/images/buttons/BeginningLegend_button.jpg/images/history2.jpgThe Beginning of a Legendthe-beginning-of-a-legend.htmFresh out of the U.S. Army, Richards sought to run power lines to his grandmother’s home. Getting the lines there was no problem. Richards owned a construction company that erected poles and ran wire for utilities.
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The Beginning of a Legend

When Roy Richards, Sr. founded a wire and cable manufacturing business to help bring electricity to rural Carroll County, he had a particular customer in mind.

Fresh out of the U.S. Army, Richards sought to run power lines to his grandmother’s home. Getting the lines there was no problem. Richards owned a construction company that erected poles and ran wire for utilities. At the same time, funding from the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was bringing the promise and convenience of electricity to much of the South.

The trouble was finding enough wire to carry current to rural areas. During a conversation with a wire manufacturer, Richards learned that it would be three years before the company could deliver wire to western Georgia. A company representative asked why Richards was in such a hurry, joking that farms in the area had operated for hundreds of years without power.

Richards’ stern reply brought his vision into clear focus.

“My grandmother is 85 years old, and she has never had the pleasure of sitting under an electric light in her own house,” he told the manufacturer. “She’s seen it two times she’s been to Atlanta, but she’s never had it.”

That pivotal moment marks the start of Southwire Company, LLC which has grown into one of the world’s leading wire and cable manufacturers.

Southwire’s roots extend to 1937, when Richards, then a young 25 years old, started a company to erect power poles. Two years earlier, he had graduated from Georgia Tech. While the promise of jobs paying $80 a month lured 90 percent of his classmates to New York, Richards chose to stay in Carroll County, a commitment he kept even after Southwire grew into a leading player in the wire and cable industry.

During its first two and a half years, Richards and Associates strung 3,500 miles of cable, becoming the nation’s second-largest REA contractor. As World War II halted all REA construction, Richards joined the U.S. Army, eventually reaching the rank of captain.

Richards returned home to find that power poles put up by his company often stood wireless for months because of post-war shortages in wire. Seeing that a market existed, he decided the only way to ensure a steady supply of wire was to make it himself.

On March 23, 1950, Southwire Company, LLC started cranking out wire with 12 employees and second-hand machinery. Two years later, the company had shipped 5 million pounds of wire and had doubled its plant size.

But the process used in those days to make wire kept production at a dragging pace. Electrical wire was made by welding lengths of aluminum rod end-to-end. The brittle welds often broke in the process, causing production delays.

Frustrated by the inefficiency of traditional wire making, Richards sought a faster way to produce electrical wire of higher quality. He learned that an Italian industrialist had developed a method for continuously casting and rolling rod.

The process had only been used for commercial-grade lead and zinc wire used in fences and baling wire. The industrialist tried feverishly to convince Richards that it would not work with smaller electrical wire. Not to be deterred, Richards persuaded the man to sell him one of his machines and a team of Southwire engineers adapted the process to produce aluminum and copper rod.

Today, half of the copper rod for electrical wire and cable is made using Southwire’s patented Southwire Continuous Rod (SCR) method.

The technology catapulted Southwire to the forefront of the industry. The company began selling SCR systems and wire and cable products around the world. In the eight years starting in 1967, Southwire opened six manufacturing plants, an aluminum smelter and a copper refinery. The company now had operations in Carrollton, GA; Hawesville, KY; Osceola, AR; and Flora, IL.

In 1968, Southwire engineers created aluminum alloy building wire products with the development of TRIPLE E aluminum alloy. Seven years later, Southwire Machinery Division was founded to produce SCR system components, wire-making equipment and other machinery.

Southwire saw a change in leadership in 1985, when Richards died of bone cancer at 73. Roy Richards, Jr., who had worked in Southwire plants since he was 10 years old, was named co-president and eventually became chairman and chief executive officer. Under a second generation of Richards, Southwire concentrated on its core business of wire and cable manufacturing.

In 1987, Southwire opened a building wire and utility cable plant in West Jordan, UT. Two years later, the company purchased Southwire Company, LLC Starkville Plant, a utility cable and building wire plant in Starkville, MS.

Named for D.B. “Pete” Cofer, Southwire’s first chief engineer, the D.B. Cofer Technology Center opened in 1992, providing a home for ongoing development in wire and cable design, metallurgy and plastics compounding. Today, the center provides scientists and engineers state-of-the-art facilities for research, improvement of manufacturing processes and product testing.

Forte Power Systems, in Heflin, AL, started production of medium and high-voltage utility cables in 1996. Expanding into Mexico, the company opened Southwire Americana De Mexico, a building wire plant, in 1998.

As the 20th Century came to a close, Southwire pioneered work in the development of the next generation of power lines – superconducting power cables. Together with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and a list of industrial partners, Southwire developed superconductor power cable technology and threw the switch on the first real-world application of superconductors in February 2000.

Nearly immune to resistance, superconductors carry three to five times the load of traditional cables, providing more power to urban areas with no new right of way for the construction of extra lines to serve a growing demand for electricity.

As it embarked on its second half century, Southwire hired Stuart Thorn in January 2001 as president responsible for all company operations. A year later, Roy Richards, Jr. retired from Southwire’s daily operations. Today, he serves as the company’s chairman, while Thorn serves as president and chief executive officer.

More than 50 years ago, Southwire was founded to help bring electricity to rural Georgia. Today, it supplies 135 of the nation’s top power companies, plus dozens of utility companies abroad and is pioneering new technology to better serve all of its wire and cable customers. Nearly a fifth of all homes in the United States contain Southwire’s building wire products.

“I believe in doing what one man can,” Richards once said.

With a team of talented engineers and dedicated employees that continues to provide the best products and service in the industry, he has accomplished the work of thousands.

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