Historical Highlights of the GSE Industry

May 19, 2022
As Ground Support Worldwide continues to celebrate its 30th year, we look back at key moments in the industry’s history.

As part our publication's anniversary celebration, we wanted to look back at key moments in the GSE industry. So, we’re revisiting the ground support retrospective article former editor Steve Smith wrote in 2013. Take a look at this brief sampling of various GSE milestones and be sure to read Steve’s comprehensive article in its entirety at www.AviationPros.com/10863157.

1705 – The Goldhofer family starts a forge in Amending, Germany.

1860 – What eventually will become the TLD Group begins with a silk-weaving business in Lyon, France.

1902 – Wilbur Wright becomes the world’s first ramp agent as Orville Wright took off from the sand at Kill Devil Hills aboard the Wright Flyer into a freezing headwind of 27 miles per hour and flew about 35 yards.

1917 – C.C. Hobart, along with his wife, Lou Ella, and their three sons, Edward, Charles and William, start what will become Hobart Brothers. The company gets it start making generators, metal office furniture and air compressors. Within 10 years, it becomes a powerhouse in the welding industry, but the company's entry into GSE has to wait another four decades.

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.

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.

1935 – E.P. “Ed” Grime starts the Malabar Machine Co. as a machine shop for making items from customer drawings. Grime proves to have a keen eye. 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. As a result of all this aircraft, we finally begin to see a real market for GSE. We start recognizing more names of well-known manufacturers:

For example, the Northwestern Motor Company – the “NMC” of NMC-Wollard – introduces a tow tractor. During the war, Stewart & Stevenson builds hundreds of tractors and self-propelled bomb ordnance loaders for the 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, Ohio, gets its start selling most of its production to the military fighting World War II. The David Clark Co., a company that gets it start by making girdles and bras, the company begins specializing protective equipment.

1945-1959 – Commercial aviation starts to take off. By this time, a host of international GSE manufacturers are well on their way to building specialized equipment for commercial aviation.

Hobart Brothers sets up Hobart Ground Power after American Airlines asks the company to design a generator to start larger aircraft engines. Wilt and Violet Paulson start the Willamette Aircraft and Engine Co., which later becomes better known as LEKTRO. Davis Taylor builds an electric-powered cart. Fred Dunn joins Davis Taylor’s business in 1951, and later the company changes its name to Taylor-Dunn Manufacturing Co. Garsite, LLC starts manufacturing aircraft refuelers, hydrant dispensers, fuel delivery trucks, above-ground fuel storage tanks, aviation fueling systems and vacuum pumper trucks. Jim Kaplan starts Harlan Corp. to rent and rebuild lift trucks.

The first passenger bridges in the United States were installed at San Francisco International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in 1959.

1960 – FMC Corporation’s engineers start building some of the first deicer vehicles that used aerial devices to spray aircraft.

Clyde W. Olson starts Clyde Machines Inc. and begins making hydraulic motors for tampers used by utility companies. Full production of GSE begins shortly thereafter.

1962 – Richard Stern and Yves Helleboid form Devtec to distribute and service GSE outside of the United States. Much later, Devtec becomes TLD Asia and TLD America.

1963 - U.S. Airmotive GSE begins providing a full line of GSE parts and supplies for the industry.

1968 – Robert Watkins starts General Transervice Inc., an airport refueler maintenance company at PHL. GTI goes on to develop the Rampmaster, a modular design that simplifies maintenance by separating the truck from the fuel tank.

1969 – Eagle Tugs introduces its bobtail cargo tractor, a model still in production.

1970 – Robert Smith buys Estex from the founder’s widow. Smith, having grown up near the Atlanta Airport, figures the company’s product line could expand into the aviation industry. Products include baggage cart side curtains.

The Dana Corp.’s flight department starts Danair. It first products were towbars for corporate jets. Danair is sold in 1980 and becomes Tronair.

1972 – SAGE Parts opens to distribute parts and service throughout the world for the GSE industry.

1973 – TUG Manufacturing Corp. is founded.

1975 – David Clark Co. introduces the first headset specifically designed to provide hearing protection for pilots providing clear, isolated reception and transmission at normal voice levels inside noisy aircraft.

1979 - Jim Watkins starts WASP, Inc. (Watkins Aircraft Support Products) in Alexandria, MN, specializing in non-motorized GSE.

1987 – Matt Sheehan starts AERO Specialties, a manufacturer and distributor of new and used GSE throughout the world.

1990s – George Prill starts GSE Today.

TLD creates its GSE division and acquires TracMa, Albret Industrie, Erma, Devtec (in the United States and in Asia) and Lantis. By the end of the decade, TLD decides to specialize in GSE and sells its aeronautical equipment division.

Patrick G. O’Brien starts MCM Engineering Inc. O'Brien was the Chief Engineer for well-known GSE companies such as Hobart Brothers, Devtec (now TLD) and McCormick-Morgan before starting MCM.

Premier Engineering & Manufacturing Inc. enters the deicing arena initially servicing the line of deicers that Premier's founder Jerry Derusha helped build out of engineering school.

Alan J. Janis and Bruce K. Wayne open J&B Aviation Services Inc. The company initially capitalizes on its design for 400 Hz cable assembly, but expands extensively in other GSE, including PCA, baggage chutes and air-starts.

Air T buys the Simon Deicer division from Terex and subsequently renames the company Global Ground Support LLC.

2000 – Illinois Tool Works creates the ITW GSE Ground Services division, which brings together Hobart Ground Power, AXA Power, Trilectron Industries and Air-a-Plane, and, finally, J&B Aviation.

2006 – ColumbusJACK acquires Regent Manufacturing.

2008 – John Bean Technologies Corporation (JBT Corporation) is formed, and becomes a publicly listed company on the New York Stock exchange.

2009 - Velcon founder Lu Taylor’s son, Dave, and grandson, Chase, sell company and launch Petroleum Equipment Aviation Refueling.