Andrew Young McDonald, founder of the A. Y. McDonald Mfg. Co., was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1834. He was orphaned as a young child and became the sole support of his aunt, Eelen Young. At age 14, he began his apprenticeship as a plumber under the guidance of James Steele. A.Y., as he was known, was a very quick study in the plumbing trade and received his journeyman plumber certification a few months earlier than the usual seven year apprenticeship term.
Shortly thereafter in 1854, A.Y. decided to leave his mother country and set off with his aunt for America, eventually moving to Dubuque where his sister, Martha, had settled with her husband, Mr. John Morrison.
It was in Dubuque that A.Y. McDonald decided to settle and opened his plumbing shop. This shop was so small that A.Y. found it necessary to cut a hole in the outside wall to allow a length of pipe to protrude while the other end, held in a vise, was threaded in his shop. He was a young man with an inventive mind building his business a job at a time. The year was 1856.
A.Y. developed a fondness for his new country and applied for and was granted his United States citizenship on November 5, 1860. With the outbreak of the Civil War, A.Y. enlisted in Company I, First Iowa Infantry, otherwise known as the Governor’s Greys, in 1861. A.Y. was wounded twice in battle – once at the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri and again at the Siege of Vicksburg. While A.Y. was serving his country, he was granted patent number 38,316 for his improvements of the screw wrench, otherwise known as the “monkey” wrench.
After the war, A.Y. returned to his business of plumbing. It was at this same time he sold his wrench patent to an anonymous man who appeared in Dubuque for the sole purpose of purchasing this patent.
As the business grew, A.Y. found a need to relocate his shop in 1871 and again in 1873. At this same time, A.Y. realized that the business of pumps was more lucrative than that of plumbing The genius of A.Y. showed itself again when he conceived the idea of inserting a brass lining in the iron cylinders of his pumps so that rust from the cylinder would not attack the plunger leather, causing it to prematurely wear. Also, by inserting this lining, A.Y. could still use the defective porous iron cylinder castings he would normally throw away.
This ingenuity fueled tremendous growth in the company. In 1877, A.Y. erected his first factory and iron foundry. In 1882, another addition was built on the factory which included a brass foundry and machine shop. The following year, in 1883, A.Y. McDonald entered the plumbing wholesale business with the establishment of his branch warehouse in Chicago.
John Morrison II
In the late 1880’s, A.Y.’s health began a slow decline. A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. was formally incorporated on May 1, 1888 in preparation for the founder’s departure from the business. A.Y.’s two sons, A.Y. II and John, left school to enter the business to prepare for the uncertain times ahead. On September 19, 1889, A.Y. McDonald resigned as President and abdicated in favor of his nephew, John Morrison II, whose age and experience made him a natural choice to become the next President. A.Y. McDonald succumbed to illness and died on July 29, 1891.
With John Morrison II as President, the family decided to sell a one quarter interest in the company in exchange for a payment of $25,000. The name of the company was promptly changed to A.Y. McDonald & Morrison Mfg. Co. to reflect the new ownership.
Hannah McDonald, the founder’s wife, was the principal stockholder and quietly guided the firm through advice to her children. A.Y. II was now Secretary and John was Treasurer. Her three daughters, Martha, Hannah, and Eelen, were stockholders as well. Mrs. McDonald died June 23, 1906.
In 1909, John Morrison II unexpectedly announced his desire to retire and sell his quarter interest in the business. A. Y. McDonald II was elected President and J. M. McDonald, Secretary and Treasurer.
In 1912 Standard Oil of Indiana called upon J. M. McDonald to design some special fittings for better control and distribution of petroleum products. This was the beginning of the oil equipment specialty line of valves and fittings.
The scarcity of wholesalers in Iowa forced A. Y. McDonald to stock items of merchandise needed to service customers. As other plumbers came into the area to serve the growing population, McDonald sold the items to the plumbers and thus began McDonald’s wholesale distribution system. A wholesale branch was opened in Omaha in 1915 and one in Minneapolis in 1917. Subsequent branches were opened in Des Moines and Kansas City in 1923 and 1926, respectively. In 1929, branches were also opened in Sioux City, Lincoln, and Denver.
In the early 1920’s the third generation of the family entered the business with Delos McDonald and John McDonald II starting in entry-level office positions. In short order Delos McDonald took charge of the iron foundry, core room, and machine shop while John McDonald II took charge of the brass foundry and machine shop.
A.Y. McDonald II and J.M. McDonald
and John McDonald ||
The Great Depression in the early 1930’s brought financial strife to all companies including A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. The company was forced to cut wages across the board several times just to survive and keep as many people employed as possible. To the employees and company’s credit, no employee was laid off.
A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. took an active role during World War II in support of the war effort and these were good years for the business. The company was under government contract to manufacture various items including brass valves and bilge pumps for the U.S. Navy, stationary gear carriers for bomb fuses and bomb parts for the U. S. Army, shut-off and drain cocks for the U.S. Air Force, and hose nozzles, swing joints, gate valves, and throttle valves for the U.S. Army and Air Force. The manufacture of items for water supply infrastructure continued as usual as these items were considered essential to the war effort.
The company came under the leadership of the third generation in 1944 when Delos McDonald was elected President, succeeding Ira Whitney, A.Y. McDonald’s son-in-law. Delos McDonald was President until 1959 when ill health forced his retirement. John McDonald II took over as President until 1962. By now, the fourth generation of the family including William A. Knapp, J. Bruce McDonald, John McDonald III, and Robert D. McDonald were actively involved with the company in various capacities.
A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. purchased
Brock McVey Company in 1964.
In 1964, A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co. purchased a wholesaling firm, Brock McVey Company, headquartered in Lexington, KY. This represented the company’s furthest eastern wholesaling operation. John McDonald III transferred from Dubuque Branch Manager to become Vice President of Brock McVey to work with the former owners prior to their retirement. John McDonald III was eventually named President of Brock McVey in 1970.
Beginning in 1976, the manufacturing operation underwent a $2 million modernization program. Three new major product lines were introduced consisting of an enhanced submersible pump line, an improved jet pump line, and a completely new line of meter setters for the water works brass product line.
1983 saw the building of the new 250,000 square foot office, factory and foundry. This was the first new manufacturing operation built by the company in 87 years.
1985 ushered in the fourth generation of the McDonald family to leadership roles across the company. J. Bruce McDonald was named Senior Vice President of A.Y. McDonald Industries Inc.; Robert D. McDonald was named President of A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co.; William A. Knapp was named President of A.Y. McDonald Supply Co.; and John M. McDonald III was named Chairman, President, and CEO of A.Y. McDonald Industries, Inc.
This era of fourth generation leadership was marked by tremendous growth, especially in the manufacturing division. Notwithstanding, a new factory was opened in 1989 in Albia, IA to accommodate the high pressure gas product line as well as the growing meter setter business in the water works product line.
In response to changing market conditions, A.Y. McDonald Supply Co. was sold to Hajoca Corporation, a major nationwide plumbing wholesaler, in 1998. This move brought tighter focus to the manufacturing division where market conditions were more favorable for long term growth.
In 1999, a new distribution center and factory was opened in Elizabethton, TN. This same year, Meter Box Covers, Inc., was acquired to add iron meter frame and covers to the water works product line. The following year, a western distribution center was opened in Sparks, NV.
Albia, IA and Elizabethton, TN facilities
In 2006, A.Y. McDonald Industries celebrated its 150th anniversary. This remarkable achievement is made more special by the fact that this company has been operated under the ownership of one family for its entire existence. The story of A.Y. McDonald Industries is one of sacrifice, persistence, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and plain old hard work.
Robert D. McDonald II, Vice President of Sales, was name President & CEO on May 1, 2012.
Today, A.Y. McDonald Industries is a tangible symbol of the American dream. So many families, vendors, and employees have contributed to the success of this company over the past 157 years. Andrew Young McDonald once said to his children, “I’ve started it, and you can take it as far as you want to go.” He would be so proud of his company’s success and longevity and the many people who contributed along the way.
- Robert Delos McDonald II
Great Great Grandson of A.Y. McDonald
President & CEO – A.Y. McDonald Mfg. Co.
Dubuque, IA facilities