Rockwell International

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Rockwell International
Type Conglomerate
  • Division sold
  • Split to several companies
Founded1919 by creation of automotive component company and organic growth, later acquisitions and then ultimate 1973 merger
United States  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Rockwell B-1 Lancer 28thog-b1-b-2.jpg
Rockwell B-1 Lancer

Rockwell International was a major American manufacturing conglomerate in the latter half of the 20th century, involved in aircraft, the space industry, both defense-oriented and commercial electronics, light and heavy vehicle components in the automotive industry, printing presses, avionics, power tools, valves and meters, and industrial automation. Rockwell International's predecessor was founded in 1919 by Willard Rockwell. At its peak in the 1990s, Rockwell International was No. 27 on the Fortune 500 list, with assets of over $8 billion, sales of $27 billion and 115,000 employees.



Predecessor companies

Boston-born Willard Rockwell (1888–1978) made his fortune with the invention and successful launch of a new bearing system for truck axles in 1919. He merged his Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based operation with the Timken-Detroit Axle Company in 1928, [1] rising to become chairman of its board in 1940.

In 1945, Rockwell Manufacturing Company acquired Delta Machinery and renamed it the Delta Power Tool Division of Rockwell Manufacturing Company and continued to manufacture in Milwaukee. [2] In 1966, Rockwell invented the world's first power miter saw. In 1981, Rockwell's power tool group was acquired by Pentair and re-branded Delta Machinery. Pentair's Tools group was acquired by Black & Decker in 2005. [3] Since 1994, Rockwell power tools are now manufactured by Positec Tool Corporation

In 1956, Rockwell Manufacturing Co. bought Walker-Turner from Kearney and Trecker. In 1957, Walker-Turner operations were closed down in Plainfield, New Jersey and moved to Bellefontaine, Ohio and Tupelo, Mississippi. [4]

Timken-Detroit merged in 1953 with the Standard Steel Spring Company, forming the Rockwell Spring and Axle Company. [1] After various mergers with automotive suppliers, it comprised about 10 to 20 factories in the Upper Midwestern U.S. and southern Ontario, and in 1958 renamed itself Rockwell-Standard Corporation. [1]

Rockwell Commander 114 N6081F Rockwell Commander 114 (26570335562).jpg
Rockwell Commander 114

Pittsburgh-based Rockwell Standard then acquired and merged with Los Angeles-based North American Aviation to form North American Rockwell in September 1967. [5] [6] It then purchased Miehle-Goss-Dexter, the largest supplier of printing presses, [7] and in 1973, acquired Collins Radio, a major avionics supplier. [8]

In 1968, Sterling Faucet Company was bought by Rockwell Manufacturing Co. and it became a subsidiary of the company for the following years. [9]

In 1973, North American Rockwell merged with Rockwell Manufacturing, run by Willard Rockwell, Jr., to form Rockwell International. [6] In the same year, the company acquired Admiral Radio and TV for US$500 million. In 1979, the appliance division was sold to Magic Chef.

Rockwell International also drew on the strengths of several of George Westinghouse's concerns, and Westinghouse is considered a co-founder of the company. [10]

Apex and break-up

With the death of company founder and first CEO Willard F. Rockwell in 1978, and the stepping down of his son Willard Rockwell, Jr. in 1979 as the second CEO, [11] Bob Anderson became CEO and led the company through the 1980s when it became the largest U.S. defense contractor and largest NASA contractor. Rockwell acquired the privately held Allen-Bradley Company for US$1.6 billion in February 1985 – US$1 billion of which was cash – and became a producer of industrial automation hardware and software.

During the 1980s, Anderson, his CFO Bob dePalma, and the Rockwell management team built the company to #27 on the Fortune 500 list. It boasted sales of US$12 billion, roughly US$32 billion in 2019, and assets of over US$8 billion, roughly US$21 billion in 2019. Its workforce of over 115,000 was organized into nine major divisions – Space, Aircraft, Defense Electronics, Commercial Electronics, Light Duty Automotive Components, Heavy Duty Automotive Components, Printing Presses, Valves and Meters, and Industrial Automation. Rockwell International was a major employer in Southern California, northern Ohio, northern Georgia, eastern Oklahoma, Michigan, west Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and western Pennsylvania.

Anderson stepped down as CEO in February 1988, leaving the company to president Donald R. Beall. The completion of the Space Shuttle program and the completion of the B-1 bomber program had led to a decline in revenues, and Beall sought to diversify the company away from government contracts. The end of the Cold War and the perceived "peace dividend", however, prompted accelerated divestitures and sweeping management reforms. From 1988 to 2001 the company moved its headquarters four times: from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [12] where it had been for decades to El Segundo, California to Seal Beach, California to Costa Mesa, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

At the end of the 1980s, the company sold its valve and meter division, formerly Rockwell Manufacturing, to British Tyre & Rubber. Although Rockwell was the #1 Defense and NASA contractor, the "peace dividend" perceived after the fall of the Soviet bloc, led the company to sell its defense and aerospace business, including what was once North American Aviation, the Defense Electronics Division and Rocketdyne, to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in December 1996. In the 1990s, the company spun off its semiconductor products as Conexant Technologies (CNXT), which is publicly traded and based in Newport Beach, California. Rockwell International also spun off its two automotive divisions (light vehicles division and heavy vehicles division) as one publicly traded company, Meritor Automotive, based in Troy, Michigan, which then merged with Arvin Industries to form Arvin Meritor. That company is now known as Meritor, Inc. In 1996, Rockwell International sold Graphic Systems (formerly Miehle-Goss-Dexter), an Illinois-based newspaper and commercial printing press manufacturer, to its internal management team Stonington Partners as part of a new corporation for US$600 million. [13]

In 2001, what remained of Rockwell International was split into two publicly-traded companies, Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Collins, ending the run of what had once been a massive and diverse conglomerate. The split was structured so that Rockwell Automation was the legal successor of the old Rockwell International, while Rockwell Collins was the spin-off.

At the end, the result had been four spin-offs and three sales combined from Rockwell's nine divisions.


The various Rockwell companies list a large number of firsts in their histories, including the World War II-era P-51 Mustang fighter and the B-25 Mitchell bomber, and the Korean War-era F-86 Sabre fighter jet, as well as the Apollo spacecraft, the B-1 Lancer bomber, the Space Shuttle orbiter, and most of the Navstar Global Positioning System satellites.

Rocketdyne, which had been spun off by North American in 1955, was re-merged into Rockwell, and by that time produced most of the rocket engines used in the United States. Rockwell also purchased the Aero Design and Engineering Company from William and Rufus Travis Amis. Rockwell redesigned the company's Aero Commander aircraft, introducing its new design as the Rockwell Commander 112 and Commander 114.

The company developed a desktop calculator based on a MOSFET chip for use by its engineers. In 1967 Rockwell set up its own manufacturing plant to produce them, starting North American Rockwell MicroElectronics Corp. (called NARMEC). This would later become Rockwell Semiconductor. One of its major successes came in the early 1990s when it introduced the first low-cost 14.4 kbit/s modem chipset, which was used in a huge number of modems.

Collins radios were fitted to 80% of the airliners which were based in First World Countries. Collins designed and built the radios that communicated the Apollo moon landings and the high frequency radio network that allows worldwide communication with U.S. military aircraft. Rockwell's Rocketdyne division designed and built the third stage of the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile, and the Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere inertial navigation system that provided its navigation. It also built inertial navigation systems for the fleet of ballistic missile submarines.

In addition to the manufacture of nuclear missiles and bombers, Rockwell also produced key components of the bombs they carried, including plutonium triggers at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado. Rockwell ran the weapons plant from 1975 to 1990.

Rockwell built heavy-duty truck axles and drive-trains in the U.S., along with power windows, seats and locks. The Rockwell Tripmaster trip recording system for commercial vehicles was released along with the Logtrak module for DOT log recording for fleets who successfully petitioned the DOT for paper logbook exemptions. Rockwell also built yachts and business jets and owned large amounts of real estate.

It was also involved in providing custom electronic intelligence equipment to the Imperial Iranian Air Force as part of Project Ibex and paid bribes to the Shah of Iran in order to secure contracts there. [14] [15]


Manned spacecraft

Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery The Discovery Space Shuttle.jpg
Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery

Rocket propulsion (Rocketdyne division)

For a more extensive list, see Rocketdyne engines.


Unmanned aerial vehicles

Research laboratory

Rockwell International had a major research laboratory complex in Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, California. [16] It was founded and built by North American Aviation in 1962, as the North American Science Center. In 1973 it became the Rockwell International Science Center.

The laboratory did independent contract research for the U.S. Government, and also provided research services for the company's business units. It was famous for its research in: advanced materials, particularly ceramics; [17] for its infrared imagers; [18] for its research in liquid-crystal displays; [19] and for its high-speed electronics. [20] The laboratory invented Metalorganic vapour-phase epitaxy (MOVPE), also commonly known as Metal Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD). [21] It also achieved fame in selected areas of information science, notably human-computer interaction, augmented reality, multimedia systems, and diagnostics. [22] Rockwell Science Center led the United States Army Research Laboratory's Advanced Displays Federated Laboratory Consortium in the late 1990s. In 2000, the infrared imaging division of the laboratory moved into a new building in Camarillo, California.

After Rockwell International's breakup in 2001, the laboratory was spun off as a semi-autonomous company called Rockwell Scientific, half owned by Rockwell Collins and half owned by Rockwell Automation. In 2006, the main laboratory and infrared imaging division were sold to Teledyne Corporation. Teledyne made the laboratory complex in Thousand Oaks into its corporate headquarters. A reduced but active research and development operation continues there, under the name Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC. [20]

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Further reading

Primary sources