The History Of Ground Support Equipment

Ground Support Worldwide turns 20 years old with this issue. With one birthday in mind, we decided to take a look at many more GSE birthdays and celebrate some of the names behind the brand-names.


Meanwhile, the farmer could lend an extra hand with his tractor. Which, of course, is why even to this day, we refer to an aviation towing vehicle as a “tractor.”

Farm tractors prove a reliable source for aircraft towing throughout most the early days of aviation.

Meanwhile, James L. Entwistle, electrical engineer and MIT prof, starts the Entwistle Co.

1923 – Clark Tructractor Co., better known today as forklift manufacturer, Clark Material Handling Co., builds the Duat tow tractor to pull trailer loads of lumber, freight and industrial material. This workhorse, shown on page 15 could be a distant relative to today’s vehicles.

1926 – The American Brattice Cloth Corp. opens and sells flame-proof cloth cut to order for the mining industry. Some 60 years later, ABC Industries is known for ducting materials and other GSE products.

Godtfred Vestergaard starts his business at his home outside Copenhagen, Denmark. The company’s original product is an aluminum mold for constructing mattresses. Later, the company starts making lifts for a university.

1928 – Two years after founding Kato Engineering, owners Elmer Jensen and Louis Wilkinson hire Cecil Jones who develops a rotary converter that lets rural families operate AC appliances with DC storage batteries.

1929 – Regent Manufacturing sets up shop.

1933 – J.C. Gorman and H.E. Rupp, two engineers out of work during the Great Depression, begin making pumps in a barn outside of Mansfield, OH. Their competitors ridicule their first line of “non-clogging” pumps. The company goes on to report $359 million in sales for 2011.

Clifford Hannay starts out with a few lathes and establishes what will become Hannay Reels. Company remains owned and managed by the 4th generation of the Hannay family.

1935 – E.P. “Ed” Grime starts the Malabar Machine Co. making items from customer drawings. In just a few years, Lockheed asks Grime to build the first tripod jacks specifically for aircraft.

1939-1945 – Aviation has an enormous impact on the course of World War II and the war has just as significant an impact on aviation. The United States has 3,600 military aircraft when Hitler marches into Poland in 1939. By the end of the war, U.S. military aircraft production reaches nearly 300,000 – turning out more than 96,000 aircraft at peak production in 1944.

Of course, the whole world is arming itself. As a result of all this aircraft, we finally begin to see a real market for GSE or, as the U.S. military refers to it to this day, the “forgotten enabler.”

We start recognizing more names of well-known manufacturers:

  • The Northwestern Motor Company – the “NMC” of NMC-Wollard – introduces a tow tractor.
  • During the war, Stewart & Stevenson builds hundred of tractors and self-propelled bomb ordnance loaders for the U.S. Air Force.
  • Hobart Brothers produces 100,000 welders and 45,000 generators to support the war receiving the Army/Navy E Award for its efforts.
  • Columbus Jack of Columbus, OH, gets its start selling most of its production to the military fighting World War II (and later the Korean War).
  • Ford, as just an example of other automotive makers, bulks up its 9N tractor with cast-iron. Approximately 10,000 of these tractors dubbed Moto-Tugs see duty.
  • By this time John Bean’s company was known as FMC (“Food Machinery Corp.”). In 1941, FMC designed and built amphibious landing craft. While not GSE, the contract helped the company gain a foothold in the military GSE market.

The David Clark Co. provides one of the more interesting stories in the aviation industry at this point. The company’s first products are griddles and bras, but by the war years it specializes in pressurized suits for the Air Force and, later, space suits for all NASA missions. (The company also made the suit Felix Baumgartner used last October to jump from 24 miles above the earth.)

1945-1959 – Commercial aviation starts to take off. By this time, a host of international GSE manufacturers begin building specialized equipment:

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