The Austin Company History

Samuel Austin, a young carpenter, came to the United States from England in 1872 with the intention of finding work rebuilding Chicago after the great fire. Samuel never made it to Chicago, but instead stayed in Cleveland and began working with a contractor who was busy building mid-Victorian residences. By 1878, Samuel Austin had earned such a reputation for good craftsmanship that he was able to set out on his own as an estimator and builder. Two years after establishing his own business, Samuel Austin founded his first shop in Cleveland.

Samuel’s residential construction soon led to commercial work and in 1889, he won the contract to construct a building for the Broadway Savings Bank. Among the bank’s clientele were industrial executives who saw the quality of Samuel’s work and who soon called on him to undertake their factory projects. Samuel first focused on the local market, but began to design and construct buildings outside of Cleveland beginning in 1895.

The Western Mineral Wool Company of Cleveland expanded into Chicago and needed a factory constructed there. The company asked Samuel to undertake the project. This marked the beginning of Samuel’s work beyond Cleveland. That same year, Samuel received a contract for Cleveland’s first electric lamp factory, followed by a succession of contracts from the National Electric Lamp Association (NELA), a predecessor of General Electric.

In 1899, Samuel Austin's son, Wilbert J. Austin, graduated with his engineering degree from the Case School of Applied Sciences (now part of Case Western Reserve University) and began working with his father. Wilbert Austin introduced the then heretical idea of providing engineering services, as well as construction services to clients. Customers came to Austin – then and now – for the benefits of truly integrated design-build services. This process of handling all aspects of design and construction became known as The Austin Method® and word of this new approach spread rapidly. It broadened the traditional approach to construction by offering contracts that started with planning, architecture and engineering, and ended with the finished building.

Before the end of 1904, the Samuel Austin & Son Company was incorporated, and The Austin Method® would carry the Company’s name throughout the United States and the world.

SEE ALSO: The Austin Method®

Austin’s more than 135-year history spans the Industrial Revolution and we like to say that our history is the history of industry in the United States. The Austin Method® changed the design and construction industry and the Design-Build Institute of America recognizes Austin as the founder of this project methodology. In addition, Austin’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit led to many industry breakthroughs, including development of standardized factory construction and the controlled-conditions plant, among many others.

In 1907, the Austins (father and son) constructed the first reinforced concrete structure in Cleveland for the H. Black Company. Today a registered Cleveland landmark, the building – now known as the Tower Press Building, was once the home of the Wooltex cloak factory, the largest manufacturer of women’s clothing between New York and Chicago.

In 1911, NELA awarded Austin a contract to build a large research complex at what today is GE’s NELA Park in East Cleveland. This was the world’s first planned, campus-type, industrial research center and was the forerunner of today’s corporate research center. This was also The Austin Company’s largest project at that time. Today, it remains the principal research and development center for the Lighting Group of the General Electric Company. Simultaneously, NELA awarded Austin the design and construction of a large lamp manufacturing plant a mile from the research complex. 

In 1914, Wilbert J. Austin conceived the idea of standardized factory design. Very much akin to Henry Ford’s strategy with Model T cars, this new standardized design proved to be more efficient, safer and cost effective. Unlike the basic black Model T however, Austin developed 10 different styles of industrial buildings, all customizable to meet client needs. This approach provided clients with flexibility in selecting and customizing a building to fulfill their unique requirements, and it also allowed for an efficiency in the design and building process that was unheard of at that time.

In 1916, the Austins changed the business name to The Austin Company and by 1931, expanded to over 17 branch offices across the United States.

During World War I, the Company built a number of manufacturing buildings in the United States and developed the first prefabricated factories to be shipped to Europe. Austin began serving the aviation industry and supported America’s war effort with the design and construction of an aircraft manufacturing facility for Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company in Buffalo, NY. Utilizing The Austin Method® and standardized facility design, over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing space for the JN-4 “Jenny” aircraft was constructed in 90 days – 30 days ahead of schedule.

Wilbert Austin was truly passionate about aviation and was a member of the first Board of Directors for the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929.

Austin quickly became an innovative and trusted leader in the aviation industry, and celebrated 100 years of service to aviation, aerospace and defense in 2016.

SEE ALSO: 100th Anniversary in Aerospace

In addition to aviation, The Austin Company has had a long association with the printing industry. In 1921, Austin constructed a production plant for The Warren Tribune. Over the years, Austin became well known as a leading design-builder of newspaper facilities in the United States and Canada, having designed and constructed more than 100 community newspaper and 30 metropolitan newspaper facilities. Among Austin’s largest newspaper projects is the $200-million, state-of-the-art publishing and distribution facility for The Plain Dealer in 1994.

In 1928, Austin – at its own expense – designed and constructed the Upper Carnegie Building. This was the world’s first all-welded steel frame commercial building, utilizing arc welding technology developed by Lincoln Electric Company. Austin’s focus on innovation and research further solidified the Company’s position as a design-build leader.

Across the street, in 1931, Austin constructed the state-of-the-art Carnegie Medical Building, using similar technology. This elegant eight-story building was specifically designed and built to fit the needs of the medical profession. For a number of years, it housed many of Cleveland’s leading physicians and surgeons. It was regarded as a beacon of education and healing, and a stunning example of Art Deco design.

Education was another passion of Wilbert Austin and as a Case graduate, he maintained close ties with the school. The Austin Company built the Rockefeller Mining and Metallurgy Building (1904-1905) and Rockefeller Physics Building (1905-1906) on Case’s Cleveland campus, along with the Nassau Astronomical Station (1956-1957) in Montville, Ohio. Austin also designed the Glennan Building (1969) and Carlton Road dormitory complex (1968).

Wilbert, and later his son Allan S. Austin, were both trustees of the Case School of Applied Science. Wilbert was president of the Case Alumni Association from 1935-1937 and received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Case in 1940, just months before his death. A Wilbert J. Austin Professor of Engineering endowed chair still exists today.

Austin has been at the forefront of the communications industry since Thomas Edison’s invention of the motion picture, and this grew significantly in the post-war years. By 1923, Austin established two offices on the West Coast to serve the fledgling movie industry and soon designed Hollywood’s first sound stages and film studios.

Building upon 20 years of experience in motion-picture production and radio broadcasting, Austin engineers began in 1943 to develop basic conceptual designs for local network telecasting studios and television stations. Because wartime restrictions prevented any actual construction, ideas were worked out in models, often in collaboration with technicians from NBC. These prototypes established the Company’s leadership in the television field, even before it signed its first contract to design and construct a television station.

Postwar, Austin designed and constructed a number of facilities for the major American broadcasting networks, as well as 50 of the first 75 local television stations in this country from 1945 to 1955.

Our Future

In 2005, Austin became a part of Kajima USA and is a proud member of the Kajima family of companies worldwide. Kajima Corporation is a top ranked global design and construction organization.

Austin is adaptive. As times have changed, so have we. We stick to our roots, but are also flexible with the fast-paced world we face today. The Austin Company personifies the American dream. One immigrant, his course of action changed, his skills put to the test, not only proved himself, but he found great success using his skills, values and work ethic to create a legacy that continues to impact nearly every facet of our daily lives.

Today, The Austin Company headquarters remain in Cleveland, with additional offices in California, Georgia, Michigan and Missouri, in addition to a joint venture company in Mexico. Austin continues to serve a diverse range of industries, including healthcare, aviation and aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, food and beverage, baking and snack, meat and poultry, pharmaceuticals, and nuclear support.

SEE ALSO: Industries We Serve

As it has in the past, The Austin Company continues to impact virtually every facet of life — from aerospace, defense and aviation; to food, beverage and consumer goods; to entertainment, energy, technology and communication. We are committed to innovatively solving the increasingly-complex facility challenges of industry, commerce and government. With the resources of Kajima USA Group and the worldwide Kajima organization, Austin continues to expand the breadth and depth of their solutions for a global market.

Read Full History of The Austin Company