Happy 150th to A.Y. McDonald
“I've started it, and you can take it as far as you want to go.” Little did Andrew Young McDonald know when he made this statement more than 125 years ago, that his small family-owned company would remain family-owned and grow to become a national industry leader 150 years later. Considering the continuous ownership and management by one family for 150 years, together with its size and scope of operations, A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. is among the truly unique companies in the United States today.
Based in Dubuque, Iowa, since 1856, when A.Y. McDonald started his own plumbing business, the company now employs more than 375 in its brass foundry, manufacturing plant and corporate offices. The company is a national player in several markets - manufacturing water works service line brass; plumbing valves and fittings; pumps and water systems; and high-pressure gas valves and meter bars.
The fifth generation of McDonald family members leads the company today and carries on the Scottish-born immigrant's entrepreneurial spirit and pride in being an American manufacturer. Michael McDonald, president and chief executive officer of the company, says, “Our blueprint for success has come from working smart and working hard for the past 150 years. We are incredibly proud to be able to say that our ancestor had a dream and we are living it today. That dream is fueled by our true commitment to quality products, fair pricing, and quality people making it happen.”
McDonald also notes that, “Our history is a slice of Americana. A.Y. was quite a man, as we have learned from the stories told by my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His desire to succeed is something that we carry with us today. Our marketplace continues to shrink as our competitors either merge or go out of business. We are extremely proud to remain an Iowa company with McDonald blood in our veins, and we owe that to the work ethic of the hundreds of employees who have been part of this company over the past 150 years.”
A.Y. was orphaned as a child in Glasgow, Scotland. He emigrated to the United States with an aunt when he was 20 years old. He started his own plumbing business in Dubuque, left to fight in the Civil War, was wounded twice and returned home to Dubuque to grow his business. He loved America and became a U.S. citizen at the age of 26. His ingenuity spurred him to expand the company and to seek a patent on an improvement to what is commonly known as the monkey wrench. He married and had five children - three daughters and two sons. Both sons later would guide the company along with their cousin.
The company was able to weather the Great Depression and both World War I and World War II. In fact, World War II helped to buoy the company's sales as it had contracts with the federal government for the production of brass valves and bilge pumps for the U.S. Navy; stationary gear carriers for bomb fuses and bomb parts for the U. S. Army; shut-off and drain cocks for the U.S. Air Force; and hose nozzles, swing joints, gate valves and throttle valves for the U.S. Army and Air Force.
In addition to Michael at the helm, other fifth-generation McDonald family members in key leadership roles include: Rob McDonald, vice president of sales; Sarah McDonald Hasken, manager of risk management and corporate secretary; and Scott Knapp, director of marketing.
Fourth-generation McDonald family members R.D. McDonald and John McDonald III still are active in chairmanship roles.
In addition to the Dubuque operation, the company also has manufacturing and/or distribution facilities in Albia, Iowa; Elizabethton, Tenn.; and Sparks, Nevada. A sales force of more than 25 representatives covers the United States, selling primarily to wholesale distributors, municipalities and natural gas utilities.
To mark the milestone anniversary this year, the company is planning several events to celebrate with employees, retirees, family members and the Dubuque community. A special history book and video are under development. The company attends numerous national trade shows and will highlight the anniversary to vendors and customers at those events. A private celebration for employees, retirees and family members will be held in September, with Jay Leno of “The Tonight Show” as the headline entertainer.