Hannay Celebrates 80 Years Of Reel Pride

April 17, 2013
Company builds on 80 years of family stewardship, product innovation and customer satisfaction.

Clifford B. Hannay was running a gas station/luncheonette in rural Albany County, NY, in the tough-luck days of 1933, when he had a chance encounter with a local fuel-oil delivery man.

The man was tired of delivering kerosene to his customers in five-gallon cans. What he needed was a pump and a hose installed on his truck. But that mechanical work still didn’t amount to the real dilemma.

No, what the delivery man really needed was a quick way to reel the hose back up after each delivery.

The poor guy had tried and failed to make a hose reel. In fact, he still had the bag full of parts he’d used. So Hannay, who was also an electrician by trade and enjoyed just this sort of challenge, took the bag of parts, and then went off to a junkyard.

There, the inventive Hannay found some other parts from the real axle of Model T and built the first hose reel of the millions the company has produced over the past 80 years.


Drive up New York State Route 143 today, and you can still stop by Hannay’s original shop he made out of the gas station, now turned into a museum in his honor.

Across the two-lane highway, however, is where you’ll find 145 employees of Hannay Reels  Inc., turning out some 80,000 reels a year all made right here near the town of Westerlo, NY, population 300, a farming town now just as much as then.

“It probably was unusual to start a manufacturing business in the Depression,” says Eric A. Hannay, president and CEO of Hannay Reels , “but I’m sure that the my great-grandfather along with many others had an entrepreneurial bent and did what had to be done to earn a living.”

Eric and his sister, Elaine Hannay Gruener, COO, represent the fourth generation to steer the family business.

The "family" business also extends to its employees. With population of the Township of Westerlo at about 3,000, the company is by far the largest employer in the county. And in such a small town environment, Eric says the average length of employment is currently 20 years with a lot of sons working alongside fathers or brothers and brothers and husbands and wives.

"We have a lot of know-how that is hard to replace," Eric says, "so if we know an employee with a great worth ethic has a younger brother or sister, why wouldn't we interview them?" 

While our readers know the company by way of the aviation fueling industry, over the years the company has made hose and cable reels ranging from models small enough to be hand-operated all the up to to reels 14 feet in diameter.

Its full line of product includes air hose reels for pneumatic tools and machinery; water hose reels for washdown, power-washing, potalble water or in-plant fire protection; dual hose reels for oxygen/acetylene welding; hydraulic hose reels for powering tools and machinvery; and hose reels for fuel, antifreeze and off-road lubrication. The company also supplies to the OEM markets for fire protection; liquid petroleum/gas, as well and other refined fuels besides aviation.

The company has always been an advocate of advertising and took part in trade shows as early as the 1930s to promote it work. Exports became of a part of the company's sales by the 1970s. In fact, when the 2 millionth reel came off the assembly line in 2012, it was destined for a shipment to a distributor in Australia.


“But the aviation fueling market helped the company grow in its early years as aviation took off in the 1940s and 1950s,” Eric adds. “And it remains a big part of our business today thanks to the relationships the company made decades ago.”

It also may have helped to win accounts in the aviation fueling business considering that the company was an early proponent of corporate aviation when it bought an Aero Commander in the 1950s.

“That’s been a very important part of keeping in touch with our customers,” Eric says. “Many of our top customers are located in tiny, hard-to-reach towns as well. Travel that could take days going through the Albany airport can be done in just one day.” Currently, the company owns a Beechcraft Premier I purchased in 2007.

While Eric admits there’s only so many ways to make a reel for an industry in which "new" products could mean one that came out 20 years ago, the company continues to refine the reels it offers to companies throughout the world.

For our industry, the company has always offered a stainless steel core for its reels, but now offers other alloys for the reel’s surfaces that stop corrosion. A bearing and swivel joint assembly eliminates pipe thread making the reel easier to service.

Perhaps the most noted advancements are grounding reels that prevent dangrous static electrical build-up in fueling operations.

A non-sparking ratchet, for example, reduces risk of combustion. If the cable is rewound quickly, this feature prevents sparks that can emanate from the rotating metal. Each reel features a declutching arbor that controls cable payout and rewind, ensuring maximum cable control and less time handling the cable. This mechanism automatically locks to hold the cable in place or loosens for rewind or longer payout.

One of the most obvious safety precautions ground support personnel must take can be made even easier through static grounding reels. Using a cable reel increases safety during operations by providing a quick, convenient connection to prevent the buildup of static electricity in volatile areas.

Also, the company has incorporated deadman emergency shutoff systems that prevent major fuel spills and leaks.

Finally, the single-wrap reels, lightweight despite their size, that virtually eliminates the hose from tangling.

“Speed means everything,” Eric says. “Consider how quickly Southwest Airlines wants to turn its planes. The last thing the airline wants is to spend time untangling a hose.”

The company continues to invest in its 200,000 sq. ft. campus that’s grown to 22 buildings over the years.   

Just five years ago, on the heels of its Diamond Anniversary, the company expanded its headquarters by 44,000 sq. ft. to accommodate expanded fabrication, assembly and shipping departments. With 25,000 sq. ft. of shipping and storage space, compared to the previous 7,000 sq. ft., the company greatly increased its production capababilities and ability to deliver products to customers even faster.

Eric mentioned, for example, the company is selling more reels with the hose already attached at the factory. In order to do this before the recent expansion, the reels had to make a perilous journey in and around different buildings by forklift all of which greatly increased the chances of damage.

Now, Eric says, the reels can come right out the ovens and travel directly overhead to another work station, shaving 48 hours off the process of shipping and a hose-and-reel combo to the customer.


1933: Clifford B. Hannay builds his first hose reel thanks to a bag of parts and a trip to the junk yard for others from the rear axle of a Model T.

Clifford originally has a business partner, but the partner later sell his shares for $250 in 1934. The company is renamed Clifford B. Hannay & Son.

1940s: Despite the company name, Clifford actually has two sons, Dwight and George. Dwight was one of the Clifford’s first employees, while George had a career as a tire salesman and later with General Electric before joining the family business. Clifford takes care of the home front, with his wife, Hazel, who helps with book-keeping. The brothers take to the road to promote and sell the company’s products.

1950s: The company purchases an Aero Commander to travel to customers. By this time, the company was producing about 3,600 reels a year.

1960s: Clifford passes away in 1962. Dwight dies in 1965 while flying his helicopter. George forges ahead, and by the mid-1960s, he’s joined by his son, Roger, and Dwight’s son, Robert.

1970s: By this time, exporting becomes more commonplace. Another hot spot for growth is in its Custom Reel Department. Meanwhile, George’s other son, David, develops the company’s first computer programs and brings the company into the computer age. 

1980s: Hannay Reels celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1983. George steps down as president and becomes chairman of the board. Roger A. Hannay becomes president and CEO. Along with Roger, the third generation of family management includes Robert D. Hannay who serves as vice president of marketing, until retiring in 1996,(he passes away in 2005, and David G. Hannay, who continues working with the company as a consultant.

1990s: The fourth generation of family joins the company. Eric A. Hannay joins the company in 1993 as vice president and COO and Elaine Hannay Gruener in 1995 as vice president, marketing and human resources. That same year the company officially changes its name to Hannay Reels Inc., although it had already used that name for marketing purposes for years.

George A. Hannay passes away in 1997.

2000s: The company adds another 44,000 sq. ft. of space for manufacturing and shipping capabilities. Aviation continues to not only be a big market for its reels, but a big part in how the company reaches its customers. In 2007, the company purchases a Beechcraft Premier I.

In 2010, Hannay is named one of America’s 12 Safest Companies by EHS Today magazine – and the smallest company of the bunch. On April 6, 2010, the company’s 2 millionth reel comes off the assembly line destined for shipment to a distributor in Australia.

In 2012, Eric is named president and CEO and Elaine is named COO. Roger steps down as president and CEO but continues to serve the company as chairman of the board.

About the Author

Steve Smith | Editor