Bell & Gossett marks 100 years of innovation

By John Hein

When the Bell & Gossett (B&G) Company introduced its better booster pump in 1930, it established a legacy of ingenuity, quality and affordability that continues to inspire innovation in the field of hydronic heating. As B&G celebrates its 100th anniversary, the booster pump remains one of its most important developments, yet it does not stand alone in its portfolio of industry-leading products.

W.C. Bell and E.J. Gossett formed B&G in Chicago in 1916 to manufacture and sell case hardening compounds, adding potable water heaters two years later. This direction set the course for B&G to become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of pumps, valves, heat exchangers and accessories for plumbing, wastewater and HVAC applications.

“Inventions by B&G revolutionized commercial building heating systems,” said Mark Handzel, vice president of Product Regulatory Affairs, and director of HVAC Commercial Buildings for Xylem, now the parent company of B&G. “Many of our products were the result of trying to solve a particular challenge. That’s the story of the B&G brand in a nutshell: ingenious solutions inspired by our customers’ business challenges.”

Take, for instance, renowned B&G engineer Gilbert Carlson, who developed the concept of primary/secondary pumping in 1953 while on a problem job in New York City. The contractor had used Monoflo tees to install perimeter radiation loops in a large office building. The problem was that the pressure drop through each Monoflo circuit was too high; water simply wouldn’t move through the radiators. After a few calculations, Carlson suggested the contractor use small booster pumps on each circuit and run the main pump continuously. It solved the problem then and is still a standard tool of engineers, contractors and boiler manufacturers today.

“He was a genius,” Handzel said. “He not only invented heating products, but he developed new ways to design systems, which often began with a problem and led to breakthrough thinking in the science of hydronic heating.”

Rapid expansion

As the company grew during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, it concentrated on engineering, developing and producing components to improve heating systems.

During the 1940s, B&G developed a mechanical sealed pump, known as the 1522, which is still part of the B&G portfolio. It also implemented hydraulic designs in another new line of end-suction industrial pumps known as the 1531. In 1943, B&G began manufacturing large centrifugal pumps as commercialization led to the construction of larger buildings with hydronic systems.

In 1949, a new design of forced hydronic heat booster pumps was added to B&G's product family — including the still popular 100 series — incorporating motors from its newly formed motor department.

In 1950, B&G created a revolutionary mechanical seal that used a ceramic material with an aluminum oxide base. Trademarked as Remite, the material proved to be as hard as diamonds and able to withstand many of the fluids and system issues that prevented the use of mechanical seals in the pump industry.

During this period of growth, the company also acquired a number of companies to fortify its portfolio. It expanded from 144 employees in 1939 to a nationwide company with 947 employees in 1955. Sales for those years jumped from $1.3 million to $25.2 million. In 1941, B&G moved its headquarters from Chicago to a newly constructed 200,000 square-foot-facility on 20 acres of land in Morton Grove, Ill.

“Not to be lost in this tremendous growth are the contributions of the longtime B&G stocking representatives,” Handzel said. “Many of those associations go back to the 1930s. R.D. Bitzer, R.L. Deppmann and Mulcahy companies and Blackmore and Glunt Inc. are among B&G’s longest associations.”

Training leader

B&G is well known for its emphasis on education through Xylem’s Little Red Schoolhouse, a former cafeteria turned training center on the company’s Morton Grove campus. Since its inception in 1954, more than 60,000 engineers, contractors and other HVAC professionals have been educated at the Little Red Schoolhouse on the latest advancements in centrifugal pumps and HVAC system design.

“B&G’s focus on education actually dates back to 1934, when the company issued a Six-step Manual as a training supplement for company sales representatives,” Handzel said. “That led to a company handbook in 1940 containing the very latest in technical instructions for design and installation of B&G products — thousands of which were distributed to government procurement agencies and contractors and subsequently used by universities and technical schools.”

Today, B&G is educating even greater numbers of HVAC professionals in the basics of hydronic systems with the debut of its Online Little Red Schoolhouse in 2015.

Wartime contributions

During World War II, B&G was commissioned to produce no less than 15 products for the war effort, which accounted for 60 percent of its business during that time. Relying on its experience in building centrifugal pumps, it redesigned another company’s existing bilge pump line used on amphibious trucks and landing craft, producing more than 50,000 pumps valued at $1 million.

B&G also produced 5,000 to 6,000 tank track pins each day, for a total of 2.5 million during the war, filling a critical need. The pins connect the metal links on the moving track that covers the wheels of the tank. Other wartime products included evaporators for Navy cargo ships, laundry tanks for Army portable laundry equipment and self-contained steam jet cleaners for use on airplane and other engines.

“In more than one instance, the government turned to B&G to manufacture products when other companies could not deliver, which earned B&G official commendations for providing high-quality products and additional contracts,” Handzel said. “That was something everyone at B&G was very proud of — from the people on the manufacturing floor to the president of the company — and still is a source of pride for the brand.”

Going global

B&G’s acquisition by ITT Corp. in 1963 offered increased opportunities for sales of the B&G brand worldwide. The Morton Grove campus has since expanded to more than 500,000 square feet on 31 acres, most of which took place during the 1960s; multimillion-dollar plant revitalization occurred from 1988 to 1993. Also during the 1980s, B&G engineers pioneered microprocessor control of pumping systems, pressure boosting, variable speed pumping and heat transfer packages. In 1982, the Series 90 close-coupled inline mounted pump was introduced, and in 1990 B&G released its highly acclaimed equipment selection program, ESP Plus.

In 2011, the B&G brand became part of a new company, Xylem Inc., after it split from ITT. Just as they did in the early days of B&G, Xylem’s engineers are scrutinizing every aspect of HVAC and plumbing system design to develop more efficient and cost-effective solutions for customers. Today, B&G products are installed in high-profile facilities around the U.S., where innovation and efficiency are highly prized, including Levi’s Stadium in California and the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado.

“Today we focus on bringing products to market that incorporate the latest technologies and deliver the highest levels of efficiency,” Handzel said. “That has always been the mission of B&G, and it hasn’t changed since our very early days.”

B&G’s current portfolio of award-winning and industry-leading products is based on its POWER OF e platform, which focuses on energy efficiency and systems solutions. Its Efficiency Islands concept is unique in the industry and is a critical element of the POWER OF e as it creates higher levels of efficiency over a broader range of operating conditions. The redesigned Series e-1510 end suction centrifugal pump, newly launched Series e-80 centrifugal pumps and its ecocirc XL large wet rotor circulator pump are just a few of the latest products.

“For 100 years, B&G has been an industry leader in efficiency, expertise and education,” Handzel said. “From our extremely knowledgeable representatives, industry-leading training and highly efficient products, we are proud to be a leader in the HVAC industry. As we look ahead to the next century, our goal is to continue to provide customers with solutions that help them achieve greater overall system efficiency.” 

John Hein worked with Larry Konopacz, manager of training and education at Bell & Gossett’s Little Red Schoolhouse, on this article. Hein is the global communications leader for Xylem Inc., with more than 20 years of global marketing and communications experience. He holds an MBA in marketing from the Keller Graduate School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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