Founder Story: Hoover Universal

Logo Hoover Universal 1985The Hoover Steel Ball Company was founded by Leander Hoover on March 17, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The tiny operation (it occupied two abandoned factory sheds) was competing against giant German steel ball manufacturers who dominated the market. However, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 saw the British naval blockade of Germany and its exports. Business and government turned to Hoover to help meet wartime ball bearing requirements and the little Michigan company flourished. Four years later, the company had grown to cover 15 acres and, by 1920, had sales of over $3 million.

But luck alone was not responsible for the company’s success. Leander Hoover had a wealth of experience in the steel ball business and no lack of confidence. He wrote to prospective investors in February 1913, “I have had 19 years in the ball business, and believe there is not a man in the United States who has had more experience in this business than myself.”

After working for the Standard Roller Bearing Co. of Philadelphia (the nation’s largest manufacturer of ball bearings), Hoover and a partner formed their own company in Pennsylvania in which Hoover took over sales and management. There Hoover gained a reputation as a convincing talker and knowledgeable salesman.

Hoover sold his share of that business and moved to Chelsea, Michigan to manage the ball manufacturing department of the far-flung Flanders Manufacturing Company. Although the company as a whole floundered, its ball business flourished.

Hoover moved to take over Flanders’ ball operations and formed the Hoover Steel Ball Company. The Chelsea ball factory was bought out and moved piece by piece to Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, Leander Hoover didn’t get to enjoy the long-term success of his company, as he passed away after a long illness in April 1919.

In 1977 the company’s shareholders authorized a name change to Hoover Universal; eight years later, Johnson Controls acquired the company.