Most Innovative Companies #8: Blackwell Plastics
Over the next two weeks, we'll be counting down some of the most innovative industrial companies covered in-depth by Manufacturing.net and its sister publications throughout 2013.
We're proud to announce Blackwell Plastics as our #8 innovator — since 1939, they've been providing plastic products for a wide array of industries. Blackwell plastics have been used for the military, in aerospace applications, and with lower-profile products like venetian blinds, weed-eaters and Igloo water coolers. Their culture of safety and innovation, along with a true passion, makes them one of the most promising companies we covered in 2013.
An injured master mechanic, L.A. Blackwell fished to support his family. One of the most successful fisherman in the Houston area at the time, he didn’t use nets to make his catch, but instead, a rod and reel. And at the end of the line was a slip cork insert, which he invented, that enabled him to easily cast a float into deep water and fish near the bottom. He began selling this fishing tool, and became so successful that he couldn’t keep up with demand by producing wooden parts on a South Bend lathe. So, in 1939 – and inspired by a plastic toothbrush – he had a simple dream: To be able to produce a well-made, standard, plastic product.
He built his first injection molding machine by hand and Houston, TX became home to a leader in custom plastics injection molding and extrusion: Blackwell Plastics, Inc.
Building A Dream
Today, Jeff Applegate, president of Blackwell Plastics, says, “the thing I love about this business is everyday I’m working with a different industry, a different company, a different entrepreneur.”
Those looking back at the history of Blackwell Plastics and the history of the nation will see a parallel in their timelines. In the 1940s, the company was focused on producing products to support a nation in the midst of war and produced parts for the C130 military aircraft. The 1950s saw the return of U.S. veterans and the baby boom began. Blackwell Plastics produced products that reflected the economic boom: Nylon slides for venetian blinds, and the first plastic liner for Igloo water coolers that were common on industrial jobsites. Blackwell Plastics supported the space advancements of the 1960s, producing the plastic parts of the sensors that Alan Shepard wore on the Freedom 7 mission. During the 1960s, Blackwell Plastics manufactured the first disposable plastic tools used in open heart surgery. The Weed Eater was invented in the 1970s, and after trying to convince the inventor (George Ballas) that no one would ever want this silly tool, L.D. Blackwell (L.A. Blackwell’s son) created the first molds and Blackwell Plastics ended up producing over one million Weed Eaters. Houston saw entrepreneur Herb Allen create a $20 wine opener in the 80s, despite L.D. Blackwell’s insistence that people would still choose the $2 opener that was already available. Herb Allen subsequently gained worldwide recognition as the inventor of the Screw Pull, which is still popular today. In the 90s, Blackwell Plastics worked on the internal plastic components of the first portable Compaq computer. And a walk through the plant in 2013 can find the company producing iPad holders, ‘As Seen On TV’ products, and plastic faceplates for a frozen drink machine that is utilized by a national restaurant chain.
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