The Move to Fort Wayne, Indiana
Leonard remained with Crosley Radio Corporation for seven years, before deciding to leave his position in charge of Test Construction to pursue an Assistant Manager position with Magnavox Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Magnavox was another well-known electronics company, so the move to Indiana seemed, at the time, to be a beneficial career move. While at Magnavox, Leonard became fascinated with the concept of producing component parts for radios instead of larger, overall systems and began to look into starting his own coil company. Until then, he had been building electronic instruments and volt meters, but these larger systems were hard to produce in large quantities. The components—coils—that made up the meters could easily be mass produced as more and more technology was emerging. And so in 1941, Leonard began working on his coil business at home.
The Start of Clippard Instrument Laboratory
The U.S. had newly entered the war against Nazi Germany and the military had begun calling on civilians to contribute to the war effort. Being blind in his right eye, Leonard was classified as 4-F and was unable to join the military. Because of this, he expanded on his interest in component parts and began making small coils for war walkie talkie radios out of his home after work. During the day he would perform his typical duties at Magnavox, and in the evenings he and a couple neighbor ladies would sit around the table winding coils. Harriet diverted the attention of curious young Buck and Pat from the operations at the table, saying to them, "Don't bother the nice ladies. Dad is starting a business."
Longing to strike out on his own, Leonard relocated his family back to Cincinnati in 1943, after spending only 18 months in Indiana. Cincinnati had been home to Harriet and Leonard, the place where they had started their family, and, due to being recognized as the machine tool capital of the world, it was also a gold mine for manufacturing. Its central location was also ideal—80% of the U.S. population was within a day's drive. Cincinnati was the logical choice. With just a few household tools and $11.45 in the bank after paying his moving expenses, Leonard rented an old, dilapidated storeroom in Northside, where he planned to live and work full-time until Clippard Instrument Laboratory got off the ground.
For six months, Leonard worked out of the storeroom, just a few feet away from he and his family slept. With the help of Harriet, 11-year-old Buck, and five-year-old Pat, he made due with the resources he had to get his business started. He made workbenches and coil-winding machines by hand and started building inventory with his first hired employee, Mickey Deters. One of their first projects was what he referred to in a letter as a "small job of instrument work for a New Jersey firm."
Chase Street Facility
While in Northside, Harriet tried her best to make the most of the small living quarters they shared with the new business. One way she did this was by arranging the furniture in such a way as to divide the wall-less area into rooms. Walls were a small sacrifice the family made during those first six months. The building had only one toilet and one sink that was shared between the family and the nearly ten employees Leonard hired in their short time there. With a workforce quickly outgrowing the storeroom, Leonard moved the business to a larger store facility on Chase Street in 1944, and subsequently rented a furnished apartment in which to live.
A Top-Secret War Project
A sense of constant awareness blanketed the country during World War II. Every able citizen and business did their part to contribute. One of Leonard's Crosley acquaintances, George Platts, went on to become a Commander for the U.S. Navy and was based in St. Louis to work procurement during the war. Having worked with Leonard previously, George knew of his former colleague's talents in design and mechanics. In need of materials and components for the Navy, George sent many of his job requests to Leonard, providing him with supplies, light fixtures, and other materials Leonard needed to complete the work. Along with the job requests for George, Clippard employees were unknowingly involved in making coils for the second most top secret project of World War II—the proximity fuze.
Used for the first time in Normandy on D-Day in five-inch naval guns, the proximity fuze was a small sensing device in the head of an artillery shell that used radio waves to detect when it got within a certain distance to a solid object. Once the fuze reached a distance of about 60 feet of an airplane, ship, or the ground, it detonated, sending razor-sharp shrapnel flying at high velocities over a broad area. Second only to the single most secret project of the war, the atomic bomb, the proximity fuze attributed to many changes in the way war was fought during this time, including eliminating guesswork and increasing the damage of artillery fire. Used first to bombard beaches, the proximity fuze proved increasingly more effective than others because the impact of the shrapnel range was much higher than fuzes that detonated upon impact.
Five companies collaborated on the creation of this project, each manufacturing a different piece, most without knowledge of what the end result would be. Fear of the fuze's design falling into the wrong hands fueled this secrecy, resulting in the device's initial use over water or in the air as to ensure it either detonated or was lost, unable to be recovered intact by enemy forces. Leonard, however, was given special clearance by the government through his ties with Navy Commander Platts and took special, top-secret trips to the Pentagon to discuss the development of the device. In the end, Clippard manufactured coils as well as developed the testing equipment for the proximity fuze. Because there was no secret in the component coils, employees and family members remained unaware of this project until years later when the information was made public in a biography about the Crosley Corporation, which was also involved in the project.
The Late Forties
The war was a challenging time for the start of a business as it not only took many able bodies away from the workforce, but also shifted the focus to manufacturing items specifically for that effort. But this did not stop Clippard from growing. Though the work requests from Commander Platts helped keep Leonard busy, he needed more trained employees. By extending working hours, training people, and providing work to part-time workers from other plants, Leonard was able to take on additional work requests and prove the worth of Clippard to a number of outside contractors. These contractors gave Clippard enough production work to keep moving forward through the end of the war in 1945. In a letter Leonard wrote to attorney Mark Berliant, he says it wasn't until the war ended that Clippard's true opportunity for growth came.
With all the war contract work cancelled, American companies abruptly converted back into civilian mode, and many didn't know what they were going to do. Leonard hit the ground running, personally calling on radio manufacturers who were anxious to get back into regular production. Through these calls, he secured orders for radio frequency coils and started building more equipment to fill his Chase Street plant with the tools necessary to fulfill the orders.
Growing production orders demanded a growing staff. George Platts, who had been providing work to Leonard during the war, was let go from the Navy, along with his assistant Jim Dillon. With nowhere to go, Leonard invited both of them to work for him at Clippard. Up until this point, Leonard was heavily involved in the labor of the business, working alongside his employees as the head engineer, the salesman, the one who built equipment, and the man responsible for signing the checks. While this remained true through his entire career, Leonard also brought in key players who had strengths in areas where he was weaker, beginning with these two men. Where Leonard's key strengths were in building and engineering, George was a born businessman, and Jim had a knack for purchasing. Combined with Leonard's mechanical talents, Clippard's reach began to expand to more and more companies in need of coils.
The end of the war brought about a shift in the coil market. While radio frequency coils were still a necessity to electronic companies in 1949, TV started making its way on the scene at this time as well. Still a new technology, TV sets consisted of a large wooden box filled with dozens of tiny coils and other components. Big-name electronics companies such as RCA, Magnavox, Sylvania, Motorola, and General Electric soon became Clippard customers with large orders of coils.
Bank Street Facility
In 1946, with a staff of over 40 employees, the Cincinnati operation outgrew their facility on Chase Street and moved to a larger, old meat packing factory on Bank Street, which provided for current and future growth needs. Still young, the Clippard children were allowed to roam the factory while Leonard and Harriet worked. Buck and his friends spent many afternoons hunting rats in the basement when he wasn't sweeping the floors for extra cash.
1948 Employee Strike
When trying to capture the history of Clippard, it is important to have a record of the events that helped to forge a vibrant culture, despite how dark those events may have been. As the U.S. came out of the Great Depression and WWII, job growth and wages were naturally on the rise, as was the average wage for Clippard's staff. Unions approached Clippard employees and convinced many that their assembly wages should be the same as a machinist, despite the technical ability, training, or education. On November 31, 1948, 150 assemblers went on strike until December 12, 1948.
Sturgis, Kentucky Plant opens in 1949
In the wake of the strike, Leonard worried about the exposure to the Machinist Union, considering that the company was based in the capital of the machine tool world. He began exploring options to open another facility and settled on Sturgis, a small town in western Kentucky, as the ideal location for the next plant.
The first factory in Sturgis was in an old house until a manufacturing facility became available later that year. The plant remained in operation until 1955 when it was moved to Paris, Tennessee.
The Birth of Miniature Pneumatics
In the manufacturing industry, testing products is key. If a component doesn't work or is ill-produced, it will impact the entire system it's placed in, not to mention dissatisfy the customer. The coil business was no different. Each coil was manufactured with a core that had to be aligned just the right way when installed in order to do a particular job. Clippard had to test to make sure the core in the coils was adjusted and performed appropriately. In order to test this, workers would have to insert the coil into a fixture and connect wires to it—a time-consuming process, as each coil had anywhere from four to eight terminals to connect to. For most of the connections, mechanical needles were placed on specific points of the coil. But these needles weren't reliable in their contact. Bad contact between the needles and a coil skewed the testing results, showing the coil as improperly made even if it wasn't. This was a huge obstacle in the testing process because it not only took time to connect coils to the testing equipment, but it was also an inconsistent, flawed method of testing. When producing hundreds of thousands of products to supply customer demands, Clippard couldn't afford to continue guessing whether or not a coil was bad because of its production or because of the testing connection. So Leonard began devising a better way. Leonard approached the problem with the mindset that the product was good and the general concept for the testing process was good, he just needed a better testing device. He racked his mind for answers to the problem, for how to create a testing device that would make better contact, more consistently, and in less time. In 1949, he found the solution. Cylinders on each corner of the device, driven by air, would power the needles enough to make good contact with the coil and would save time by automating the tedious connections. It was an ingenious idea, but the solution carried with it a catch—where would he find tiny air cylinders?
Pneumatic air cylinders existed, but even the smallest, measuring over one-inch in diameter, was too big and too powerful to put in the device. The force from the stroke length would crush the coil. Leonard was interested in the coils and improving the testing process for that product—he wasn't interested in building pneumatics. However, in pursuit of this, he designed the air cylinder he wanted and began searching for someone to make it. Every manufacturer he approached told him it wouldn't work, that what he wanted was too small. They weren't interested in the "midgets," as they called them. Leonard was left with no other option than to make the cylinder himself. And thus, the first miniature pneumatic cylinder was born.
The original product was nothing more than a brass tube with a piston rod and a leather seal, but it did the job he needed it to do. When put on the testing device, the cylinders made perfect contact with the coil every time, thus enhancing the reliability of the process. The cylinders also reduced time for the tester because a foot pedal activated the cylinders, making the process semi-automatic. Formerly known as the MAC-385—now known as the 3PS-1/2—this was the first miniature rolled construction air cylinder to ever be built. A brass ferule allowed a hose to slip on the tube at the end. Leonard preferred to use a threaded connection, but no standard pipe fittings were small enough for the cylinders, so he developed the #10-32 port to fit it, another industry first. Miniature cylinders used small amounts of air, but the air valves commercially available at the time were also all too large, so Leonard developed a small 3-way valve using the new #10-32 ports. At the time, it did not even occur to him that he had created a whole new world of possibilities for pneumatic technology.