Colonial Machine Co. in Kent is celebrating 65 years of growth and change, starting with a humble basement machine shop on North Water Street that evolved into today’s 30,000-square-foot high-tech manufacturing facility at the corner of Mogadore Road and Cherry Street.
The company recently held its 65th Anniversary Banquet at the Rusty Nail for both current and former employees. In addition to handing out service awards, the company also distributed profit-sharing checks – continuing a Colonial tradition started in the 1950s.
Matt Metcalf, Colonial CEO, shared the company’s history:
In 1944 brothers Dr. Vic Yahner and Blaise Yahner, along with John Stehle, started a company known as the Kent Plastic Mold and Die Co. In the early days the company was a three-man operation that specialized in machining castings and bar stock items for local manufacturers.
The business operated in the basement of Dr. Yahner’s professional building located in downtown Kent on North Water Street between Star of the West Mill and Hometown Bank. If you drive by now, it will stand out as the storefront that is not quite parallel to the street, currently the home of the Franklin School of Dance.
While the machine shop operated out of the basement, the office activities were located above on the second floor, with the dental practice continuing on street level.
Going from the shop to or from the office was a quick and easy run up or down a fire escape. At least it was easy in the summer, as the first person to make the trip on winter days had to worry about the icicles that would form on the steps and sometimes block the door. A hammer was hung outside during the winter and the first to visit the office each day would have to knock some of the large icicles away just to get the door open.
On Jan. 15, 1947, the company was incorporated and a year later the name was changed to Colonial Machine Co. The following month, Colonial purchased a Sidney lathe, a Racine Power Saw, a Hammond Grinder and a Delta Disc Sander that provided decades of service for the company. The machines paused only when Dr. Yahner was performing a delicate dental procedure upstairs and didn’t want the building to shake.
In the late 1940s Dr. Yahner’s neighbor, George Beckwith, became unhappy with his job at Gougler Industries and quit. Upon hearing this, Vic Yahner offered the job of running Colonial to Beckwith, who accepted and joined as a business partner.
Beckwith quickly became an asset to the company as he started charging many customers, whereas the overly kind Blaise Yahner liked to do many of the jobs as favors for local friends.
As the company grew, more space was needed so land was purchased at the corner of Mogadore Road and Cherry Street. Ground was broken in 1951 and Colonial soon had a new home. The original building consisted of a small machine bay with a wooden roof, offices and a narrow engineering department above the offices.
It was during the 1950s that Vic Yahner had the idea of profit sharing and, when the year permitted, would issue bonus checks – a tradition that still is followed today.
The late 1960s brought more growth. In 1966 an assembly bay was added. In 1968, a machine bay and new offices were built. A year later, a larger engineering department was added above the new offices. In 1974, the additions were complete with the construction of a bay that holds Colonial’s EDM machines.
Over the years, employees Ken Wertz, Roy Metcalf and Jim Rankin became Colonial’s majority stockholders.
Wertz had started working for Colonial part-time while an undergraduate student at Kent State University in 1950. He retired in January 1993 after 43 years of service, including 31 years as president.
After Wertz’s retirement, Metcalf and Rankin bought the company, serving as CEO and president, respectively.
Both men retired with over 40 years of service, Rankin in 2002 and Metcalf in 2009. Their sons, Kent residents Mike Rankin and Matt Metcalf, assumed their father’s roles when each retired. Both had begun working for the company in the early 1990s.
Today, Colonial Machine is housed in a 30,000-square-foot building – still at the corner of Mogadore Road and Cherry Street. While the founding staff was just a handful of people, today Colonial boasts “a skilled group of 40 craftsmen and engineers.”
As a major supplier of molds for housewares, appliances, business machines, food handling, industrial products, pipe fittings, electrical fittings and automatic unscrewing items, Colonial has achieved “leading-edge efficiency” with its state-of-the-art CAD/CAM systems.
Manufacturing simple to complex single- and multi-cavity molds ranging in sizes up to 12 tons, the company reports it is committed to continually improving technology to meet the tight tolerances of its customers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America.