Two leading suppliers of wire harness assembly equipment are celebrating their centennials at the National Electrical Wire Processing Technology Expo in Milwaukee this week. Artos Engineering Co. and The Eraser Co. Inc. both trace their roots to 1911.

Artos first developed automatic measuring and cutting machines for textile ribbon and narrow, flexible materials. It was a patented “flying sheer” design for high-speed measuring and cutting.

John Olsen II, the fourth-generation head of the family company, says no one knows exactly where or how the Artos name originated. “One theory is that it was derived from a Greek word,” he explains. “It refers to a loaf of leavened bread that is blessed during services in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic religions. The other theory is that profits were so good one year, they couldn’t count on their fingers anymore. So, someone suggested counting on ‘our toes.’”

The Milwaukee-based company struggled in its first decade while trying to find a broader market for its equipment. Then, Haaken Olsen, an up-and-coming young engineer who joined Artos in 1918, noticed an increased usage of insulated copper wire in the manufacturing of automobiles, appliances and radios. At the time, those wires were laboriously cut and stripped by hand.

Olsen thought there might be a market for machines that would pull insulated copper from a reel, measure predetermined lengths of wire and cut it off, and at the same time, remove the insulation from both ends of the wire.

According to John Olsen, his great grandfather was a Norwegian emigrant. Before joining Artos, he was an electrical engineer at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co., a leading manufacturer of steam engines, steam turbines, flour mills, transformers and mining equipment at the time (the company made a famous line of orange-colored construction equipment and farm tractors at a later date).

With Olsen’s persistence, Artos developed the CS-1 automatic wire cutting and stripping machine in 1926. No such machine had ever been made before and Olsen vowed to sell at least a dozen. One of the first customers was the Atwater Kent Co. (a leading manufacturer of radios-it operated the largest radio factory in the world in Philadelphia), which purchased six machines in 1928.

The CS-1 was mechanically driven, and adjustments to length were by moving a series of levers. In sharp contrast, current designs feature all-electric and programmable controls. The instant success of the CS-1 created a whole new industry, with Artos eventually selling more than 55,000 wire processing machines. The company is planning to hold a contest this summer to find the oldest working machine.

The Eraser Co. was also founded in 1911. At that time, the only product it manufactured was the Rush Fybrglass Eraser, which was used for typing and drafting corrections. The Original Rush Eraser (named after company founder, J.K. Rush) was made of brass tubing. It was plated and used an ordinary spun-glass refill.

“It could (and still does) remove ink from paper,” says Laura Prattico, sales and marketing manager. “Originally used by typists and stenographers, its abrasive and industrial qualities allowed the applications of the Rush Eraser to expand beyond clerical and toward industrial.”

According to Prattico, industrial uses included cleaning and preparing electrical contacts for termination and connection. The tool could also be used for cleaning corrosion, oxidation, and eventually, the removal of enamel from magnet wire.

In November 1943, an extensive study of the requirements of manufacturers of various types of electrical equipment was done, wherein resistance and magnet wire were used. “There was a need for a machine to perform operations being performed by hand,” says Prattico.

Extensive experimental and development work led to the creation of two machines designed to remove enamel insulation from resistance and magnet wire. These machines were placed in the production line of two manufacturers and demonstrated to another.

“The results were outstanding,” Prattico points out. “Many other methods of stripping insulation from wire have been developed since then, most of which are still available.”

Today, The Eraser Co. continues to be a leading manufacturer of erasers. But, over the past 20 years, the company has continually expanded and refined its product line to include all types of wire processing equipment, such as cutters, strippers, twisters, wire brush wheels, reelers and dereelers, infrared heating equipment and measuring tools.

The company is still based in Syracuse, NY, where it’s in its second generation of leadership by the BeVard family. Ralph BeVard Sr. served as president from 1963 to 2005. His son, Marcus, has been CEO since 2004.