In May, sheet metal contractor Kirk & Blum celebrated 100 years in business.
The company got its start when two Cincinnati men partnered in 1907 with $610 to found one of the nation’s first companies dedicated to controlling air pollution.
Today, Kirk & Blum says it is the third-largest U.S. sheet metal contractor with 610 employees, and eight offices east of the Mississippi. The company is still headed by the third generation of the Blum family, but is now part of publicly held Ceco Environmental Corp.
Sylvester W. Kirk and Richard J. Blum, both former employees of Cincinnati Blowpipe Co., opened their business in a rented E. Third Street storefront. The company’s initial products and services were blowpipe systems, radiator shields, ventilation engineering and industrial dust-collection systems.
Company officials say Kirk, the older of the two, was said to be a calloused shop foreman with a volatile temper and numerous missing fingers as badges of experience. Blum, at 21, was the bookkeeper and salesman whose motto was “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”
The company outgrew its rented facility in just four years and in 1911 built a plant across from Redland field, the new ballpark for the Cincinnati Reds. Kirk and Blum were both accomplished ballplayers who often worked out with the team in the mornings and befriended many of the players and staff. With its first company-owned plant across from Redland field, K&B produced copper overlays for the counters of the ticket booths, tubes to roll up tarps and any other sheet metal parts needed by the ballpark.
In 1918, the company moved to a Spring Grove Avenue address and acquired several adjoining properties over the next few years. Less than ideal for a metal-fabrication firm, the three-story facility required that raw material be stored in the basement. The material would be cut to the needed size then shuttled to the appropriate floor via an external freight elevator, jokingly referred to as a “vertical aisle” by Blum.
One of K&B’s major “green” projects, long before the term was known, was a grinding/buffing dust-collection system for Maytag in Newton, Iowa. At this time there were no regulations governing such “nuisance dusts.” After it was installed, one of the Maytag workers made a lasting impression on Richard Blum when he told him he thought this system saved his life because he’d previously coughed up blood every night. The dust-collection system ended that. According to a testimonial from Maytag, the system collected 2 tons of dust every nine hours, saving 55 man-hours in cleaning time every night and reducing maintenance costs for machinery motors and bearings.
K&B began its regional growth with the establishment of the Liberty Blow Pipe Co. in Louisville, Ky., in 1928, later renamed Liberty Engineering & Manufacturing Co. The company enjoyed good business building ventilation ductwork for military barracks in the Louisville area, and later for ships during World War II.
Upon returning from his own naval service in the war, Richard Blum Jr. became company president in 1948, after the deaths of the founders.
Regional growth for the company continued with the company’s Louisville operation expanding into Lexington, Ky., and Indianapolis. Today, it has operations also in Greensboro, N.C.; Columbia, Tenn.; Canton, Miss.; and Defiance, Ohio.
Three of founder Richard Blum’s grandsons still manage the business. Rick Blum is president of Ceco Environmental, which acquired K&B in 1999. David Blum is president of Kirk & Blum, and Larry Blum is vice president. Various units of the company are involved in system consulting and design, metal fabrication, energy management, contracting and component parts manufacturing.
Ceco President Richard Blum said K&B is a keystone operation for Ceco Environmental.
“K&B’s extensive resources in fabrication and design, project management, field installation and support complement Ceco’s other businesses and allow multifaceted solutions to be fast-tracked by a single entity,” he said.