Walter Henry Willcox and the First Wire-Bound Hose
Hose and hose technology have come a long way since Walter Henry Willcox established his firm in 1876 on the south bank of London selling fasteners and hoses. The first “wire-bound hose” was advertised in January 1888, when The National Geographic Society was established in Washington D.C. along with Marvin Stone patenting the first wax drinking straw in the USA.
A few miles north in London, the hot bed of hose technology was developing with the establishment of The United Flexible Metallic Tubing Company in 1890 whose owner Frederick Walton had acquired the rights to make hose from Eugene Levasseur who established the process in 1885, the same year Oklahoma was established as a state of the union and the US Mint stopped issuing gold coins and the three cent piece.
Mr. Willcox continued adding to his business with the addition of oil handling and selling in bulk in 1899.
At the turn of the century a young American meteorologist by the name of Weston Fulton also saw the need for flexibles and developed and patented his own design of seamless bellows in 1904 in The State of Tennessee. Fulton used to work for the Weather Bureau (as it was named for the time) and he conducted numerous weather experiments. While he reviewed the effects of lightning on the atmosphere, Fulton designed a seamless metal container that could trap vapor while allowing for its expansion and contraction as the pressure changed. He called this new container the “sylphon,” after the Norse Goddess of Weather.
Fulton obtained the financial backing from businessman John Scruggs Brown, he launched The Fulton Company to market sylphon-based products. One of the company’s first successful products was a damper regulator for water boilers that used a sylphon to automatically adjust the damper position as the temperature changed. The early automobile thermostats also used sylphons for actuation. By 1940, over 50 millions sylphons had been sold in the USA.
When The United Kingdom entered what was to become “The Great War” in 1914, Mr. Willcox was selling engineers’ stores that included cylinder and lubricating oils, hand-sewn leather belting, pumps, injectors, lubricators, packing, oil filters and tube cleaning apparatus. But he still loved and promoted his patented wire reinforced hose.
The United Flexible Metallic Tubing Company took over a former Grout and Baylis crape factory in 1894 and established a manufacturing facility on the outskirts of London in the town of Ponders End, where they proudly advertised, as illustrated in the following ad,
In the late 1920s, the Fulton Sylphon Company began operating as a subsidiary of the Reynolds Metal Company.
During the 1930’s, Willcox began publishing catalogs of their engineering supplies and developed them to be the bible for engineers worldwide.
During World War Two and the Japanese invasion of Burma, the natural rubber supply was cut off to the rest of the free world, so Mr. Wilcox’s wire reinforced hose was much in demand for the transferring of oils and petroleum products.
The Ponders End factory was struck by an aerial land mine in 1941 and then again damaged by a V1 Flying Bomb in 1944, so additional factories were established in Finsbury Park and at Long Eaton, Derbyshire under the name of The Power Flexible Tubing Co. Ltd supplying hose assemblies for the aircraft manufacturing based in the north of England during WWII.
The Fulton Company manufactured sylphons for the Norden bombsight used in thousands of B-17 Flying Fortresses during WWII that was deemed to be so secret that it should not fall into enemy hands.
During 1944 in Sweden, Carl “Charlie” Jacobsson established a business in the Stockholm suburb Hammarby, which he later moved to his family location in Knivsta outside of Stockholm in the early 1950’s. At the same time PTFE as material was first commercial available in Europe in 1953. At this time Habia AB is established and Charlie begins to extrude PTFE tubing.
Around 1959 he started as well the manufacturing of cables using fluoropolymers as core materials. This business was started in a new business unit besides the tubing extrusion.
Also after WWII, Pierre Couve created Covre Compoflex with its manufacturing facility at an old cotton mill in the north of England in the village of Delph, Lancashire. While in the south, The United Flexible Metallic Tubing Company had created the brand of “PowerFlex®” within its Ponders End factory to manufacture precision bellows, expansion joints and assemblies.
In 1947, several Reynolds subsidiaries merged to form Robert Shaw Controls and the Fulton factory operated as the Fulton Sylphon Division of this company for several decades.
In 1959 Habia and AGA developed the first PTFE high Pressure Gas hose for usage at gas filling plants. Before those hoses were made from metallic. The new design made from PTFE increased durability, flex life and improved chemical resistance.
As sales grew in the 1960’s additional Habia companies were created to focus on the expanding medical tubing and cabling businesses. Habia Cable AB was founded in 1965 and the medical tubing extrusion was outsourced into Habia OY which was founded 1971 on the Åland Islands between Sweden and Finland.
In 1969, the UK publically traded engineering holding company, TI (Tube Investments) purchased and consolidated The United Flexible Metallic Tubing Company and its offspring, PowerFlex and Compoflex to create “TI Flexible Tubes” (“TIFT”). TI was famous for its rigid tubing from its inception in 1919 when Accles and Pollock was purchased and with Reynolds Tubes in the 1930’s. With the consolidation of the British bicycling manufacturing industry all coming under TI control and lastly with Raleigh in 1960. Reynolds Tubes and Raleigh bicycles helped provide wins for 35 Tour de France victories up to 1980.
With the infusion of investment and resources, TIFT subsidiaries spread worldwide to include TIFT, Inc (Houston and New Jersey), TIFT Canada (Brampton), TIFT France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia and Japan.
TIFT Limited at its Ponder End factory was innovative in creating new corrugating machinery that enabled its precision welded stainless steel corrugated flexible metallic hose to be manufactured at high speed making thousands of metres hourly for its “Superpowerflex®” or Type UNM product, which is today’s UFBX product manufactured in long length on drums for ease of handling, transportation and assembly.
TIFT Limited at its Delph factory that had manufactured and sold worldwide its range of large diameter marine hose assemblies such as Oilmaster® and Chemiflex® then developed its first LNG Cryoflex® 200 transfer hose in 1973.
This Cryoflex® 200 product was tested extensively at Shell Research Centre in Thorton, Cheshire as well as full scale field trials at the Shell Oil Lumet Terminal in Brunei Darussalam. These trials included the use of 8”, 10” and 20” diameter hose assemblies pressurized with LNG at – 196C.
PowerFlex developed its first Inconel bellow for gas lift valves and went to manufacture thousands.
1983 Habia OY with the medical tubing development was sold to new ownership.
In 1986, the British engineering firm Siebe purchased Robert Shaw and used the Fulton plant to manufacture car parts
In the late 1980’s TI decided to focus on enhancing its core activities and sell off non-core businesses. In 1988, TI acquired Titeflex; a flexible hose manufacturer based in Massachusetts and consolidated its TIFT, Inc operations from Houston and New Jersey to Titeflex. In 1989, TI then sold “TIFT” and many of its overseas subsidiaries to Senior Engineering PLC which had a metallic hose manufacturing facility based in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, to create Senior TIFT.
Senior TIFT operations were re-introduced in the USA at a shared Senior site in New Jersey between 1989 and 1992 where composite hose was first produced in the USA re-investing to it’s largest market.
As the 1990’s began, Siebe began selling off its American holdings, and the Fulton factory was purchased by financier Robert Greaves. Inspired by the factory’s original owner, Greaves named the new company Fulton Bellows, which continues to manufacture seamless metal bellows today. Whereas Senior saw opportunities in the automotive market to supply flexible assemblies with the development of a “global car” platform by Ford. Senior submitted a design that would have been produced on hundreds of thousands of vehicles with the same engineering platform, however Ford rejected their design and accepted the American manufacturer, Flexonics, design instead.
The Flexonics forerunner was established in 1902 as “The Chicago Tubing and Braiding Company” with its chief product being a gas tight flexible hose for use in gas heating and gas street lighting.
By 1992, Flexonics had acquired several businesses and one of them in the 1980’s which was Dearborn Industrial Products.
When Senior Engineering PLC purchased Flexonics in February 1992 they thus acquired interest into Dearborn Industrial and access to the distribution market. However the distribution market was not part of Senior’s manufacturing model and moved the distribution entity into the manufacturing world while shedding its distribution ties by creating Hose Division in 1997.
This new “Hose Division” would reside in a new custom built facility in Romeoville, IL providing bulk hose manufacturing along with metal, composite and fluoropolymer custom hose assemblies.
Senior began a series of acquisitions in the mid 1990’s that included the purchasing of Jackson Industries located in Chicago in 1996 along with Habia Teknofluor AB in Sweden. In 1999, Willcox Composite Hose located in Houston Texas was purchased and added to the existing TIFT-Compoflex composite hose product range. Senior also consolidated factories with the closure of the Compoflex factory at Delph, the Ponders End and Willcox factories consolidating at their factory at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.
At the same time in 1998 Habia Teknofluor invested in the machined parts unit and moved it into a separate factory in Uppsala to meet the growth in this business unit especially with ABB and Tetra Pak, 2 large global players buying these engineered PTFE parts from Habia since many years back.
The created space in the main factory in Knivsta is used from Habia to facilitate the braiders for the high pressure hose business unit.
Senior Flexonics Inc., Hose Division now had a factory in Houston where the US produced Willcox Hose was manufactured to serve as a hub to service the southern parts of the country.
Once again, the holding company decides to focus on its core activities and in 2004, Senior sold Senior Flexonics (Hose Division in the USA) along with the European hose companies located in the UK (Merthyr Tydfil), The Netherlands (Rotterdam), France (Cergy Pontoise) and Sweden (Stockholm) to a private equity company called The American Industrial Acquisition Company. Senior Flexonics , Hose Division was re-named to be “US Hose Corp” and the European companies, AmniTec (“Amni”, Latin for downstream and tec for technology).
With the history, heritage, hose manufacturing technology and “can do attitude”, US Hose Corp was selected from others by Boeing Aerospace in 2011 to develop and supply hose assemblies for NASA in The International Space Station.
In the same year 2011 Habia Teknofluor AB received the first external approval for their flexible gas hose oxygen and acetylene, which were developed together with AGA / Linde and introduced globally through AGA / Linde and Air Liquide in their gas bottle filling stations. The approvals were made by French CTE in Paris.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA required oxygen and nitrogen to be recycled and recharged on board the ISS instead of being delivered. These hose assemblies were an essential part of the “NORS” (Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System) and would operate at 6,000 psi (414 bar). Before the delivery of these hoses to the ISS, the astronaut, Terry Virts, former commander of the Shuttle Endeavor Mission STS-130 visited the Romeoville factory in April 2013 to view manufacturing, assembly and testing requirements of these hoses.
At the end of 2014, US Hose Corp and its sister companies AmniTec and Habia were sold to new owners, Arlington Capital Partners of Virginia.
During 2015 the company reviewed its product offerings and decided to provide a more united front with consolidated product offerings. A unified sales team will sell all products worldwide under a consolidated marketing banner of “United Flexible” in 2016.