Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Beating Plowshares into Swords

Back when my son and I were building combat robots we visited a lot of surplus stores and scrap yards, looking for components that were sturdy, cheap and when possible, cool.  One time we ran across a pallet full of metal boxes that all bore similar markings:

We thought these were promising items and used them in several machines.  The pink paint residue is from the original Barby Jeep weaponization.  The smaller green box represented pretty much the entire metallic structure of a 30 pound robot called Arbor Mortae the rest of it being made from a log.

The ventilation holes on top were so that the fans on our electronic speed controllers could keep things cool.  The other holes we drilled for wires going in and out.  The bottom unit was a kind of module "robot brain" that featured in several of our more comedic machines.  Literally we would end a tournament by driving the robot directly into a spinning hazard, reducing the machine to bouncing parts.  Then just stroll in, disconnect the armored electronics case and bring it home.  The other detritus mostly got swept into the dumpster.

Now I mostly use them for storing nuts and bolts.

I had known that FMC was a big defense contractor.  They made gun turrets for naval vessels at a factory in our area.  When that shut down a lot of their surplus made it out into the market.  These boxes actually seem to have held dies, taps and other machining tools.  But until very recently I did not know what FMC stood for.  Guess I figured it was Federal Munitions Company or some such.

Not so.  It actually stands for Food Machinery Corporation.

FMC got its start in 19th century southern California as the Bean Spray Pump Company.  It was started by a fellow named Bean but the agricultural theme was apt.  They made a pump used to spray insecticides.  They later acquired a couple of other companies including one that made machinery for canning plants.  The 1928 name change to Food Machinery Corporation reflects this.

Plowshares started getting seriously beaten into swords with the mass conversion of American industry to war production during World War Two.  There were many peculiar changes in product line that ensued.  The Singer sewing machine company became a major producer of bomb sites, rifle components and the M1911 pistol.  Most typewriter manufacturers converted over to making machine guns.

FMC built amphibious landing vehicles during the war, and continued on to be a sizable builder of armored vehicles throughout the post war years.

Like many big corporations it has grown, merged and spun off parts to the extent that it is difficult for the non accountant to tell exactly what they make now, but they continue to be very financially successful at whatever they are now up to.


Weetabix said...

Odd initials can be interesting. We have some flea markets in our area: STD Central, STD East. Only the brave of heart walks in there unprotected. I finally asked what it stood for - Springfield Tool and Die. They were machine shop supply houses before the initials became worrisome.

Tacitus2 said...


I have had a few patients who visit STD Central regularly.