It’s been said that change is inevitable while growth is optional. For Buckeye Fasteners Company, a division of Fastener Industries, Inc. (FFI), this was never a choice. Decades of change and innovation led to a company that built itself on strength, resilience, and success. And it all began in the early 1900s in the Midwest of America.
“Our history traces back to the Ohio Nut and Bolt Company, which was incorporated by Dr. J. C. Marting in 1905,” shares Tony Martinez, FII’s Business Development & Customer Relations Manager. “Interestingly, the company initially produced bicycle chains as bikes were the major mode of transportation of the time.”
The business did well for several years, but change was on the horizon. The company was sold twice: once just before World War I in 1917, and a few years later in 1927.
Roderick J. Whelan Sr. became the new owner of Ohio Nut and Bolt (ONB) in 1927, and he came with a vision.
“During the war, Whelan had been responsible for the manufacturing of munitions and making equipment for the U.S. Army,” Martinez explains. “Afterwards, he envisioned a key market opening up for producing special nuts and bolts, and that’s when the company pivoted from bicycle chains to weld fasteners.”
The timing was ideal. In 1926, ONB manufactured its first weld screw, which was destined for success given the rise of the automobile.
“One of the company’s first major weld fastener customers was the Ford Motor Company,” says Martinez. “And in 1928, the first large-scale commercial use of the HW weld screw was used on the frame of the Model A to allow for one-handed assembly.”
Weld screws are designed to be permanently welded to like materials. The HW is used where a self-locating screw is required. It has three projections located precisely under the head, which permits flush mounting.
“Today, weld fasteners are still our bread and butter and one of our largest stock parts. It’s relied on in several applications, including automotive, consumer goods, lawn and garden, and others,” he says. “So, it’s been one mainstay that saw the company through many years.”
This included the Great Depression of the 1930s, when ONB expanded on the original weld screw and produced weld nuts, machine screws, and an innovative new bolt.
“An interesting fact from this time period is that Ohio Nut and Bolt had zero layoffs despite the challenges and hardships of the ’30s,” adds Martinez. “In fact, in 1933, the company was praised by a leading trade newspaper for developing a novel bolt, which took advantage of the resistance welding process.”
The new ONB invention actually included two bolts, one with projections under the head and one with projections on top. According to Martinez, they were readily accepted by the foremost manufacturers of appliances and equipment made from metal.
Whenever challenges occurred, ONB excelled. During World War II, the company supplied weld fasteners to the U.S. Armed Forces and was recognized for its “ahead of schedule” production in a letter from the U.S. War Department.
“We still have the letter, dated February 24th, 1945, in our history books,” he says. “Part of it states: Every position of the industry orders team is important. The four-and-a-half-inch rockets could be completed only with the bolts produced ahead of schedule in your plant by your performance. The rockets will reach the enemy ahead of schedule.”
It turns out the tail fins on these rockets used were unstable and failed to hit their targets. So, ONB’s weld screws became essential, successfully replacing the original rivets on the rockets. What’s more: the company shared this with other manufacturers.
“Essentially, we turned over our trade secrets to other nut and bolt companies in the country to help the war effort,” says Martinez. “Our manufacturing secrets were released to ensure the millions of screws needed to make better munitions for the war were available. It was the right thing to do.”
After the war, Ohio Nut and Bolt continued to expand, developing more than 500 specialized products in stock. Sadly, in the early ’60s, the company owner and long-time president passed. His son, Rod Whelan Jr. took over, and he implemented more changes.
These company changes were primarily structural. For example:
- In 1964, Fastener Industries, Inc. became Ohio Nut and Bolt’s parent company, and three divisions were set up to handle the company’s growth and change in production and sales. This included a computer division, launched in 1965, and headed by Richard Biernacki — who would later become the company president.
- In 1965, Modern Fasteners was built, a new Ohio plant designed to handle high-volume, high-speed production at a lower cost.
- In 1969, the company added distribution to its capabilities, with a center in Canada, and warehouses in New Jersey and Chicago.
- In 1970, Buckeye Fasteners was officially launched, with the aim of stocking items and selling small quantities to end-users.
“Then, in 1972, our Ohio distribution center became Buckeye Fasteners, a subsidiary of Fastener Industries,” says Martinez. “There was certainly a lot of restructuring during the ’60s and ’70s, but this was the direct result of the business growth.”
It was a way to manage its evolution and success. And the changes continued. In 1979, the Whelan family decided to sell Fastener Industries, Inc.
Biernacki, once responsible for the company’s computer division, was then the treasurer of Fastener Industries. He made a suggestion that changed the course of the business for its employees.
“He recommended that the employees buy the company,” shares Martinez. “And they agreed, making Fastener Industries a 100% ESOP-owned company with all employees owning the common stock at the end of 1980.”
An ESOP is an employee stock ownership plan, which grants company stock to its employees. The team at Fastener Industries individually invested 85% of the total profit-sharing monies to buy the company.
“An all-cash offer was accepted by the Whelan and a loan was taken out for the remaining 15% at that time,” he says. “I believe we’re currently one of the longest-running ESOP companies in Ohio’s history.”
Biernacki then became the new president and CEO and by 1987, the employee loan was fully paid off — ahead of schedule.
“That same year, Fastener Industries also purchased Joseph Industries, which was a pioneer industrial re-manufacturing and the aftermarket area for engines, transmission, torque converters, replacement parts, and things like that,” says Martinez. “It was a great addition to the business.”
Just over a decade later, the company added Brainard Rivet to its team. It’s a fastener manufacturer, with a history dating back to 1916. Then in 2007, FFI purchased Plan-E Tech Industries, which manufactures planetary nail and cylindrical thread-rolling dies. Fastener Industries currently consists of The Ohio Nut and Bolt Company, Ohio Nut and Bolt Canada, Modern Fasteners, Buckeye Fasteners Company, Joseph Industries, Brainard Rivet, and Plan-E-Tech Industries.
Today, Buckeye Fasteners Company provides a large selection of fasteners, including product evaluation, mechanical test capabilities, and application engineering. It also offers custom manufacturing capabilities and offers welding seminars.
Since Ohio Nut and Bolt was first founded, the business (and companies it developed and since acquired) survived two world wars, multiple recessions, and of course, the pandemic. It’s never once dismissed any of its employees during tough economic times.
“We have survived a lot and learned along the way,” says Martinez. “But we’ve always managed to keep our employees working and producing parts that are essential. For instance, during Covid, our products were used in some of the ventilators and medical devices. We always want to help where most needed.”
The company’s longevity is not only demonstrated in its decades of successful manufacturing and distribution but also reflected in its employees — many of whom have been with the company for decades.
“I think we’re seven generations in now or something close to that,” he says. “And I’m proud to be a part of the generational department, so to speak.”
Martinez’s father’s been with the company for 35 years, serving as a current board member, as well as the company’s purchasing and warehouse manager. Martinez’s sister also works in the corporate office.
“We’re not only employee-owned but the company invests in its employees through training, ensuring we become certified fastener specialists and continue to grow professionally, and as individuals,” he says. “It’s very supportive and I truly enjoy working here.”