Founded in September 1915 as Moline Forging and Manufacturing Co., its sole purpose was producing artillery shell forgings for the Allied Forces during World War I in Europe. Over the course of that conflict, the company turned out between five and six million shell forgings on large mechanical forging machines known as “Bulldozers” built by Williams, White. Moline Forging and Manufacturing Co. began operations in the South Shop of Williams, White & Co. As business grew, the directors looked to the postwar period, purchasing a two-block plant site further east in Moline. Construction on the new plant began in 1917, and was occupied in 1918. By the time hostilities ceased in Europe, Moline Forging and Manufacturing Co. had already developed an additional customer base which was not military related. As the company transitioned to fully domestic production, heavily weighted with farm equipment business, the name was changed in 1920 to Moline Forge, Inc.
MOLINE — If you’ve lived in the Illinois Quad-Cities for a few years, you likely have driven by Moline Forge on Fourth Avenue in Moline. And you may have even wondered what it is. It’s eight generally hot buildings covering 80,000 square feet of space where steel is
forged into various parts, often in temperatures as hot as 2,400 degrees. Most of the parts are for the farm equipment industry. Fifty people work there, most of them laborers.The company was founded in 2015, an offshoot of the machinery builder Williams, White & Co., that was just down the street. Its original sole purpose, according to its website, was producing artillery shell forgings for the Allied Forces during World War I in Europe.It produced between five and six million shell forgings on large mechanical forging machines built by Williams, White. Moline Forge began in the South Shop of Williams, White, and expanded but by the time the war ended had developed an additional customer base that was not military related.
Tom Getz, the president and CEO for Moline forge for decades, was a direct descendant of its founder, Harry Ainsworth.
Today the company is led by Victor Almgren, its president and CEO, who had no background in forging when he arrived about 2 ½ years ago.
An engineer with both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in engineering from Dartmouth, he also has a business degree from Northwestern.
What he brought with him when he came to Moline Forge was not only knowledge but a lot of background in metal parts, including at places such as MacLean Fogg, the parent company of Metform in Savanna.
“That’s where I learned a lot about metal product, manufacturing, automotive industry, industrial products and the aerospace industry,” he said of MacLean-Fogg. “That’s where I came to learn a lot about the engineering, sales and operations.”
Since he arrived at Moline Forge, the company has focused on understanding its own processes and cost structures, he said. “That’s really the key to know what you need to do in the business.
“We’ve tried to shore up all of our assets,” he added. “The equipment that’s out there beating itself to death, making sure we are doing the right investments on those things and looking at customer base and trying to expand that and seeing what other niches our product really fits in.”
He believes when Moline Forge hired him they wanted someone outside the company and the forging business, perhaps with a different perspective.
“We have tried to bring the company three core values — safety, honesty and integrity,” Almgren said. “We’ve tried to keep the employees informed of this is what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
Almgren did not care to release sales numbers, which he acknowledged are in the millions.
He does believe that forging will always be needed, though.
“A steel product that’s forged has a lot better durability, resistance to fatigue, loads and heavier repeated loads than other metals,” he explained.
Though he believes Chinese companies can start from scratch and be larger and have a more modern plant, he knows they still have to ship it — and in most cases — a long way.
The 105-year old Moline Forge is also protected by the large capital investment it takes to get started, he said, noting each work area costs several million dollars.
Naturally, he also believes in forging’s future. It’s just a matter of if it’s going to face the same challenge every manufacturing company faces.
“How do you get more efficient, more production out of the effort you put into it,” he said. “As long as companies, and the industry moves in that direction, the future will be good.”