Thursday, December 13, 2018

The US Navy Ensign and the High Speed British Boat Designer

You know WORCESTER for valves – but did you know they wouldn’t be around, if it wasn’t for a US Navy Ensign and a Record Breaking British Boat Designer?

In 1955 Dwight D Eisenhower was POTUS, Winston Churchill had his last 4 months as Prime Minister of Great Britain, “The Dam Busters” appeared in British Cinemas for the first time, and a 30 year old Sales Engineer, who had only been working for a small New Hampshire valve company for three years, got together with Homer McNut to buy out his employer at “The Worcester Forged Steel Valve Company”.

Robert C McCray and his new partner quickly made giant strides in the burgeoning world of valves, shortening the company name to the “Worcester Valve Company” and, after just one year, introducing a new “three piece design” ball valve – which would become one of the most copied innovations in the industry.

The ambitious McCray had graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Aeronautical Engineering, which he studied during and after his commission as an Ensign in the US Navy Supply Corps – joining the company straight after graduation.

Lew Norris, the British Engineer and Designer who helped design the record breaking high speed Bluebird boats and cars, in which Donald Campbell broke post war water and land speed records, met with McCray and McNut in 1959, a meeting that resulted in the formation of “Worcester Valve Company UK”.

Norris was already famous within engineering circles along with his brother Ken.

They had set up their own Engineering Design Consultancy in 1952, shortly after which – at a New Year’s Eve Party the same year – Donald Campbell said

“Now that you’re together, how about designing me a boat?”

Their company was one of the most innovative and diverse of its kind – inventing the automatic seat belt and producing an early go-kart.

The synergy between McCray and Lew Norris was to produce a stroke of genius. Lew knew that purely designing things (in those days) would never make them much money, so while Ken concentrated on design Lew turned his attention to manufacturing.

McCray and McNutt’s 3 part Worcester ball valve became a joint venture – Norris and his team developing a control system for it which was then licenced back to Worcester in America.

The “Worcester Valve Company UK” became an immediate success taking business from traditional gate and plug cocks, as well as much larger competitors.

In 1964 Robert McCray bought out Homer McNut’s share of the business and changed the name again, this time to “Worcester Controls Corporation” expanding the business globally through South America, Europe and The Middle East – with Lew Norris as vice-president.

Worcester’s range of valves expanded, a lot of those designs still being available through Valve and Process Solutions today, but Worcester had already consolidated its position and by the 1970s the Company was bought by BTR Plc, who, impressed by the ease in which Worcester scaled up and modernised manufacturing, went on to buy other respected valve companies including Audco and Argus.

3 piece worcester ball valve

An early Worcester design of the 3 piece ball valve. It was so good it hasn’t changed much in all these years

Ex-Ensign McCray went on to be a board member of 6 publicly held companies, receiving several professional awards, including Entrepreneur of the Year and Life Achievement Award.

He was still active; encouraging and mentoring young entrepreneurs, before he passed away aged 90 in August 2016.

Hi-Speed Visionary Engineer Lew Norris and his brother Ken carried on innovating after being bought out of Worcester.

His prediction of a good income to be made from manufacturing was proved to be true, while at Worcester he developed and patented the Flotronic Pump, while also developing other companies that designed and produced spool valves, packaging machinery, lift trucks and explosion-proof boxes.

Despite their major contribution to British Engineering the Norris brothers were never honoured by their country.

Ken died in 2005 and Lew followed him to the great Engineering shop in the sky on February 13th 2017.

#valveexpress #YoE

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