Newspaper headlines across the United States in 1899 shouted the sensational story of a train robbery in Wyoming by the Hole in the Wall Gang — outlaws who were part of a romantic era in American history being replaced by 20th century industrialization. Horse-drawn tankwagons were the standard for liquid bulk transportation by road.
That same year in a small shop in Petoskey, Michigan, Robert Blackmer significantly furthered American industrialization with the invention of the first water bucket pump. His new pump was the first to use rotating vanes instead of meshing gears to transport fluids — and it soon gave birth to a new company.
Robert Blackmer incorporated the Blackmer Pump, Power and Manufacturing Company in 1903. Today the company has shortened its name to Blackmer; moved its headquarters to Grand Rapids, Michigan; added manufacturing plants in Europe; and expanded its product line to encompass a broad range of complementary technologies.
“We don't pretend that one product can do it all,” says Carmine Bosco, president of Blackmer. “Instead we aim to meet the needs of specific market segments by providing a variety of technologies for transferring liquids and gases.”
Blackmer's technologies include positive-displacement pumps (sliding vane, eccentric disc, and peristaltic hose), centrifugal pumps, and compressors (reciprocating, rotary vane, and screw). The company produces thousands of pumps each year, with capacities ranging from one to 4,500 gallons per minute. It has established a global market for petroleum products and liquefied gases and plays a significant role in several other markets, including chemical processing, pulp and paper, waste water, food processing, commercial marine, and the military.
To grow its global presence, the company has established three manufacturing sites. World headquarters in Grand Rapids produces products for the Americas and Asia. The second-largest manufacturing site is in Auxerre, France, which is headquarters for Europe, Africa, and Middle East operations. The company also operates a plant in Ward Hill, Massachusetts.
As part of the international expansion, Blackmer purchased Hammond Engineering in the United Kingdom and Mouvex in France. Those two companies eventually merged into one company that focuses on the production of hydraulic coolers.
In the early years, Blackmer concentrated on the mobile sector of refined petroleum fuels for army vehicles, train engines, construction equipment, and even police motorcycles. In recent years, the LP-gas transportation industry has become a significant source of business for Blackmer.
The company continues to expand its transportation market with pumps for chemical and dry bulk applications — flour, fly ash, cement, and such granular products as sand, salt, and sugar. Rotary lobe pumps, for example, are used for the food market. Screw compressors meet the needs of the dry bulk industry.
Though rotary vane pumps put Blackmer on the industrial map, the company has been credited with introducing several other innovations. Among them: the first truck-mounted pumps (1915), the first practical liquefied gas pumps (1954), the first non-galling stainless steel pumps (1968), and the first sealless 3-A-approved pump using the eccentric disc principle (1991).
Blackmer's System One line, acquired in 2000, brings a consistent level of performance to centrifugal pumps. Another milestone occurred in 1964, when Blackmer was acquired by Dover Corporation, a diversified manufacturer of industrial and commercial products.
“Dover's strategy encourages a climate of entrepreneurialism that manifests itself in the products we make, the markets we enter, and the people we develop,” Bosco says. “Employees know they have the freedom to make decisions that can make a difference.”
In one way or another, many of the decisions made at Blackmer ultimately contribute to what the company considers its core business — selling uptime, not just pumps.
“We continue to listen to our end users and what they are experiencing when they are delivering product,” says Jim Kowske, vice-president of sales and marketing. “Drivers, for example, want to move product from one point to another, and they can't afford a pump failure. Much of their measurement of our product is during the unloading of the product and the time it takes to complete the task.”
In addition to selling pumps, Blackmer educates drivers about the pump's performance in delivering a load, regardless of whether they are using the traditional PTO and prop-shaft arrangement or a hydraulic pump drive system. Drivers typically face some delay when they arrive at the loading rack. Then it takes additional time to load and unload product into a retail marketer's storage tank.
“Sometimes there is a tendency to speed up a pump so that drivers can unload faster,” Kowske says. “Too much velocity can create cavitation in the pump. More carriers in the United States are beginning to equip their tank trailers with hydraulic drive. They see the safety benefits of hydraulics and the increased efficiency of controlling the speed of the pump.”
Perhaps nothing provides better evidence of Blackmer reliability than its work with the United States Navy. Since before World War II, virtually every Navy ship set sail with Blackmer pumps aboard. Many combat vessels use dozens of Blackmer pumps for loading fuel, fighting fires, pumping bilge water, and even launching jets.
“The proven performance in the most critical services, which has earned Blackmer pumps a place in the Navy for decades, also makes them a good bet to hold up in any industrial application,” says John Pepper, director of sales.
Pepper points to the company's captive foundry in Grand Rapids as further proof of its focus on reliability. Since 1925, the foundry has been used exclusively for Blackmer pump castings, giving the company complete quality control from start to finish.
“The bottom line with Blackmer products is low life-cycle costs,” Bosco says. “There's no question about it. The main reason this company is still thriving after 100 years is because our products last as long as they do. Blackmer provides a more economic life cycle solution for our pump and compressor customers.”