Categotry Archives: Business


Luke G. Williams


Categories: Business

lwilliams.jpgNeed to know the current time and temperature? Well, whenever you see a building featuring a sign with this alternating information, think of Luke and Chuck Williams.
In 1950, the brothers came up with the idea, formed American Sign and Indicator Corp., and hired Ed Schulenberg, president of the Time-O-Matic Co., to build a single panel of lights that would show the time for a few seconds and then the temperature for a few seconds. That sign was posted on the Seattle First National Bank building in Spokane, Wash., and became an instant hit.
Other banks and shops wanted to buy the signs too, but each one cost $12,000, which was more than most businesses could afford. So the Williams brothers decided to lease the technology. In 1981, they sold the company to the Brae Corp. for $20 million. Chuck Williams died in 1993.
Luke Williams then built the American Electronic Sign Co., where he developed giant, electronic scoreboards for sports stadiums. He sold that business to 3M in 2000. Both ventures were chronicled in his 2002 autobiography, “Luke G. Williams: An American Entrepreneur.”
Born in Pinecroft, Wash., Williams graduated from high school and served as a torpedo man in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He planned to go to college after the service to become an entomologist, but joined forces with his brother to build the family’s sign-making business instead.
Williams chaired the board of directors of the Association of Washington Business from 1967 to 1969, and was the only Washington businessman to chair the National Association of Manufacturers. He also served on the Spokane City Council and founded United for Washington, one of the state’s first political action committees.
Williams died on April 5. Cause of death was not released. He was 80.


Joseph Zimmermann Jr.


Categories: Business, Military, Scientists

Joseph James Zimmermann Jr. was running his own air-conditioning and heating company in 1948. He couldn’t afford to hire a secretary to take calls when he was out of the office, so he invented the answering machine.
Patented in 1949, the Electronic Secretary Model R1 weighed 80 pounds. It featured a box containing a control panel with a 78 rpm record player inside. When the phone rang, the machine would lift the telephone receiver from its cradle and play a recorded greeting. A wire recorder on top of a second box would then tape messages for 30 seconds.
Zimmermann teamed up with George W. Danner to launch Electronic Secretary Industries. By 1957, they had sold more than 6,000 answering machines. General Telephone Corp., which later became GTE, purchased the company and its patent rights that year.
A Milwaukee native, Zimmerman earned an electrical engineering degree from Marquette University. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, and was one of the first soldiers to land on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day.
When he returned to the states, Zimmerman spent many hours in his basement developing useful inventions. He created a “dial-a-lecture” system that allowed college students to hear prerecorded lessons by phone, a security device that automatically dialed a phone number in case of an emergency and a magnetic recorder used to monitor heart patients.
Zimmermann died on March 31. Cause of death was not released. He was 92.


Robert D. Orr

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Categories: Business, Military, Politicians

Robert Dunkerson Orr, the former governor of Indiana, died on March 10 from complications following kidney surgery. He was 86.
Orr attended Yale University and Harvard Graduate School of Business before enlisting in the Army in 1942. After fighting in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to Indiana to work in the Orr Iron Co., the family business.
Orr entered politics in the late 1960s. He was elected as a Republican to the state Senate and became Indiana’s lieutenant governor. In 1981, he ran against John Hillenbrand for governor and beat him by more than 300,000 votes.
In his two-term tenure, Orr energized the economy by luring foreign investment to Indiana. He passed two major tax increases to pay for his education reform bills and to fix the state’s budget problems. Orr also sat on the steering committee of the Education Commission of the States, and was the only governor asked to participate on U.S. Department of Education Secretary William Bennett’s Study Group on Elementary Education.
Unable to run for a third term, Orr left office in 1989. He spent the next three years as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, then formed Alliance for Global Commerce, a consulting firm.
The Robert D. Orr Scholarship for Global Studies has been established at the University of Southern Indiana. The Interstate 164 Bypass is also named in his honor.


Steve Thoburn


Categories: Business

sthoburn.jpgSteve Thoburn, a greengrocer in Sunderland, England, earned the nickname the “Metric Martyr” in 2001 when he refused to sell his wares using the metric system.
For selling bananas by the pound, Thoburn’s scales were seized by Trading Standards officers and used in his prosecution. European Union rules adopted by the British Parliament allow fruit and vegetables to be labeled in both metric and imperial measures, but all produce must be sold in grams and kilograms only.
Thoburn was found guilty of breaching the Weights and Measures Act and given a conditional six-month discharge. He and four other British vendors appealed the conviction to the House of Lords, but ultimately lost their two-year legal battle.
Thoburn left school when he was 16 and joined the family fruit and vegetable business. He opened his own shop in Southwick market in 1989, where he worked six days a week.
Britain’s most famous fruit vendor died on March 14 from heart failure. He was 39.


Brian Maxwell


Categories: Business, Sports

Brian Maxwell, a former world-class marathon runner and the founder of the multimillion-dollar PowerBar empire, died on March 19 from a heart attack. He was 51.
Although Maxwell was born in London, he grew up in Toronto and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1975 with a degree in architecture. He was an outstanding student athlete on the school’s track team who went on to represent Canada in many international competitions as a long-distance runner. Once ranked the No. 3 marathon runner in the world by Track and Field News, Maxwell served as a member of Canada’s Olympic track team when it boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980.
Maxwell invented the PowerBar after he was forced to drop out of a 26.2-mile marathon race at the 21-mile mark. He did some research and learned that was the point where the body ceased burning carbohydrates and began burning muscle tissue. So he and his wife, Jennifer, worked to devise a portable, tasty source of energy. They began selling PowerBars out of their kitchen in 1987. Within a decade, the popular energy bar company grew to $150 million in sales and 300 employees. They sold the company to Nestle SA in 2000 for a reported $375 million.
In the final years of his life, Maxwell sat on the board of directors of Coolsystems Inc., a sports medical device startup in Berkeley, Calif.

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