In the winter of 1936, Harold C. Beck made a decision to pursue his novel ideas for improving the temperature control of large industrial furnaces. He was convinced that better temperature control could be obtained by designing an automatic reset mechanism into the actuator that controlled the fuel flow to the furnace.
Full-time devotion to this pursuit meant leaving the relative security of his present employer in the middle of the Great Depression during the 1930’s. Product design details needed additional work, first models had yet to be made, and only then could prospective customers be approached in the hope of securing orders.
Harold Beck’s conviction in his novel ideas seemed justified within the first year, when the first order for 6 units was received from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company in Pittsburgh. In the years that followed, a patent was issued for the Beck “Triple Function Mechanism”.
In those early days, the Beck Triple Function Mechanism had advantages that no other product could offer; foremost, it offered automatic droop correction of temperature in large furnaces used to produce steel and aluminum. This unique feature meant that steady temperatures could be maintained continuously, without periodic attention from operating personnel, thereby improving product quality and saving fuel.
This early form of automatic process control grew in favor among steel companies in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas. When the Aluminum Company of America began its massive furnace building program to provide aluminum needed for aircraft in the early years of World War II, Beck control actuators were used almost exclusively.
By 1943, much of the new furnace capacity needed by the steel and aluminum industries was installed and operating. To keep the business going, government sub- contract work was sought. In the production of Beck actuators, a precision machining capability had been developed, qualifying the Company to produce Norden bombsight mechanisms for the Sperry Gyroscope Company.
By 1946, new pioneering control projects were started again by Harold Beck and his engineering associates. While continuing to produce the now widely accepted Beck actuators for automatic positioning of fuel control valves, new companion electronic controllers were developed and produced. Once again, Harold Beck’s ideas were ahead of those being implemented by some of the major instrument companies. Those same companies who were fundamentally competitors bought and resold the new Beck controllers in order to satisfy their customers’ requests for the improved temperature control which was now possible.
During the 50’s, the Company once again furnished products needed by projects critical to our country’s national defense. Over a period of years, hundreds of Beck actuators and controllers were installed in two different electronic aircraft surveillance systems that were strung across the frozen northlands of Canada.
Just prior to the 60’s, Harold Beck invited his two sons, Bob and Bruce, to join him in the business. The complementary interests of both sons made it possible for the company to simultaneously improve manufacturing efficiencies while expanding marketing efforts. By 1969, larger and more modern manufacturing facilities were required and the present Newtown Plant was constructed. In 1982 the facility size was doubled to allow for expanded production capabilities.
Continued growth, driven in large part by a new focus on the power generation industry, resulted in additional plant expansions in 1991 and in 1995. Since the late 1980s, the power industry faced increasing pressure to reduce pollution caused by the burning of coal. Extensive testing conducted by The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) showed that plants could achieve significant improvements in efficiency and reductions in emissions through the use of Beck actuators. These efforts led to Beck becoming the “standard’ actuator for the most important applications at coal-fired power plants across the United States.
Harold Beck’s grandson, Doug, joined the company in 1996 as President, continuing the tradition of family ownership. Doug’s vision for the company included a globalization effort, leading the company to become established in markets outside of the United States. Once again, in 2012, the Company expanded, adding 24,000 square feet to the existing facility, and now has sales offices in California, Texas, India and China; with factory-trained sales agents in several other countries.
After 85 years of family ownership, Harold Beck & Sons, Incorporated is officially an employee owned company (ESOP) effective December 30, 2021. This move ensures that all the unique qualities that have defined the company since 1936 will remain intact so Beck can continue to make only the highest quality electric actuator products and provide the support customers expect from Beck. Doug Beck will remain the President and CEO for the foreseeable future.
In addition to the steel and aluminum industries that first used Beck actuators, the Company serves 14 additional markets. What began in the steel mills of Pittsburgh and Cleveland now includes installations in more than 70 countries around the world.