Grote Industries Celebrates Century of Service

Grote Industries celebrates 100 years in business in 2001. During its century in business, Grote has developed and used technology to better serve its customers, from the introduction of modular wiring systems to introducing LED technology for the trucking industry.

Grote Industries was founded before cars and trucks ruled the roads. The business began in 1901, when William D Grote, a recent pharmacy graduate from Cincinnati, bought two companies, the American Chemical Company and the Missouri Chemical Company. Over the next 100 years, the business he founded would remain family owned and operated through four generations, and would succeed by constantly developing and using new technology to better serve its customers.

Some of Grote's earliest innovations came in the area of plastics. According to the company:

  • In the early 1920s, Grote was the first company in the United States to use plastic injection molding.

  • In 1929, the company patented the first plastic reflector and introduced the first acrylic translucent reflector seven years later.

  • In 1934, Grote developed hydraulically operated injection-molding machines and became the first to manufacture injection-molded plastics automatically.

    Among its transportation products, Grote claims:

  • The first all nonmetallic lamp, the Turtleback clearance/marker, introduced in 1964.

  • The trucking industry's first repairable long-life lamps, featuring the Torsion Mount design, introduced in 1977.

  • The trucking industry's first modular wiring system, Ultra-Blue-Seal, introduced in 1983.

  • The first high-mount stop light for passenger cars, introduced in 1985.

  • The industry's only connectors with two seals, Double-Seal Plugs and Pigtails, patented in 1990.

  • The first LED lighting for the trucking industry, SuperNova, introduced in 1990.

  • The first replaceable lens LED lamps, introduced in 1999.

  • High-intensity discharge (HID) lighting introduced to the trucking industry in 2000.

Getting Started

William Grote's original companies produced chemicals used primarily for home laundry and cleaning products. In 1922, he acquired Midwest Oxygen Co, and one of his eight children, Walter F Grote, joined that company. In 1926, William bought National Colortype Co in Bellevue, Kentucky, and moved all of his manufacturing operations to that location, where they would remain until 1960.

National Colortype represented Grote's first foray into the transportation industry. The company's product line included taillights, directional signs, and spotlights mounted on automobile running boards. Because of National Colortype's success, Grote sold his other companies to concentrate on this one venture.

Then came the Great Depression. For Grote, the light at the end of the tunnel came from a reflector. In the 1920s, National Colortype had assembled a retrodirective reflector that illuminated highway signs at night. Grote hired Evan Bone to develop a reflector that the company could manufacture in-house. Bone developed a reflector incorporating an aspherical lens that was 25 percent more effective than others. National Colortype patented this plastic reflector and began selling it at the low introductory price of 10 cents each in 1929.

“If it hadn't been for this patent, we wouldn't be here today,” said Walter F Grote. “We wouldn't have survived the Great Depression.”

In 1943, the Grote companies combined under the name Grote Manufacturing Co. Like most other manufacturers of the time, Grote refocused its production on the war effort. It began making items for paravanes (devices that cut underwater mine cables), acrylic radio-controlled shells, and blackout lights. Once the war was over, the company converted its metal stamping machines to make medicine cabinets. It was a good decision, as the United States found itself in the beginning of a baby and housing boom.

While medicine cabinets dominated Grote sales, the company continued to expand in the automotive industry. By 1947, Grote was manufacturing complete lamps for trucks, buses, and trailers.

Family Business

In 1969, the third generation of Grotes took the helm of the company as Walter's son Walter “Buzz” Grote Jr became president. A year later, the company sold its medicine cabinet division to focus solely on vehicle lighting. The product line was expanded in 1971, with the purchase of a company that made mirrors for cars and trucks. Also in 1971, Grote entered into a joint venture with an operation in Toronto, Canada. Five years later, Grote purchased the division, now known as Grote Canada Ltd.

In 1989, Walter “Buzz” Grote Jr moved to the position of chairman of the board, and his younger brother William “Bill” Grote III took over as president. A fourth generation of Grotes also began joining the company around this time. Bill's sons Dominic and John now work in product development and marketing, while Buzz's sons Mike and Rick work in sales and distribution.

As Grote Industries moves into its second century of business, the company continues to focus on developing safety solutions both in current and emerging fields, such as obstacle detection.

“By constantly innovating and developing new technology to meet the changing needs of our customers, we've succeeded as a family owned and operated company for 100 years,” says President and CEO William “Bill” Grote III, grandson of the founder. “That's an accomplishment not many other companies can claim. We're proud of our heritage and our century of innovation.”

Grote Industries is a manufacturer and marketer of vehicle safety system products, including lamps, mirrors, wiring systems, turn signal switches, and reflective accessories. It has operations in Madison, Indiana; Toronto, Canada; Waterloo, Canada; and Monterrey, Mexico.

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