OVER A CENTURY OF MAKING CASTINGS
The Early Years
Every successful family-owned business learns to confront problems and arrive at solutions in order to survive over a long period. The Leach family’s drive and determination to succeed in business is connected in part to our family history—dealing with the extreme conditions of the Irish Potato Famine in Ireland, and the discrimination against Irish immigrants during their early years in America.
The story of the Leach family business begins in Ireland in 1845. During the famine, the Leach family—four adults and many children—left Ireland for the new world, settling in New York City for a short time. Irish immigrants were plentiful and good jobs were scarce but the Leach men found work as stone cutters.
Seeking more favorable conditions for the family, they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846, where the people of Hartford had plunged into a frenzied period of money making and business expansion. The city enjoyed the highest per capita wealth in America. The well-to-do pursued culture, philanthropy and sports. At the bottom of the pyramid, more than 6,000 Irish immigrants struggled.
Gradually, they filtered into factories, although for a long time many employers hung out signs reading “No Irish Need Apply.” One of the largest employers in that city was the Colt Armory & Foundry. We believe the Leach men found higher paying jobs as foundry workers.
The West Coast and Starting the Excelsior Foundry
The first Leach foundry was started by Patrick Francis Leach, who was in born Ireland and brought to America as an infant. As a young man he left Connecticut, perhaps to escape the discrimination (and for the same reason, he switched his first two names, becoming Francis P. Leach), and made his way to Galesburg, Illinois, where he stayed for two years. Then he and his family traveled by train and boat to Portland, Oregon, arriving in 1877.
Francis P. found work in the Smith & Watson Iron Works and learned the skills needed to open his own foundry. The Northwest was growing rapidly and there was a need for construction castings. Francis P. responded by starting his own foundry, Excelsior Iron Works, in Portland, Oregon. The original business journal states, “Opened for business today, March 17, 1880.” The obvious pride of accomplishment is evident on Page 1 of the old book, “The list of assets includes shovels, miscellaneous foundry tools and a steam engine with a $650 mortgage.”
So after crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the American continent, the immigrant family from Dublin had found the American dream in the Northwest—a prosperous business and a good place to raise their families. Nearing retirement age in 1905, Francis P. sold the foundry to his sons, Winfield and George Leach, which they renamed Leach Brothers Iron Works.
Our Second Foundry
In the early 1900s, Portland, Oregon was a thriving city of over 100,000 people, already known as the Boston of the West for its cultural sophistication. As a natural port on the Columbia River, Portland was the hub of commerce for the inland industries: logging, mining and agriculture. The demand for cast iron construction products exceeded the capacity of the Portland foundry. Winfield and George expanded the business, opening a foundry in Seattle, Washington. Products included sash weights, washers, bridge castings, and general industrial machinery castings.
Then came the crash.
The worldwide economy staggered after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. With few housing starts, the need for construction castings that were the lifeblood of both foundries evaporated. By 1933, many of the equipment manufacturers that relied on Leach Brothers to cast their products were weakened or bankrupt. The Leach family attempted a consolidation, combining both foundries into one hoping to have one survive, but it was useless. There was not enough casting demand to keep the remaining foundry operating. It was devastating to the families. Not only did the foundries close, but Winfield and his wife Ethel lost their home, car, and all valuable assets. Their sons Walter and Winfield, Jr. found jobs and helped to support the family. Ethel and their young daughter Charlotte were sent to live with relatives on a farm in Oregon. George and Winfield searched for a new start and the right business opportunity.
During the mid 1930s the Leach brothers sought new markets and a location for another foundry away from the depressed Northwest. They opened Pacific Ball Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles in 1935. This endeavor focused on the production of grinding balls and mill liners for gold mines, metal mines and cement plants. Many new copper mines were opening in the Southwest, and this was good for Pacific Ball. Increased demand for pulverized aggregate drove grinding-ball production and allowed them to offer their abrasion-resistant products.
Winfield’s son, Walter, joined the business soon after it opened in Los Angeles and later became President, a third generation Leach to manage the foundry. Walter saw an opportunity in partnering with the International Nickel Company, and under his direction, Pacific Ball became the first licensed producer of Ni-Hard in the West. Pacific Ball introduced this revolutionary wear-resistant iron to the Arizona copper mines and many material processing plants in California.
The Seventies & Eighties: Beginning of Solid Growth
As Pacific Ball found new markets and products, the 1970s and ‘80s were devoted to upgrading the facilities to produce those parts. By this time, another Leach, Walter’s son James, joined the company. There were new problems to be solved: producing larger castings, thicker sections, complex configurations, higher production demands, tighter tolerances, new alloys, meeting the need for greater quality assurance procedures and solving new environmental requirements. Many process improvements aided the company’s growth. The switch to electric induction melting, No Bake molding, automatic green-sand molding, and PLC controls on many processes were part of this rapid expansion, quality improvement and workplace upgrading.
With the passing years, Walter Leach retired and James Leach, the fourth generation Leach to manage a Leach foundry, became President. Soon after, James changed the company’s name to reflect the diverse product line produced by Pacific Alloy Casting Company.
By 1990, Pacific Alloy was one of the larger domestic manufacturers of Ni-Hard and Hi-Chrome iron in the West. Favorable business conditions allowed Pacific Alloy to continue to grow and diversify, while at the same time improving the quality of its products. Stainless steel production was expanded to meet the increased demand. Always a leader in health and safety matters, Pacific Alloy responded to the many natural resource issues that faced all American industries during the 1990s.
The New Millennium
New challenges for Pacific Alloy come from many directions. We continue to improve our facility, adding the newest production equipment available. We strive to achieve industrial leadership through excellence in product quality, superior production facilities, customer service, innovation, employee involvement, and profitable growth. We continue to promote a team environment that will allow us to recognize and respond to an ever-changing marketplace.