Product Engineering Company

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Product Engineering Company (PECO) was founded in 1939 by Ralph D. McGilvra. The production facility was located at 4707 S.E. 17th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. It was a pioneer in die casting, and was the largest and oldest firm in the Pacific Northwest.[1]

Company formation[edit]

While he worked at Iron Fireman in Portland, the owner of Williams Brakes, Norman Williams, approached McGilvra about casting brake parts. They successfully collaborated to cast brake parts, and Williams asked McGilvra to continue the partnership. But McGilvra wanted to own his own firm, and in 1939 he formed Product Engineering Company (PECO).[2]


During World War II, Product Engineering manufactured fuse shell parts for Army Ordnance, aircraft electrical fittings, and electrical fittings for The Maritime Commission.[3]

After the war, Product Engineering expanded considerably and became a custom job shop for those with product ideas. PECO produced furniture hardware and handles, builders hardware, thermostatic controls, fire extinguishers, various toys, parts for recording instruments, precision sextant parts, aircraft castings, Con-Voy golf carts, postman delivery carts for both the United States and the Dutch governments, aluminum hem-measuring gauges for home dressmakers, marine hardware, and radiation measuring identification cards. However, the biggest successes came from products marketed nationally - air brake control valves, lawn sprinklers, and floor polishers marketed under the Beal Speed Polisher brand.

Toy trucks[edit]

Product Engineering made several toys, including Sturdi-Bilt toy trucks[4][5] , through a marketing arrangement with Sturdi-Bilt Toy Company.[6]

Toy cap gun[edit]

The Frontier Smoker Cap gun was likely made beginning in 1949 or early 1950. A fire completely destroyed PECO in August, 1950, and local news articles indicate the toy was stocked in five national warehouses (Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles and Portland) in preparation for fall orders and Christmas.[7]

The gun held a roll of 50 caps and shot a puff of harmless white smoke when the trigger was pulled. The trigger caused talcum powder to be ejected by an internal bellows.

The gun was nickel plated, but a gold-plated version was given to Smiley Burnette, a famous cowboy and comic, in 1950.

Since PECO was a job shop, it is unknown if they originated the idea for the gun. Versions have been found with Talbott Manufacturing cast into the right side of the gun.

Plastic toy soldiers[edit]

A trade advertisement from 1954 indicates PECO made plastic toy soldiers and figurines - soldiers, cowboys, Indians, gold miners and girls![8]

In 1953, John Benneth joined PECO. With his brother, they had built figurines out of clay as young boys living on a farm. This life long hobby of modeling led John to conceive the idea of plastic figurines with removable attachments. He pitched his idea to McGilvra, who agreed to produce the toy in plastic.[9]

Benneth modeled the original figures and designed the packaging along with the chief engineer, Charles T. Freeling. East Coast manufacturers like Marx quickly copied the design. With the larger markets and attention to design and cost, these competitors quickly dominated PECO.

Benneth left PECO in 1955 to pursue a career in the wood products industry.


On August 6, 1950 a fire completely destroyed the building, turning it into a 6-foot-high (1.8 m) pile of rubble. The building was valued at $150,000, and fifty people were employed. McGilvra displayed tremendous tenacity and, against the counsel of many, had equipment operating in 10 days under a tin roof. Customers, employees, suppliers and even competitors came to his aid, and he ran production from five different locations around Portland until a new structure was built.[7]

Founder's death and sale of company[edit]

McGilvra died in 1962,[10] and in July 1963 Northwest Industries Inc. (NWI) acquired PECO.[11] Northwest Industries, located in Albany, Oregon did precision machining and fabrication of refractory, reactive- and corrosive-resistant metals for the pulp and paper, chemical and aerospace industries.

At the time of purchase, PECO had 24,000 square feet (2,200 m2) of production space, 6 die-casting machines, 3 injection molding machines, and a tool and die shop. PECO had revenues of over $1,000,000 and 75 employees. Paul C. Diegel was the general manager, and Clyde Rushing was the executive vice president for the combined operations. The owner of NWI was Charles K. McCormack, the former mayor of Albany, President of Delta Land Company, and the insurance company of Beam, McCormack and Atwood. Besides its own products, PECO manufactured and distributed Convoy golf and mail carts and Sea Dart marine hardware.

In March 1966 McCormack orchestrated the merger of PECO with three other businesses—North Albany Land Company, Delta Land and Investment Company and Delta Improvement Corporation—and formed Northwest Intermountain Development Company (NWIDC).[12] At that time, PECO did custom die-casting and plastic molding, and manufactured a line of mail carts, golf carts and accessories. Clyde Rushing was executive vice president of finance for NWIDC and also president of PECO.

In 1967, PECO was purchased by Dean Schamp, Clyde Rushing, A.W. Michaelis, and Ed Halberg, and added injection-molding services and aerospace products to its offerings.[13]

In 1972, the company acquired Sunne Controls, a manufacturer of temperature controls for the commercial cooking, agricultural and HVAC industries and renamed itself PECO Manufacturing.[13]


  1. ^ Ralph McGilvra tribute, 1962
  2. ^ Interview with M. McGilvra, 2007
  3. ^ PECO company documents, 1951-1952
  4. ^ U.S. Toy Magazine, July 1986
  5. ^ McElwee's Collector Guide #10, Postwar Big Metal Classic, May 1994,
  6. ^ Coos Bay Times, 1952
  7. ^ a b Oregon Journal, August 6, 1950
  8. ^ Playthings, March 1954
  9. ^ Interview with John Benneth, 2007
  10. ^ The Oregonian, June 7, 1962
  11. ^ The Oregonian, July 10, 1963
  12. ^ The Oregonian, March 1966
  13. ^ a b "About PECO". PECO Manufacturing. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 

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