When Pony Express rider Eli Hendrick trekked across the countryside in the 1840s, it is likely that his mind was on more than the mail.
History shares that the young Hendrick disliked the cold, nearly frozen waters and decided that delivering mail from horseback was not his bailiwick.
But what did become this young entrepreneur’s forte was oil and metal.
The latter led to the development in 1876 of Carbondale’s largest employer: Hendrick Manufacturing Company.
On Manufacturing Day October 7th, Hendrick will celebrate its 140th anniversary, recognized as one of only 400 American companies founded before 1876 that remains in business today.
Regarded as a colorful, naturally curious, and quite brilliant man, Hendrick’s mind was always on the distant horizon, looking for something more, seeking something just beyond one’s usual vision.
Born in 1832, the Michigan native apprenticed as a wood turner and tried his hand at various trades. By the early 1860s, Hendrick relocated to the Pennsylvania Oil Region and began experimenting with lubricating oils.
At some point, he had purchased an oil ‘formula’ for $10 from a con man. And while the formula was deemed worthless at the time, it led the always-inquisitive Hendrick to develop his own oil formula and start a small refining business.
When lubricating bearings, Hendrick claimed that less oil was needed with his own proprietary formula in order to accomplish the same result as with other oil lubricants.
Hendrick moved on to Carbondale with its anthracite coal fields, mines, and the gravity railroads.
Here, the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company and the Pennsylvania Coal Company proved to be good customers, as Hendrick’s oil quickly became a favorite lubricant, pushing his company’s daily oil production to more than 800 barrels.
Here, too, Hendrick also produced Galena Signal Oil, an extra-fine kerosene used for railway lighting.
By 1869, Hendrick patented his ‘plumboleum,’ a gearbox lubricant made of lead oxide and mineral oil that remained a core ingredient in automotive lubricants for 75 years.
In 1877, Hendrick’s lubricating-oil patent caught the interest of J.D. Rockefeller and was sold to the Standard Oil Company (today’s Exxon Corporation).
This resulted in Hendrick signing a 10-year management and consulting contract with Standard Oil, enabling him to develop other businesses.
Throughout his lifetime, Hendrick developed more than 25 patents, dealing with everything from refrigeration, drying gunpowder, recovering paraffin, to sewing needles and bobbins, and various manufacturing tools.
Commencing in the latter 1800s, Eli Hendrick continually saw ways to improve oil refinement and replaced wire cloth with holes drilled in metal.
Not long after, he began perforating sheet metal and steel products for the coal and oil refining industries.
By the age of 45, Hendrick’s vast imagination, skill and ingenuity, and visionary intellect founded the Hendrick Manufacturing Company of Carbondale PA in 1876, identifying it as the first commercial manufacturer of perforated metal screens.
Initially organized as a limited partnership, by 1902 Hendrick’s was running as a family-owned corporation.
Until his death in 1909, Eli Hendrick oversaw the growth and expansion of his company through related acquisitions that enhanced the creative development and production of perforated metals that reached a wide variety of industries: automotive, paper, and iron, materials handling, construction, floor gratings, and more.
In 1912, Hendrick’s built buoys for shipment to the Panama Canal. During WWII, employees increased to more than 500 as they manufactured components for naval ship anti-aircraft guns, steel decking, and parts for gas masks.
As a result, the company was awarded its first Army-Navy E Award (three subsequent award stars were awarded to Hendrick’s in 1995, one of 776 companies to have earned three stars).
On a personal note, Eli Hendrick supported many local Pennsylvania businesses and was an early investor in Carbondale’s Klots Throwing Company.
Despite his not wanting to take the job, he was elected Mayor of Carbondale in 1893 but never took his salary.
He was also engaged in large-scale farming and fruit growing in California. Descendants of Eli Hendrick ran the company until it was sold to Tennessee banker Michael Drake Sr. in 1994.
Today, Hendrick Manufacturing – best known for its cutting edge in metal solutions – is the oldest perforated metals company in the country while also providing extensive fabricating capabilities.
As a Drake family-owned business, it continues to operate with pride, distinction and integrity, maintaining additional manufacturing sites in Illinois and Kentucky, employing 200 overall, and earning annual sales of $60M.