A Look at Early Advertising in the Surface Finishing Industry
This article contains a collection of the advertisements published in the July, 1930 issue of Metal Cleaning and Finishing. They capture an instant in time, when the surface finishing industry was quite different from what we find today.
The Table of Contents shows coverage in a variety of surface finishing endeavors, with electroplating quite prominent, with paints, grinding, hot-dip tinning and others also represented. Charles Proctor’s Electroplater’s Handbook feature actually covers a variety of dipping processes for coloring brass. Colored finishes seemed to be in vogue in the 1930s. Despite Henry Ford’s dictum of any color “as long as its black,” there were many fancy cars sporting colors and colored accents (think “Duesenberg” or “Packard”).
Metal Cleaning and Finishing was published monthly by the Iron and Steel Publishing Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. Charles H. Proctor, one of the founders of the American Electroplaters Society (shown lower left), was an associate editor of the
publication. Its subscription price in 1930 was $2 per year. It’s byline read, “devoted to metal cleaning and finishing problems, including washing, tumbling, grinding, sand blasting, polishing, burnishing, plating, coloring, galvanizing,
japanning, lacquering, vitreous enameling, etc.”
It was common practice in those days to offer advertising space on the front cover of many trade magazines. In this case, a familiar name graces the cover, a company that still serves the industry in Chicago today. Here, the determination of sulfate in a chromium bath is determined by barium precipitation, with separation and measurement achieved with a hand-cranked centrifuge. From today’s perspective, one might look askance at safety issues, but in the day, this was state-of-the-art.
In today’s surface finishing technology, substrate cleanliness is critical to performance. In looking through the ads in this issue, cleaning chemicals led the list of product categories. Surface cleanliness was no less critical in those days than it
Paints and lacquers were heavily featured in this journal copy. Despite the impression that the contents were leaning toward electroplating, organic finishes of all types were a major part of the ad portfolio here.
Familiar company supplier names were coming to the fore as the electroplating industry emerged from its early years. In the 1950s and 60s, advances in bright nickel–chromium would spur Udylite’s growth to the point where it once billed itself as “the world’s largest plating supplier.” The technology contributed by this and other major suppliers was pivotal to the industry. The name lives on as its heritage is now part of Enthone – Alent plc.
Another venerable name in the supplier ranks was Harshaw. This ad shows that Harshaw was already looking to innovations in the realm of nickel plating. The company made many contributions to modern plating technology. As with Udylite, the heritage of Harshaw lives on today with the global reach of Atotech.
Just as the trade name Kodak became synonymous with cameras in the 20th century (at least until import competition and the digital revolution arrived), “parkerizing” and “bonderizing” were synomous with phosphate conversion
treatments for surface preparation for paints. The Parker Rust-Proof Company was a going concern early in the game.
Polishing and buffing was an essential operation in any metal finishing operation. The finished surface was only as good as the substrate surface, and the polishing abrasives produced by the Norton Company were well known to practitioners in the industry.
Motor-generators were the technology of choice for plating in the 1930s. Large electric motors were used to drive mechanical DC generators. It would be 20 to
30 more years before rectifier technology reached the point of supplanting motorgenerators in the industry.
In the 1930s, cartoonist Rube Goldberg entertained folks with his drawings of overly complicated devices used to perform absurdly simple tasks. The ad here suggests that the plating industry was not immune to Mr. Goldberg’s influence. This rotary plater was intended to provide smooth mechanical agitation to prevent pitting. One wonders how much debris fell into the solution from the moving parts hanging overhead. Maybe they should have rotated the tank!
Advances in plating equipment was no less important as the advances in plating chemistry. The handling of chemical fumes, particulates and simply adequate ventilation was essential to the health of the workers. Engineers specialized in equipment technology were on hand to answer these needs.
This ad is another example of the emergence of engineering expertise and the capability to design and build entire metal finishing systems. The application shown involves the enameling of bed frames for hospital and domestic use. Structural and chemical expertise combined to increase productivity, as well as assure worker safety, with the elimination of a hazardous benzene dip.
This ad was one of the most interesting found in this particular edition of Metal Cleaning and Finishing. The book Principles of Electroplating and Electroforming, by William Blum and George Hogaboom has been considered to be “the Plater’s Bible” for decades, and still serves as a treasured reference for many. The importance of this book to the industry cannot be overemphasized. It is therefore rather noteworthy that we have here an ad announcing its original publication in 1930.
By James H. Lindsay, NASF Technical Editor, Lindsay Consultants
A favorite pastime of many, including this writer, is to wander about old antique malls, either locally or while traveling somewhere. One quickly learns the one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. One can also experience frustration at finding a childhood toy thrown out years ago selling for $100. Or a license plate that your dad threw in the garbage back in 1948 now worth a small fortune. Or a free gas station road map selling for $20! Nonetheless, exploring these places often kindles old memories of good times in one’s life. They’re living museums.
Evidence of the importance of the surface finishing industry is often visible in these places too. The chromium still sparkles on the legs of a Formica-topped kitchen table. Ladies’ jewelry abounds, likely plated somewhere in Providence, R.I. or other major city in southern New England. A Ni-Cr-plated grille from a 1957 Chevy hangs on a wall, begging a few hundred dollars from a collector or car buff to take it away.
On the other hand, old magazines are everywhere, but rarely can you expect to find a collection of issues of Products Finishing, Plating & Surface Finishing or Metal Finishing. But it can happen. On one recent visit to a Michigan establishment, I looked through a stack of paper ephemera, and found buried therein, an ancient copy of an old trade publication, an 80 year-old issue of Metal Cleaning and Finishing.
The times were in the early days of the Depression, a few months after the stock market crash. Despite this, the industry seemed to be upbeat. An article on progress in electroplating talked of innovative methods, equipment and materials. A review of the 18th AES Convention in Washington, D.C., lauded the many papers that were presented to 300 attendees (not a bad attendance for the size of the industry in 1930).
Most compelling were the advertisements contained in the journal. The collection of ads showed the state of the industry at the time. The industry was quite different than what was to come in the latter half of the 20th century, first with automotive, then later with electronics, aerospace and other critical segments emerging. Indeed, plating was a small part of a larger whole, with paints and lacquers a dominant segment of the trade.
Plating involved simple electrolytes, and game-changing research into additives, multilayers, current waveforms and nanotechnology, as well as the challenges of environmental concerns, regulations and substitutes, were off in the future.
What follows is a collection of the advertisements published in the July 1930 issue of Metal Cleaning and Finishing. They capture an instant in time, when the surface finishing industry was quite different from what we find today.