In the 1920’s, a new industry was emerging in Oklahoma City, a frontier town established by a land run in 1889. You could smell it, and you could see it. It was oil. Oil derricks dotted Oklahoma’s skyline. Each oil derrick needed a cover for the engine that pumped the oil and every drilling rig needed at least one tool shed. Those small buildings were called doghouses. Into this boomtown environment, in 1927, Star Manufacturing Company was born.
The company founder, D. H Rowland, saw the need to supply these doghouses to the oil industry. They were made from angle and galvanized corrugated steel, were standard size and pre-engineered. Mr. Rowland soon established the company’s first location on South Byers Street and started producing Star metal buildings. The market was good, and the company prospered. The product changed in the mid-1930’s. Buildings became larger, but the manufacturing materials and the panel cladding remained much the same. New markets sprang up. Star buildings were used for warehouses and factories. They were fabricated in panel sections that were commonly 8’ by 16’or 20’ long and bolted together in the field. Angle trusses supported the roofs. The truss segments were attached to each other with hot rivets.
Another new market emerged in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Star became a principal producer of aircraft hangars for the central United States during World War II. These structures used a “bowstring” truss with a defined radius and a rounded top appearance. During World War II, Star also produced “Quonset huts,” small pre-fabricated round top buildings. These buildings were mass produced and shipped throughout the Pacific. In 1945, D. H. Rowland sold the company to Bill Voss.
The coming years brought tremendous change. Bill Voss saw a decline in the sectional steel building market and Star’s sales were suffering. In the late 1950’s Bill met Lon Shealy, then assistant sales manager for Inland Steel Buildings. Inland was selling solid web rigid frame buildings, a new concept at the time. Bill Voss became an Inland distributor for the Southwestern United States.
Bill Voss hired Lon Shealy as vice president of sales in 1961, and in 1963 hired Bob Hall, a young engineer from Delta Steel Buildings, as vice president of engineering. These two gentlemen would change the product and the marketing distribution system to what it generally is today.
In 1961, Star Manufacturing Company sold the first solid web rigid frame building with colored rib wall panels to A Welders Supply in Oklahoma City. It was Star job number 61-001. That building is still functional today. Lon Shealy, who retired as Star’s president in 1987, made these comments. “Bill hired me to change the way Star was marketing their product. He wanted to go from a sales/agent type of distribution to a franchised builder/contractor approach. I agreed to come on the condition that I bring Wayne Curran with me.” Wayne, later to become vice-president of sales for Star, set up Star’s builder organization. Lon also stated that Star was among the early members of the Metal Building Manufacturing Association.
Bob Hall, a Star president in the 1970’s and currently a Star Builder in Oklahoma City recently said, “I came to Star to modernize the product design and make it competitive. While at Delta, I developed a computer program to design rigid frames. I brought the program with me to Star. Soon after I arrived, we developed the concept of standard parts.”The 1960s brought rapid growth. A new manufacturing plant and offices were built on South Interstate 35 in 1965. Also in 1965, Jack Taylor, another of Star’s past presidents, was hired from Stran Steel as a design engineer. Jack later commented, “My design tools were a Frieden mechanical calculator and an IBM hand punch card device. We would hand punch design data onto cards, then add these cards to additional program punch cards. The total deck would be 12 to 14 inches deep. Star would send the deck by bus to Tulsa, where we leased computer run time at night from oil companies. We received the runs the next day on return bus. This 20-hour turnaround time was considered very fast.”In 1967, Star opened a second manufacturing plant in Cedartown, Georgia. Star purchased the first of a series of IBM main frame computers in 1968, and runtime was reduced to four hours. Bill Voss merged the company with Woods Industries, a new automobile transport and oil exploration company. The new company was Woods Corporation, and Bill was Vice Chairman. Star would remain a separate company, but was re-named Star Building Systems.
During the 1970’s, Star opened a plant in Homer City, Pennsylvania. Star introduced many new products during these years including roof and wall systems that are still in use today.
The 1980’s saw both growth and the first industry downturn. Star purchased Cuckler Steel Buildings in 1986 and the Monticello, Iowa, and Turlock, California, plants made a total of five Star plants. The Oklahoma City plant was closed during the downturn, but the 60,000 square-foot office space and the research and development laboratory were retained. During these years, Star introduced its first computerized builder pricing system. It ran on a Radio Shack TRS 80. The Star Builder System, as it was named, went through years of development and set the standard in the industry.
The 1990’s again brought new ownership. Star was purchased by H. H Robertson Company, which later merged with Ceco Industries, and became Robertson-Ceco Corporation. Mike Heisley became an investor in the corporation. He continued to purchase stock until 1999, when he bought all remaining shares and took the company private.
Jack Taylor was appointed president of Star in 1994. He asked Joe Edge, Star’s current President of International Sales, to search for a new plant location in the East that would be close to major markets. A 250,000 square foot plant was opened in Elizabethon, Tennessee, in 2000. Mike Heisley instructed Star’s manufacturing design group to make it the most modern and labor efficient plant in the industry. The plant’s laser cutters and material handling systems were new innovations in our industry. The Iowa and California plants now utilize the same type of equipment.
Jack Taylor said to the attendees at the 2002 National Sales Meeting, “Thanks to a builder oriented philosophy, a management team that grew up in this business, and the greatest builders in the world, Star continues to grow and prosper. 2001 was a down year for practically every other metal building manufacturer. However, during this time Star increased its volume by 7% and its market share by almost 40%. Jack retired in December of 2002 and Joe Edge was appointed President. Joe “grew up” at Star. He began his career as a part-time employee at Star’s Cedartown, GA, plant and worked his way up through the ranks. In his more than 30 years at Star, his many positions have included District Sales Manager, Regional Sales Manager, Customer Service Manager, Quality Director, V.P. of International Sales, V.P. of Sales and Executive Vice President. His vast experience served him well as Star’s President.
In 2006, Robertson-Ceco Corporation was purchased by NCI and Star Building Systems became an NCI Company. Ownership by NCI has resulted in expanded product lines and increased manufacturing capability, enabling Star to meet the market demands in a tough, competitive environment. In November 2018, Ply Gem Building Products and NCI Building Systems merged together to become the single largest manufacturer of exterior building products in North America. Since 1984, NCI Building Systems has grown through strategic mergers and acquisitions. Now part of Cornerstone Building Brands, the organization continues to design, manufacture and deliver a comprehensive range of products for the commercial construction industry—from metal coatings to components, and from insulated metal panels to engineered building systems. Moving forward, the NCI Building Systems brand name will be replaced by Cornerstone Building Brands.
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