, 1945, Secretary of Defense Forrestal wrote us, “Among the companies which gave the Navy power to blast its way across two oceans, yours has been pre-eminent.” After the War, the Navy desired to preserve the cartridge case manufacturing process and keep the facilities available for future needs, so it purchased the French Road Plant.
Clayton & Lambert experienced very satisfactory relations with Kentucky personnel in our Ashland plant, and decided to make Louisville its new headquarters. Suitable property was available through the purchase of the Hoffman Gas and Electric Water Heater Company located at the corner of Dixie and Lee Streets.
With this purchase came a water heater business that needed modernizing and retooling. Clayton & Lambert also purchased the inventories, machinery, equipment and going business assets of the Lamneck Company of Middletown, Ohio. In addition to its line of Lamneck furnace pipe, fittings and ducts, it also produced silos, grain bins and corn cribs fabricated of galvanized steel. These products too were modernized, leading to Clayton & Lambert’s popular “Silver Shield” grain bins and hopper tanks.
When the Korean War commenced in 1950, Clayton & Lambert was selected to build a joint Army-Navy steel cartridge case facility on the grounds owned by the Navy in Louisville. Nearly twenty million dollars of machinery and equipment went into this facility which produced millions of various sized steel cases for Army and Navy requirements. At the Government’s request, a special flat tank torch to fit in a Government tool kit was also designed. This project continued until the end of the Korean War.
In 1956, Clayton & Lambert purchased a sixty acre site at Buckner, Kentucky from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Construction of a new factory started immediately and was completed by the year end. During December, 1956 and January, 1957, all Middletown operations were relocated to the Buckner factory. The warm air pipe and duct and water heater lines were perfected and sold in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
In March, 1961, the Louisville torch and firepot production and offices were also moved to Buckner.
By this time, the Company was well along in the restructuring of its farm program with regards to modern methods of loading, unloading, drying and storage of grain and silage. Several patents were granted on C&L’s unique silo unloaders and grain dryers.
In 1954, Clayton & Lambert invented steel wall panels for use in the construction of swimming pools that were pre-formed, punched, curved and angled. This eliminated the necessity of doing this work at the job site, and the pool building industry embraced the products. By doing all fabrication in the factory, stronger metals could be used, creating a superior, longer lasting pool. Stainless steel swimming pools emerged as the most durable and lowest maintenance pool in the industry.