Innovative thinking

Schaefer notesI received a gift this week, a really meaningful gift. In the process of preparing to move to our new corporate headquarters, someone discovered one of our company founder’s original engineering notebooks, and I was given the privilege of leafing through it.

For those of you who don’t know much about our company history, Franklin Electric was founded in 1944 by two men with a shared entrepreneurial spirit. One of those men was Edward J. Schaefer. Graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1923 from John Hopkins University, Mr. Schaefer worked for General Electric for a number of years before he and T. Wayne Kehoe started this company and named after Benjamin Franklin. Today, we’d call the Franklin Electric they founded  a “start-up”.

Mr. Schaefer was always thinking, inventing, solving. Within a few years, he had patented the first reliable submersible motor designed for residential use, and Franklin Electric submersible motors were soon providing a better way to deliver groundwater than other solutions available at the time. Even today, despite many improvements added along the way, Franklin Electric submersible motors still retain much of Mr. Schaefer’s engineering design and thinking. After retiring as CEO in 1985, Mr. Schaefer continued to work essentially full-time at Franklin Electric until his death in 1991 at the age of 90. Over his lifetime, he was awarded over 80 patents.

Looking through the pages, I was in awe. Reviewing page after page of meticulously handwritten notes, I pored over  calculations, graphs, and drawings on electrical motors, their properties, and how to improve them. I found myself steeped in history–and in the presence of a true visionary. Here’s a glimpse of what I saw:

  • A page of differential equations on the “ACCELERATION OF MOTORS” from January 21, 1929.
  • A page of notes and calculations on “REVOLVING FLUX WAVES IN MOTOR ROTORS” dated January 3, 1930.
  • An entire section labeled “MOTOR ACCELERATION KINEMATCS” from 1943.
  • From 1973, several sheets of notes and calculations with the title, “BIMETAL THERMAL TIME DELAY GATE SUPPLY FOR THE TRIAC WINDING CONTROL.” (This is the basic design for the BIAC switch still used today in Franklin Electric 2-wire motors.)

The list goes on and on. The book is packed with designs and calculations done with only the benefit of a slide rule–no pocket calculators, no computer-aided-design.

Open any business publication or advertisement today and you’ll see terms like entrepreneur, innovation, and forward thinking. Today they are part of our accepted business vernacular. Personally, I doubt if Mr. Schaefer ever used the word entrepreneur; I understand that he considered himself to be an electrical engineer first and foremost. But his pages of notes over 44 years remind us that innovation and entrepreneurship are not new. In all fields, our innovations today stand on the innovations of others. People like Edward J. Schaefer brought us this far. It’s our job to do the same for the next generation.

2 thoughts on “Innovative thinking

  1. What a gift! And what a great visionary! Please make sure these extraordinary treasures are preserved for future generations. They are the foundation of our Franklin legacy. Thanks for sharing, Mark!

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