History of Lummus Industries
Updated: Apr 21
In April, HCF's History Spotlights will cover the stories and legacies of five businesses that have been in our community for a long time. This week is the history of Lummus Industries. This history spotlight was taken from City of Progress by Margaret Laney Whitehead and Barbara Bogart, Heritage Park: A Celebration of the Industrial Heritage of Columbus, Georgia by Dr. John S. Lupold, Industrial Archaeology of Columbus, Georgia by Dr. John S. Lupold (1979), and Red Clay, White Water, and Blues by Virginia Causey.
** Please Note: There is an update at the end of the post with additional history provided by John Van Doorn.
The roots of this firm extend back into the antebellum period. Israel Brown, a northerner who came to Georgia in the 1820s, worked with Daniel Pratt in Milledgeville and Alabama before becoming the mechanical genius of W. G. Clemons, Brown, and Company (1850s) which manufactured cotton gins in Columbus. In 1858, Brown returned to Connecticut but kept his southern holdings. In 1869, according to "company legend," he exchanged his Columbus interests for those of Franklin H. Lummus in Connecticut. This factory, located at the southwest corner of Broadway and 9th Street, was originally the Taylor Gin Co. and later the Brown & Taylor Gin Co. In 1871, to take advantage of cheaper power and the availability of good timber, the Lummus plant was moved to Juniper, Georgia. In 1879, E. Frank Lummus became associated with his father’s business and, in 1887, Louis E. Lummus, the younger son, also joined the firm. The company operated as a partnership until Franklin’s death in 1896. It was in that year the company was incorporated under the name F. H. Lummus Sons Co.
In 1898, due to the popularity and increasing demand for Lummus gins, the firm outgrew the power and railroad facilities at Juniper and moved back to Columbus. They moved to 712 10th Avenue. A period of steady expansion followed with the plant growing from two buildings in 1898 to seven in 1906. The first export order was shipped in 1907. (E. Frank Lummus is pictured to the left. He was born in Brooklyn in 1855, served as President of the company in 1910. He died in Columbus in 1921.)
In 1909, Lummus perfected the Air Blast Gin, at that time the most significant advance in gin design since Eli Whitney. Orders poured in; to keep up with sales, five more buildings were added to the plant in 1910. To facilitate financing this expansion, several local families joined the company as stockholders and the name of the firm was changes to Lummus Cotton Gin Co.
A. Illges (pictured to the right) became a major investor and director of Lummus Cotton Gin Company in 1900. Also around that time, he was Director of the Georgia Midland and Gulf Railroad, Director of the Chattahoochee Falls Company (which saught to develop the waterpower at Clapp's Factory), a major stockholder of Goldens Foundry, Director of City Mills, major stockholder of Empire Mills, organizer and Director of Swift Spinning Company, along with investments in a foundry, rolling mill, and a bank in Birmingham, Alabama.
As the ginning industry modernized and expanded, Lummus was in the forefront. During the 1920s, it expanded to produce textile machinery as well as gins, becoming the industry leader in making equipment for new synthetic fibers. In 1931, Lummus introduced the All-Metal Cotton Ginning Outfit, a revolution at a time when wood was still being used extensively. World War II–related labor shortages opened other jobs to members of previously excluded groups. In the first years of the conflict, women took new positions in the mills, but by 1943, textile manufactures were complaining that women couldn’t do all the jobs, so African Americans began moving into skilled positions.
With World War II, Lummus put its varied manufacturing talents to work for the war effort, prefabricating entire minesweeper superstructures, turning out 37 mm cannon shells and building dummy training rockets. In recognition, the company was awarded the Army-Navy “E” Pennant in 1943 for achievements in war material production. Following the war, the company began diversifying its products, producing, among other things, 14-foot diameter fans, industrial vacuum cleaners, cotton harvesters, hydraulic piling cutters, and one ton slurry valves for aluminum refineries. With the tremendous post-war expansion of the manmade fiber industry, Lummus became a leader in the field of fiber cutter, baling presses, material handling systems, and bale handling systems. Below is a 1963 image.
The name of the firm was changed again in 1970 to Lummus Industries, Inc. to reflect the expansion into many areas not related to cotton. Increased export trade led to the formation of Lummus International Sales Corp in 1972. Soon half of the company’s production was being shipped overseas.
The company's fortunes declined, and after a 1993 bankruptcy, outside investors bought it and moved it and its 250 jobs to Savannah. Lummus is still in business in Savannah and seems to being doing well.
Unfortunately for Columbus, we lost a long-time industry with good jobs for our local citizens. However, on the flipside - we have been fortunate to have the former home of Lummus utilized for many years by Waggoners Trucking.
Addendum to Lummus HCF Spotlight Blogpost
John Van Doorn
21 April 2021
The period from roughly 1963 to 2015 was the most productive in Lummus history. During this time, Lummus became the world’s leading manufacturer of cotton-ginning and related equipment. Under the direction of engineering chief Don Van Doorn and his talented team, which included Jim Hawkins, Billy Pease, and DeWitt Beeland, during this time Lummus was awarded an extraordinary number of patents for cutting-edge machinery, especially for cotton ginning. These included patents for the “Super Jet” and roller ginning. The Super Jet lint cleaner became the industry leader in the high-speed separation of debris from the quality cotton fibers, which allowed the output of bales per hour to increase, while minimizing harm to the cotton. Lummus pioneered the “Dor-les” massive two-story cotton press that could more quickly produce uniform-density bales. Roller ginning was a new way of separating the cotton seeds from the fibers, one of the greatest innovations in ginning since the innovation of saw-tooth ginning. Like the super jet, this allowed better extraction with less damage to the fibers, especially long-staple varieties like pima or Egyptian cotton. These long-staple varieties are prized for clothes-making because they give a softer, more luxurious feel to the garment.
Also revolutionary were both the input and output pieces of the ginning process. On the input side, Lummus developed a module system that allowed more efficient collection of cotton in the field and faster feeding of the cotton into the gin with less loss. On the output side, automatic strapping, weighing, moisture control and bale wrapping also helped increase capacity. Lummus systems can now generate up to 80 bales (each weighing about 500 pounds!) per hour in a single installation. On the strength of these and other innovations Lummus exports dramatically increased in this period, so much so that Lummus won the covered “E” (for Export excellence) from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1975. These products continue to form the basis of continued success of Lummus today.
An unfortunate business decision was made in the early 1990’s to leverage Lummus’ considerable assets to pursue non-related businesses. When those businesses failed, Lummus’ core equity was compromised, and so its assets were sold to a series of new owners who allowed Lummus to continue focusing on its core business, which it did. When the city of Columbus decided to withdraw its support (tax and property incentives) in favor of the “newer” industries in town, Lummus made the painful decision to re-locate to a port city to facilitate its export-driven business, and thus the move to Savannah in 2000. Columbus’ loss was Savannah’s gain, and the business has thrived in the new location. However, the departure of Lummus, and now Tom’s, has broken the backbone of Columbus manufacturing along 10th Street to the detriment of the city and its workers. Another spin-off company was a group of former Lummus employees who did not want to move out of the area, so they formed Cherokee Manufacturing, which produces replacement parts for Lummus and other ginning systems and is located north of Phenix City.
Lummus continues to diversify and expand its product line. It recently changed its name to “Lummus Ag Technology” to reflect this product diversification. In 2002, after it left Columbus, it acquired Carver Oilseed Co. for extracting the oil from the cotton seeds. This is an important staple in much of the world. Lummus also manufactures equipment to process other natural and synthetic fibers. The former include wool, kenaf and the growing hemp fiber industry. The latter includes cutting and baling equipment for widely used artificial fibers like nylon. However, like other American manufacturers, Lummus, contending with cheaper labor rates abroad, has outsourced parts of its manufacturing process, while maintaining overall design control and final assembly.
Manufacturing helped to make Columbus great and is an important part of any diversified economic base in a city. Lummus was a key part of the history and success of Columbus.