The history of The C.A. Lawton Co.: The second generation

By C.A. Lawton | February 13, 2019
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First-generation president and company founder, Charles Lawton, stood at Lawton’s helm its conception in 1879. Through his inventiveness, and knack for networking, he rescued his company from near bankruptcy, and became an industry pioneer with the Lauson-Lawton engine. This innovation brought electricity to rural farming areas for over 13 years, and afforded Lawton the opportunity to expand its market share. Although this marked Charles Lawton’s last contribution to the industry, his legacy lived on through his son.

In 1917, first generation president and company founder, Charles Lawton, passed away after giving 38 years to the company. His passing signified the end of an era. However, his son, Edward Lawton, had learned from his father and was ready to take over as company president. Also at this time, Elcey M. Lawton, wife of the late Charles Lawton, took on the role of vice president. Together they were able to usher in a new era of growth and innovation into the company.

Throughout the 1920’s, The C.A. Lawton Co. continued to thrive. The Lawton-Lauson Company continued production of air compressors, and Edward Lawton’s son, Charles Lawton II, became part of Lawton’s management team.

In the latter part of the decade, Lawton’s production of air compressors led to the formation of a new relationship with the Buhl Company of Chicago. With the development of this relationship, the company began using its technologies to manufacture Buhl air compressors.

Also during the 1920’s, America was experiencing an economic boom, which resulted in increased demand for coal on both consumer and commercial sides of the market. Because of this, coal became the main focus of the manufacturing industry, Lawton included. Because The C.A. Lawton Co. had only recently broken into the consumer market through the Lauson-Lawton Company, Edward Lawton saw this as a great opportunity to expand the company’s consumer product offering. Thus, in 1928, Lawton began allocating the majority of its capacity to develop a line of coal stokers. This remained a profitable outlet for years until oil and natural gas replaced coal as a chief source of energy.

The best business minds know when to innovate and take a step forward, and when to take advantage of a thriving market. Edward Lawton truly had a mind for business. He was wise like his father, and in the years to come, he would prove that he was also focused on community, too.

In 1929, The Great Depression hit, causing a great deal of change and difficulty for the nation, and for The C.A. Lawton Co. in the coming decade. The first of the changes was the disbanding of the Lawton-Lauson Company in 1930. The Great Depression also resulted in eventual bankruptcy for the Buhl Company, leaving Lawton to handle the total production cost of the air compressors. With the financial strain already placed on the company by the depression, this was a giant stress for Edward Lawton and his company. It wasn’t until the end of the 1940’s that Lawton was able to fully phase out production of the Buhl line.

In the face of these financial tensions, Lawton was forced to lay off many of its dedicated workers. Those that stayed on, including Edward Lawton and his family, took dramatic pay cuts in order to keep on as many people as possible. Some weeks, payroll was missed altogether. However, they always tried to make up for it in future weeks.

During this time, the trust and patience of their employees was crucial. However, when cutting costs was no longer enough to keep the company afloat, finding a solution became even more crucial. Edward Lawton knew the company needed more than its current production of coal stokers, power transmissions and air compressors to remain solvent during this time. Thus, they began developing V-belt sheaves in order to improve the efficiency of Lawton’s flat belt pulley systems, and make it more attractive to the market. Many companies were able to use this to improve their efficiency. However, it was Lawton that was leading the way once again with another innovation.

Because of the importance Edward Lawton placed on the employees, and his sheer inventiveness, The C.A. Lawton Co. remained one of the biggest employers in De Pere in the 1930’s, employing 100 to 150 individuals. Edward Lawton had achieved success through innovation and community just as his father had. Soon, after The Great Depression ended, his son would do the same as the third-generation president of Lawton.