A manufacturer of ductile iron and steel pipe, Birmingham-based American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) has a diversified product line that also includes fire hydrants and valves, ductile iron fittings, spiral-welded steel pipe in diameters up to 144 inches, centrifugally cast steel tubes, static castings and fabricated assemblies. Considered a pioneer in human relations, ACIPCO is committed to the well-being of its workforce.
ACIPCO was founded by John Joseph Eagan (1870–1924) in 1905. He was one of seven initial investors in ACIPCO, conceived and organized by Charlotte Blair, a local businesswoman. After securing investors to form the company, she worked at ACIPCO as corporate secretary in charge of sales until 1909. Before this, she served as a member of the board of directors for Dimmick Pipe Company. She was the first woman to sit on a corporate board in Alabama.
Eagan served as the company's first president and was later sole proprietor. A devout Christian, Eagan believed in the Golden Rule. He instituted for all ACIPCO employees, regardless of race, benefits such as medical services, sick leave, life insurance, and pensions. ACIPCO facilities included modern bathhouses, company housing, churches, schools, a bank, a library, and a store run by employees. Upon his death in 1924, Eagan willed ownership of the company in a trust to its employees. Management of the company is performed by elected representatives—12 elected by hourly employees, one elected by salaried employees, and one elected by all employees—who serve as resources to executive management on matters relevant to employee relations. Four of these individuals also serve on the company's board of directors, along with executive management and other directors representing customers, educators, and business leaders.
ACIPCO began operations during a time of growth and development for the cast iron pipe industry. During this time, pipe companies were focusing on mechanization to improve the labor-intensive process of pit casting and to make more and better pipe. In the 1920s, ACIPCO developed a proprietary Mono-Cast centrifugal casting method and increased pipe diameters to a record 24 inches. With the new process, molten metal was poured into a sand-lined mold, then rotated at high speed. The centrifugal force distributed the metal evenly, yielding a stronger, thinner pipe than pit casting, which used static molds. In 1922, the company introduced cement-lined pipe, which became the industry standard. Improvements in joints and fittings enabled better delivery of water and gas with fewer leaks and less potential for contamination. The strength of the new joints also extended the usefulness of cast iron pipe for lines carrying crude oil and brine and for other industrial applications. Also during the 1920s, under Eagan's direction, ACIPCO became home to the first industrial YMCA in the Southeast, serving the recreational, educational, religious, and social needs of employees and families. The YMCA hosted myriad corporate and social events—from training classes to banquets to music and sports. The company established an official safety program that served as an industry model. The financial crash of 1929 initially had little effect on the company, but soon business started to decline and job losses followed. By the mid-1930s, federal spending on municipal water supplies, fire protection, and sanitation brought a resurgence in business and helped restore jobs.
In 1939, business was boosted by federal defense spending to support the impending war. When the United States entered World War II, ACIPCO was asked to apply its centrifugal casting experience to another metal—steel. The manufacturing of steel parts for ships, planes, and tanks led to the creation of a new Special Products Division for steel products, the first diversification in ACIPCO's history. In the 1940s, a stronger and more durable iron called ductile iron was invented, and ACIPCO took a lead role in using this new iron to create new products, such as cast large-diameter pipes that were stronger than those made from gray iron.
The country's increasing population and rapidly expanding infrastructure in the 1950s and 1960s created more demand for pipe for use in water, energy, transportation, and sanitation systems. In 1955, ACIPCO shipped its first large order of ductile iron pipe.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s resulted in sweeping federal legislation across the country mandating equal rights for minority and female employees. In response, at ACIPCO established clear lines of job progression and standards for promotion of employees into supervisory, managerial, and other leadership positions.
In 1962, the company entered the steel pipe business and throughout the 1960s would continue to diversify, adding valves and hydrant product lines and gaskets. A new melting system in 1970, including the largest cupola (iron-melting furnace) of its kind in the world, supplied the new iron for pipe, and ACIPCO moved from a sand-spun casting process to a generation of deLavaud metal molds, still used today. This process also relies on centrifugal force to evenly distribute the molten metal in the mold; however, it does not require coating the mold. Because the pipe is cast directly on the metal mold, solidification occurs more quickly, allowing the production of more pipe. ACIPCO's innovation, diversification, and capital investments saw it through economically challenging times in the early 1980s. In 1989, the company expanded its steel pipe business, building a new mill to manufacture up to 24-inch diameter pipe, and acquired Waterous Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, to add fire pumps to its product line and increase production of valves and hydrants. In 1991, it opened a scrap recycling facility on site—the only one of its kind in the industry.
The 1990s brought a digital revolution as ACIPCO implemented its strategic information technology plan. The company built a fiber-optic backbone to network local computer systems and users, integrated data and deployed new tools for a closed-loop business system, and created a wide-area network to expand services to subsidiaries. In 2000, ACIPCO opened American SpiralWeld Steel Pipe Company in Columbia, South Carolina, and diversified its product line to include spiral-welded steel pipe in diameters up to 144 inches. Also in 2000, ACIPCO engineered a single electrode DC furnace, continuously charged and tapped intermittently. This furnace is the only one of its kind in the world used for melting iron. By 2003, the company had purchased two foundries, further diversifying and ensuring a supply of flow-control products to ACIPCO customers.
Today the company's main facility in Birmingham is located on a 2,000-acre site with more than 60 acres under roof and is home to one of the world's largest cupolas and the Contiarc, the first-of-its-kind continuous arc furnace. ACIPCO employs more than 3,000 people in Birmingham and at its subsidiaries: American Castings, LLC, Pryor Creek, Oklahoma (acquired in 2003); American SpiralWeld Pipe Company, LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (built in 2000); American Valve & Hydrant Manufacturing Company, Beaumont, Texas (acquired in 1969); Intercast SA, Itauna, Brazil (as an investment in 2004); Specification Rubber Products, Inc., Alabaster, Alabama (acquired in 1969); Pneumax of Peoria, Arizona (acquired in 2000); and Waterous Company, South Saint Paul, Minnesota (acquired in 1989).
ACIPCO employees enjoy excellent benefits, including profit sharing, apprenticeship training in crafts and trades, onsite
professional development, and a nationally recognized wellness program. For eight consecutive years, from 1997 to 2005, ACIPCO
competed for and was recognized as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" by Fortune magazine.
Chaplin, Lois Trigg. ACIPCO: The Golden Rule at Work Since 1905. Privately published, American Cast Iron Pipe Company, 2005.
Chaplin, Lois Trigg. John J. Eagan: The Golden Rule for Life and Business. Privately published, American Cast Iron Pipe Company, 2003.
American Cast Iron Pipe Company
Published May 5, 2009
Last updated May 6, 2011