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|Founder||Samuel Oscar Blanc|
Number of employees
Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Water Cleanup Service provides plumbing repair, sewer & drain services and water damage cleanup services to residential and commercial customers. Roto-Rooter is a United States company founded in 1935 which originally specialized in clearing tree roots and other obstructions from sewer lines. Today[when?] it employs thousands of plumbers, and service technicians throughout the U.S. and Canada who provide plumbing, water cleanup and sewer and drain cleaning services. Roto-Rooter also employs manufacturing technicians and assembly workers at its manufacturing plant in West Des Moines, Iowa. The plant manufactures the company's patented, proprietary Roto-Rooter sewer and drain cleaning machines as well as sewer and drain cleaning cables and blades.
In the late 1920s, Samuel Oscar Blanc (1883–1964) was motivated by a stubborn clogged sewer at his son's (Milton L. Blanc) Des Moines, Iowa, apartment to seek a better solution than digging up the sewer line to remove tree roots that had invaded the underground sewer pipe.
By 1933, Samuel Blanc had fashioned a sewer-cleaning machine from a washing machine motor, wheels from a child's little red wagon and a 3/8" steel cable. The cable rotated with a sharp C-shaped blade attached to the tip. This rotating motion cut tree roots out of sewer lines, eliminating the tedious and expensive need to dig up pipes and clear obstructions by hand. Blanc's wife, Lettie (née Lettie Jensen), called his invention, a heavy-duty plumber's snake, the "Roto-Rooter".
By the mid-1930s, Blanc was selling his patented "Roto-Rooter" machines for $250 and incorporated a business around it called Roto-Rooter Corporation. Many who were eager for work in the midst of the Great Depression started their own Roto-Rooter businesses throughout the upper Midwest, the Great Plains and the Northeast. Sewer cleaners are not required to have a plumbing license so in the 1930s a man could earn a decent living with only minor training operating the Roto-Rooter machine and a willingness to advertise his local business. Roto-Rooter's sewer cleaning service allowed homeowners to avoid digging up lawns and landscaping to reach underground sewer pipes. This modern breakthrough was such a revolutionary concept in the 1930s and 40s that Roto-Rooter featured an illustration of a mound of dirt over a recently excavated sewer pipe with the caption, "Why put a grave in your yard?"
In 1939, after his Roto-Rooter sewer cleaning machine proved successful, Sam Blanc designed and built a smaller model that operated on the same principle but could clean and clear bathroom and kitchen sink drains as well as laundry drains and other household plumbing drains. Blanc also built a much larger version of the Roto-Rooter machine called the Roto-Rooter Royal. It had to be towed by a truck and featured a 10 hp gasoline engine and 1000 feet of steel cable. It was capable of cleaning large industrial and municipal sewer pipes. An improved version called "The Mainliner" was introduced in 1958 that could also thread telephone cable. It was discontinued in 1973.
In 1980, the Blanc family sold Roto-Rooter Corporation to Cincinnati-based Chemed Corporation. Chemed began purchasing independent Roto-Rooter franchises and operating them as company-owned service locations under the newly formed Roto-Rooter Services Company, whose corporate headquarters is in downtown Cincinnati. Chemed sold off some of its holdings in Roto-Rooter in both 1984 and 1985, bringing its ownership stake to just below 60%, and launched a bid in 1996 to reacquire the 42% of shares that it had earlier sold off.
In the 1980s, some Roto-Rooter franchises and company-owned locations began to offer around-the-clock service and general full-service plumbing repair for both residential and commercial customers. Today,[when?] Roto-Rooter's 24-hour plumbing services represent a major part of the company's business. The company has more than 600 service locations operating throughout North America that serve more than 90% of the U.S. population in all fifty states and more than 40% of the Canadian population. Roto-Rooter is the largest provider of plumbing repair and sewer & drain cleaning services in both countries.
In 2009, Roto-Rooter introduced a book titled Chilling Tales From The Porcelain Seat which featured "true tales of the strange & unexplained things that happen and the Roto-Rooter Heroes that can fix them." Roto-Rooter asked its plumbers throughout North America to submit true stories about the odd things they have encountered on the job such as strange items recovered from toilets and sewer pipes.
2015 marked the company's 80th anniversary.
Roto-Rooter remains the largest provider of plumbing repair, sewer and drain cleaning services in both the U.S. and Canada. The company does little or no new construction plumbing work. Its primary work involves making plumbing repairs to existing residential and commercial plumbing systems, unclogging and repairing sewers and drains and providing water damage cleanup. Roto-Roooter began providing water damage cleanup services in some company-owned locations in early 2015. By 2017, all company-owned branches and many independent contractors and franchises were providing water damage cleanup services.
Roto-Rooter Corporation, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, maintains a manufacturing plant, which produces Roto-Rooter tools, machinery, drain cleaning cable and blades for the plumbing and drain-cleaning industry. The company also produces two lines of commercial drain-care products, one line is available only through Roto-Rooter service technicians and the other is a line of retail drain care products sold in retail stores.
Employees of Roto-Rooter are mostly non-union. The CEO of Roto-Rooter Group is Spencer Lee. The CEO of Chemed Corporation, Roto-Rooter's parent company, is Kevin J. McNamara. The CFO of Chemed Corporation is David P. Williams. Thad Reinhard is president of Roto-Rooter Corporation in West Des Moines. Rick Arquilla serves as president and COO of Roto-Rooter Services Company, based in Cincinnati, and he appeared in an April 2010 episode of the CBS reality show Undercover Boss.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Roto-Rooter service vehicles bore the slogan "Roto-Rooter's patented cutting blades slice through roots and cut them away ... Razor-Kleen!"
The Roto-Rooter advertising jingle used today on TV and radio was created in 1954 and has been one of the longest-running and best-remembered musical jingles in history:
"Call Roto-Rooter, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain."
Many memorable Roto-Rooter TV commercials were introduced over the years that featured the iconic Roto-Rooter advertising jingle, helping to make it a familiar piece of Americana.
In December 2017, Roto-Rooter released a TV commercial that introduced a new slogan, "We Do Both," to explain to the public that Roto-Rooter does both plumbing repair and water damage cleanup. The commercial, which began airing on television and in targeted internet ads, features a nosy neighbor asking a Roto-Rooter plumber standing at the curb "what are you doing with the Johnson's sofa?" The Roto-Rooter plumber explains that the Johnsons had a pipe break that flooded their house and that he had fixed the broken pipe and now Roto-Rooter is "cleaning up the damage."
In popular culture
The Science-Fiction Comedy "Futurama" parodied the Roto-Rooter jingle in the episode "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love" A robot and an unseen singer recite the jingle as the robot motions with its extendable rooter arm.
"Call Robo-Rooter, when you flush the towel, and we can also help with that impacted bowel."
Similarly, in 1993, the ninth episode of the fourth season of the television series, The Simpsons featured a parody of the Roto-Rooter jingle for Homer's snow plowing business called Mr. Plow. The jingle used the Roto-Rooter jingle's melody but the lyrics were changed to "call Mister Plow, that's my name, that name again is Mr. Plow!"
A Roto-Rooter service van is shown jumping across an open section of a bridge over the Los Angeles River in the 2015 motion picture, The Wedding Ringer and one of the characters in the film portrays a Roto-Rooter service technician.
Roto-Rooter was featured in the SyFy television show Ghost Hunters (2004–2016) as the two founders of TAPS work for Roto-Rooter as plumbers in the company's Providence, Rhode Island branch. There are segments featuring Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson working as plumbing technicians in their day jobs at Roto-Rooter in between paranormal investigations on the show. Additionally, a Roto-Rooter van is shown in the opening segment of each episode.
In 2010, an episode of the CBS television series, Undercover Boss featured Roto-Rooter president and COO, Rick Arquilla and a number of Roto-Rooter employees from across the United States.
Roto-Rooter is parodied as "Roto-Router" in the JD Frazer webcomic User Friendly.
In the 1996 film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Agent Fleming (voiced by Robert Stack) instructs Agent Hurley to give Butt-Head a cavity search, stating "I'm talking Roto-Rooter. Don't stop until you reach the back of his teeth."
- Abrams, Paul. "Journalist Center". Roto-Rooter Plumbing, Drains & Water Cleanup Service. Retrieved 2006-10-08.
- Staff. "Interview: Jerry Richards discusses his group's recording of the Roto-Rooter jingle 50 years ago", National Public radio, May 24, 2004. Accessed June 9, 2009. "In 1933, as legend has it, Sam Blanc sought a way to unclog drains without digging. He took some sharp blades, attached them to a washing machine motor ..."
- "Giants Restoration". Saturday, 19 January 2019
- Staff. "CHEMED TO START ROTO-ROOTER TENDER OFFER", The New York Times, August 9, 1996. Accessed June 9, 2009.
- Roto-Rooter Plumbers Canada Domain Name. "A list of Canadian Roto-Rooter locations", Accessed July 28, 2009.
- Boyer, Mike. "Roto-Rooter's Ditty Turns 50", The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 13, 2004. Accessed June 9, 2009.