IT'S NOT just any cargo tank builder that can lay claim to a founder who served two terms as governor of a large midwestern state. However, that is part of the heritage of Heil Trailer International, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Julius P Heil was elected governor of Wisconsin in 1938 and was reelected in 1942. When he assumed the state's highest office, The Heil Company already had been building tank trailers for more than 35 years. In the process, the company had developed a reputation as an innovator.
The company history started at the turn of the 20th century in 1901 when Julius Heil founded the Heil Rail Joint Company, which pioneered the use of electric welding for railroad rails. Before long, the company was building truck bodies, hydraulic hoists, and truck trailers for the emerging automotive industry.
By 1906, truck equipment had become such a big part of the business that the company name was changed to “The Heil Company.” After perfecting welded construction of carbon steel tanks, Heil turned his attention to improving the appearance of the cargo tanks to give customers an attractive vehicle for advertising.
In the years that followed, Heil achieved a number of design advances, including the first electrically welded compartmental tank. His company built what is claimed to be the first stainless steel tank truck for milk in 1927.
Two years later, The Heil Co introduced the trailer-mounted dropframe tank, a forerunner of today's trailerized transports. In that same year, the company built its first fully welded aluminum transport tanks for The Pure Oil Company. In 1930, Standard Oil of New York took delivery of Heil's first fully welded aluminum petroleum truck tank.
The Heil Co is credited with building the first tank with a fully streamlined design in 1934. Next year came the revolutionary Heil trailerized tank, an all-in-one frameless tank that was immediately popular with petroleum haulers.
When Julius Heil was elected governor three years later, he turned over management of the company to his son, Joseph F Heil. The innovation continued with the development of an aluminum trailerized tank in 1940.
US entry into World War II in 1941 brought a change of focus for The Heil Co, but the transition was smooth.
The company had built equipment for the military almost from the start.
Heil welded steel tanks were used by the US Army in 1916 to transport water supplies through the wilds of northern Mexico during the pursuit of Pancho Villa. Thousands of Heil steel truck tanks were built for the military during World War I.
With the onset of the Second World War, The Heil Co wasted no time in converting to war production and was a three-time winner of the Army-Navy E and Army Ordinance awards. Women replaced many of the men on the production line, and they turned out more than $200 million worth of equipment for Army Ordinance, Engineers, Air Corps, Signal Corps, Navy, Marines, and Chemical Warfare.
Forty different types of heavy-duty equipment were constructed at the Heil plant. This included 20,000 aircraft refuelers, 44,000 truck bodies with hoists, 12,000 transport tanks, 30,000 segregators, 200,000 winches, and thousands of combat tank hulls, mobile cranes, bridge bodies, and gun limbers.
Work for the military continued well beyond the end of World War II. In 1951, during the Korean conflict, Heil was building an Air Force refueler, designated the F-6. The 5,000-gallon steel tank had a self-contained engine-driven pumping and metering system housed in a rear cabinet. The manufacturer also built aircraft refuelers for the US Army and Marine Corps during the Vietnam conflict.
Demand for all sorts of transport equipment surged in the private sector after four years of rationing during World War II. The Heil Co rode the wave while a youthful tank truck industry experienced a surge of growth. New innovative products rolled off the production lines.
By the 1950s, Heil engineers were hard at work developing an aluminum petroleum transport. Initially, they simply adapted designs for steel petroleum tanks to aluminum. However, it took a lot of additional engineering to perfect the new aluminum designs. Comprehensive electronic strain-gauge tests were performed on full-size tanks in the lab and over the road.
In 1950, Heil also produced the first trailerized train for the General Chemical Company. Then came a molded fiberglass transport in 1955 and the first all-nickel transport in 1964. The elliptical straight barrel Challenger petroleum tank was offered to the marketplace in 1966.
The basic design of today's SuperJet dry bulk trailers was developed. Schwerman Trucking Company was an early proponent of their use in delivering bulk cement and quickly became the largest dry bulk cement hauler in the United States. Schwerman and Heil were about two miles from each other in Milwaukee, and the carrier became a convenient testing ground for new Heil cement trailers, according to Dave Fellows, who spent 10 years as chief engineer at Heil.
The Heil Co began expanding beyond its Milwaukee base in the 1960s. The first step was to purchase the Joe Thomas Tank Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Stainless steel chemical trailers were built at the plant.
An even bigger change was still ahead. By the 1970s, Heil's management had determined that it was necessary to move the company's manufacturing out of Milwaukee. More than 80% of the company's products were built in the Milwaukee plant at that time.
The Athens, Tennessee, plant was completed in 1977 with an initial production goal of 425 petroleum trailers annually. In 1979, production of Super Jet dry bulkers was moved to the Athens plant. All sales and corporate operations moved from Milwaukee to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1985.
Product innovation continued as the cargo tank manufacturer settled into its new surroundings. In cooperation with DuPont in 1981, Heil developed a titanium tank trailer. That same year, Heil assumed sponsorship of the Outstanding Performance Trophy from Trailmobile, which had closed its Kansas City cargo tank plant and exited the industry. The trophy is the top award in the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) annual safety contest and is presented at the safety breakfast during the NTTC's annual meeting.
In 1982, Heil purchased the Butler dry bulker design from Penske Tank in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Renamed SuperFlo, the trailer helped make Heil the largest manufacturer of aluminum dry bulk trailers, according to company officials.
Another big change was in store at the beginning of the 1990s. The cargo tank manufacturer was purchased by Dover Corporation in 1993 and became Heil Trailer International. With the deeper pockets of its new parent, Heil purchased J&L Tank Inc and Trailmaster Inc. Heil also doubled the size of the Athens facility.
“Being part of Dover has allowed Heil Trailer International to globalize, as well as extend our marketing efforts and product offerings fully across North America,” says Bob Foster, president of Heil Trailer International.
Adding “International” to the name was no casual act. By 1996, the US tank builder had entered into a joint venture with the CP Group, the largest privately owned conglomerate in Thailand, and had opened the most modern aluminum tank trailer manufacturing facility in Asia to produce trailers for the emerging Pacific Rim markets. Three years later, Heil bought out the CP Group interest and renamed the operation Heil Asia Ltd.
The next international move was in 1998 when Heil entered Europe by purchasing Thompson Carmichael, a tank builder in the United Kingdom. The operation is now called Heil UK Ltd. A year later, Heil made its move into South America with the opening of a plant in Cañuelas, Argentina, giving it manufacturing operations on each major continent.
Heil continues its advance in the United States, acquiring Kalyn Siebert Inc, a builder of specialized heavy-duty trailers, in 2000, its first venture beyond tank trailers.
Through the use of the latest state-of-the-art three-dimensional computer design techniques, robotic manufacturing, and innovative material flow and production, Heil continues to develop new products and services for the tank truck industry. The manufacturer qualified for ISO 9001 certification in 1996. Today, all Heil facilities worldwide are ISO 9001 certified.
New product innovation continues. The intermodal DryTainer joined the product lineup in 1996, and the West Coast Truck and Pull and the 102" wide SuperFlo were added in 1997. Heil entered the aluminum asphalt trailer market in 1998 and built its first dry bulk B-train for the Canadian market.
Collaborative design efforts produced Tank2000, and a new family of lower center of gravity and lighter weight petroleum tank trailers. This project and many others continue the pattern of innovation and customer focus established when Julius Heil founded the company nearly 100 years ago.
“Thanks to our dedicated people, our fine suppliers, and especially our customers, we now enter our second century positioned to better serve all our customers around the world with high-value, world-class products at competitive prices,” Foster says.