American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO)
American Cast Iron Pipe Company Birmingham-based American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) manufactures fire hydrants, valves, ductile iron pipe and spiral-welded steel pipe for the waterworks industry and high-frequency-welded steel pipe for the energy industry. ACIPCO’s diversified product line also includes fire pumps, structural casing and piling, castings for large machinery and specialty rubber products.
ACIPCO was founded by John Joseph Eagan (1870-1924) in 1905. He was one of seven initial investors in ACIPCO, conceived of 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.
John Joseph Eagan Eagan served as the company’s first president and later was its sole proprietor. A devout Christian, Eagan believed in and practiced the Golden Rule in life and business. He instituted for all ACIPCO employees 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 to be managed for the benefit of employees and the purchasing public. As part of the management structure instituted by Eagan, elected representatives—12 hourly employees, one salaried employee, and one at-large employee—represent employees in company matters relevant to workers. 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 Employees ACIPCO began operations during a time of expansion and development in 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 company also established an official safety program that continues to serve as an industry model.
ACIPCO Factory Floor 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 additionally 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 cast pipes with a larger diameter 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. 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 Water Pipes in Washington, D.C. 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 pipes up to 24-inches in diameter. It also acquired Waterous Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, to add fire pumps to its product line and increase production of valves and hydrants. Throughout the 1990s the company embraced the digital age, applying computing and Internet technologies across the board.
ACIPCO Iron Production In 2000, ACIPCO opened American SpiralWeld 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. At the time, it was the only one of its kind in the world. By 2003, the company had purchased two foundries, further diversifying and ensuring a supply of flow control products to ACIPCO customers.
The turn of the century would bring a host of innovations for ACIPCO’s water works divisions, including zinc-coated ductile iron pipe, gate valves up to 60 inches in diameter, and the American Earthquake Joint System. American SpiralWeld expanded its operations to serve waterworks customers in the Northeast and Southwest with construction of two new facilities—Flint, Michigan, in 2014, and Paris, Texas, in 2021. ACIPCO’s Steel Pipe Division has also seen major developments in the new millennium. In 2015, American Steel Pipe completed a $70-million expansion, including a new 150,000-square-foot processing facility and upgrades to its two mills.
ACIPCO employs approximately 2,600 people in Birmingham and at its subsidiary locations: American Castings, LLC, Pryor Creek, Oklahoma (acquired in 2003); American SpiralWeld Pipe Company, LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (established in 2000); American SpiralWeld Pipe Company, Flint, Michigan (2014); American SprialWeld Pipe Company, Paris, Texas (2021); American Valve & Hydrant Manufacturing Company, Beaumont, Texas (acquired in 1969); Intercast SA, Itauna, Brazil (acquired in 2004); Specification Rubber Products, Inc., Alabaster, Alabama (acquired in 1969); and Waterous Company, South Saint Paul, Minnesota (acquired in 1989). ACIPCO employees enjoy benefits that include profit sharing, apprenticeship training in crafts and trades, onsite professional development, and a nationally recognized wellness program.
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.