Magnolia Metal Corp. Has Continued to Grow Since Moving to Auburn; Notes 50 Years As Local Industry
Fifty years ago this month, Magnolia Metal Corporation opened for business in Auburn, Nebraska. At that time, a gallon of gasoline cost 30 cents and the minimum wage was $1.25 an hour.
The company chose Auburn after an exhaustive nationwide search, determined to move out of a cramped half acre site on the East Coast.
Interestingly, although Auburn remains the company’s only manufacturing location, one reason for Auburn’s selection was because early thinking envisioned that there would be another facility built later on the West Coast: three locations in all, with Auburn serving as the hub.
After Nebraska was settled on as the state in which to locate, Auburn competed with Lincoln, Crete, Hastings and other cities for the plant’s location. Meetings with local officials and a positive assessment of the area’s work force, clinched the deal for Auburn.
Magnolia Metal was the first company in Nebraska to utilize “Industrial Development Bonds” to help finance construction, and years later, retired the remaining portion of the bonds early. The foundry opened in October of 1962, producing castings until machining equipment arrived in February of the following year.
Much has happened in the past 50 years. New processes and new products have transformed the company in 1963. If Magnolia Metal only created the products it did when it began manufacturing in Auburn, it would be open barely a week out of the month. (If the company only produced what it did when it was first founded in 1886, it would only be open 10 minutes a month!).
When Magnolia first opened in Auburn, all melting was done with gas-fired furnaces. Now, all melting is done in electric induction furnaces. In 1963, all bronze bearings were cast in steel molds, with a maximum length of 26 inches and a maximum diameter of 24 inches. Now, three continuous cast machines allow bars up to 12 1/2 inches in diameter to be cast up to 144 inches in length, and a larger electric furnace has expanded the casting range up to 34 inches in diameter.
Initially, the company could only machine rough or “semi-finish” blanks. There were only two prices: 67 cents a pound for solid bars and 68 cents a pound for cored ones. Cored bars over 13 inches in length were produced by machining a hole in one end, turning the bar around, and machining the other end, hoping that the holes met!
Many Products Ready to Use
Today, over 40 percent of Magnolia Metal Corporation’s products are shipped completely finished to customer’s blueprints and ready to use, and most parts are made on CNC or “computer numerically controlled” machines, to tolerances as tight of .001 of an inch—about the thickness of a human hair. Magnolia Metal is a certified supplier to some of the most exacting companies in the world.
The industry employed about 30 people when it first opened. Currently, there are about 85 workers on its payroll. A majority of Magnolia Metal’s work force lives in Auburn and Nemaha County, with the rest residing in surrounding counties, including from across the Missouri River.
Magnolia Metal recently completed an addition on the west side of the plant. This latest expansion will allow the Machine Shop to accommodate more equipment. The industry started with a facility of about 30,000 square feet. The building currently consists of between 110,000 and 120,000 square feet.
In February of 1963, most of Magnolia’s products were shipped back to the East Coast to industries that have long since disappeared. Today, bronze bearings are shipped worldwide to countries like Mexico, China and India.
In 1995, the company developed and patented an entirely lead-free bearing alloy. A new division started in 2002 serves the oil and natural gas industries, and already accounts for 20 percent of Magnolia Metal’s sales.
By constantly changing and adapting, Magnolia Metal prepares for its next 50 years in Auburn.