Boart Longyear Company
Boart Longyear Company
Incorporated: 1911 as EJ. Longyear Company
Sales: $600 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 3532 Mining Machinery; 3569 General Industrial Machine, Not Elsewhere Classified
Boart Longyear Company is a major provider of diamond drill bits and related drilling parts and services for the mining, construction, and environmental industries. The company’s experts in contract drilling have helped many exploration companies find deposits of copper, gold, silver, and other metals. The company’s geotechnical services include soil and rock sampling that help construction companies prepare for their work. From humble roots in Minneapolis and South Africa, Boart Longyear has grown to become a significant international firm with most of its revenues coming from foreign contracts.
Company Origins in the Late 19th Century
Company founder Edmund J. Longyear was born on November 6, 1864 in Grass Lake, Michigan. In 1888 he graduated as a mining engineer from the first class of the Michigan School of Mines. In 1890 Longyear drilled the first diamond drill hole on the famous Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Years later the Iron Range Historical Society placed a historic marker at the site of Longyear’s first diamond drilling.
Edmund Longyear contracted to help other firms drill on the Mesabi Range, the major source of iron ore for the giant steel mills of Andrew Carnegie and the American steel industry. Longyear endured difficult conditions, living in tents beforec boom towns were built. He worked with Russians, Slavs, Germans, Italians, and other miners from different nations.
Meanwhile, in 1903 Longyear and John E. Hodge organized a partnership called Longyear and Hodge to operate their business ventures, which included shaft sinking, contract drilling, mineral ventures, and related consulting work, outside of Minnesota. That partnership and Longyear’s drill contracting business merged in 1911, when the E.J. Longyear Company was incorporated under the laws of Delaware. At that point Hodge moved from Marquette to the company headquarters in Minneapolis.
The company’s first price list in 1912 featured 19 drill models with capabilities from 750 to 5,000 feet. These drills were powered mainly by steam engines, which later would be replaced by internal combustion engines developed in the 1920s.
Expansion in the Early 20th Century
Longyear expanded early in the United States and overseas. From 1912 to 1916 the company drilled for copper in Cuba, the firm’s first international project. In 1914 Longyear began setting up the first of six drills to help the Phelps Dodge Corporation find copper in Arizona. The company in 1919 began a 15-month project in Yunnan Province, China, and by the 1920s about half of the firm’s work was outside the continental United States.
In 1915 Edmund Longyear sent his head geologist Hugh Roberts to oversee diamond drilling in Ontario, Canada. As the result of this work, Roberts designed a new form of technology called a core splitter, which divided cores into three to five inch lengths for better analysis. Eventually other drilling firms used Roberts’s core splitter as standard equipment.
During America’s post-World War I depression of 1920-21, Longyear’s business declined. Its annual sales slumped from a high of $550,000 in 1916 to only $220,000 in 1921. The following year the Consolidated Coal Company hired Longyear to sink three shafts in the coal fields of Appalachia. Water in one shaft and a strike by Longyear workers caused Longyear to lose $100,000 on that contract, but Robert D. Longyear, who became president of the firm in 1924, learned to avoid lump-sum contracts from that experience.
Robert Longyear, the only one of founder Edmund Long-year’s six children to continue in the family business, had learned firsthand from his father about the drilling and mining business. He attended Williams College, served in the Corps of Engineers during World War I, earned his M.S. degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin, and continued his geological studies with postgraduate education at Stanford and the University of Minnesota. This combination of formal training with hands-on experience prepared him to be the second-generation leader of Longyear for over 40 years.
As the business climate improved in the roaring 1920s, Longyear prospered. Sales increased steadily from 1925 to 1929. In 1928 the company moved its headquarters from modest Minneapolis offices to the 17th floor of the new 30-floor Foshay Tower. Longyear in 1929 sold almost $1.5 million worth of drilling equipment and contract services and the following year the company formed its first foreign subsidiary in Canada.
In 1929 the company signed its first contract for work in Africa, sending equipment and a crew of 58 to northern Rhodesia to provide drilling for copper ores. Longyear’s men lived in adobe and grass huts and faced the hazards of malaria during the rainy season, but in spite of the rough conditions work was completed just before Christmas 1930.
Surviving the Great Depression and the Boart Connection
Meanwhile, the stock market crashed in October 1929 and the Great Depression hit the nation with full force. E.J. Long-year Company barely survived those trying times. The firm’s sales fell to a historic low of just $79,500 in 1933.
One interesting project during the 1930s was drilling for core samples for the proposed Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Enduring storms and deep water, Longyear workers obtained their samples for the bridge, which was completed in 1937.
A major change in diamond drilling technology began in the 1930s. Since the 1890s, Longyear and other firms relied on natural Brazilian diamonds called carbonados or “carbons.” Then in the 1930s some drillmakers began using industrial quality diamonds called “boarts” (or bortz) mined in Africa. Smaller than carbons, boarts usually were a fraction of a carat and generally were imperfect crystals in a variety of shapes and colors.
In 1936 South Africa’s Anglo American Corporation created Boart Products South Africa (Pty) Limited, later renamed Boart International, to create markets for their accumulated stores of boarts built up during the Depression. Boart Products developed the first mechanically set diamond drill bits, which some firms began using instead of the hand-set bits using carbons. That pioneering technology was used successfully for the first time in Zambia for copper exploration.
Longyear in 1938 bought its first mechanically set bits from the R.S. McClintock Company of Spokane, Washington. Eventually all Longyear contract drilling relied on the mechanically set bits. In addition, Longyear began selling McClintock bits to American and foreign customers.
The 1940s Through the 1970s
In the 1940s and 1950s Don Davidson directed mineral ventures ranging from gold explorations in Canada and lead-zinc efforts in New York State to gold ventures in Cripple Creek, Colorado. One of Davidson’s most ambitious efforts was undertaken in the Tintic Mining District near Eureka, Utah, a historic mining area that had produced hundreds of millions of dollars of lead, zinc, and silver since 1869. In the 1940s Davidson formed a joint venture with Kennecott Copper and Calumet and Hecla Copper Company. This experimental drilling effort attempted to get through gravel and lava flows to reach underlying mineral deposits, but the project was eventually abandoned.
Don Davidson continued his consulting work in the 1950s. In 1952 he served on the President’s Materials Policy Commission to look into possible shortages of raw materials in the postwar period. The same year he began a 30-month contract to survey parts of Angola and Mozambique, two African nations then still under Portuguese rule. By 1955 Davidson, along with other Longyear and Portuguese geologists, produced a major geological study of areas never before accurately surveyed and mapped.
In 1949 Longyear began a close relationship with Christen-sen Diamond Products (CDP). Following a joint operation that filled a large Brazilian order for diamond bits, the two firms worked out an arrangement in which they pooled their diamond purchases from the Central Selling Organization. Christensen agreed to manage the joint diamond inventory and to set all Longyear bits to Longyear specifications. Longyear sold those bits under its own name, while Christensen was free to sell its own bits in competition with Longyear.
Frank and George Christensen of CDP worked closely with Vince Burnhart of Longyear. The two firms jointly developed projects in Japan (Nippon Longyear subsidiary), France, Canada (Canadian Longyear subsidiary), Mexico (Longyear de Mexico subsidiary), the Netherlands (Longyear Nederland subsidiary), Australia (Longyear Australia subsidiary), Germany, the Philippines, and Costa Rica (Longyear Centroamericana, S.A. subsidiary) between 1953 and 1970. Business continued to boom into the 1970s with new operations in New Zealand, Brazil, and Chile.
The Boart Longyear Group is a leading manufacturer and supplier of tools, equipment and contracting services for the international exploration, mining, construction, quarrying, geotechnical, environmental and industrial markets.
To promote its business in France and French-speaking African nations, in 1953 Longyear created a subsidiary called Longyear France. Four years later it formed Longyear International based in The Hague. Longyear Germany was created in 1963 in response to oil exploration opportunities in the North Sea. In 1968 the office in The Hague was closed. Its staff and functions were moved to Etten-Leur, where a manufacturing plant was opened.
International conflicts sometimes prevented Longyear and other firms from doing business. Starting in 1960, Longyear, Christensen Diamond Products, and Larson & Toubro formed Christensen Longyear India Limited to make diamond drill bits in India. Following the 1964 border war between India and China and other political changes, the joint venture ended in 1973.
Meanwhile, Longyear expanded its Canadian business. Formed in 1931 with just six workers, Canadian Longyear by the end of 1967 employed over 400 and its annual sales reached $10 million. By the late 1960s the firm’s North Bay manufacturing plant had become too small to accommodate the company’s growing Canadian operations, and in 1970 a major expansion was completed. In that year Canadian Longyear sales grew to $15 million.
Such growth, both in the United States and overseas, was fueled by new technology. In 1958 two Longyear employees patented a new drilling innovation called Wireline that helped the firm remain competitive and proved to be a major contribution to the drilling industry. Previously, drillers obtained core samples by withdrawing a long pipe after drilling had occurred. Wireline permitted cores to be withdrawn without removing the pipe, which made drilling more efficient, protected drill holes from erosion, and prevented damage to drill bits.
Longyear began a series of important management and ownership changes in the 1950s. Robert Longyear considered taking the firm public, but eventually decided against the move. In 1958 he retired, marking the end to the Longyear family’s direct running of the company. In 1960 Longyear named Vince Burn-hart as its new president. Then in 1964 Longyear sold 25 percent of its family-owned stock to FACTS, a Luxembourg-based holding company owned jointly by Boart International and Christensen Diamond Products Company. Three years later FACTS exercised its option to purchase another 25 percent of Longyear’s family stock. The Longyear family retained 30 percent of the company’s stock, with the remaining 20 percent owned by employees.
By 1965 Longyear’s annual sales had reached $15 million, so the company bought more land in Minneapolis and persuaded the city government to vacate Erie Street to accommodate its expansion. In 1969 Longyear opened its new office building and an enlarged manufacturing plant. For the first time in its history, the company’s headquarters and its U.S. production were located at one site. Longyear sales reached $40 million in 1970.
Robert Longyear died in 1970, and Vince Burnhart died the year after. Following these losses the board of directors appointed John Hoffmeister as president and chairman of the board of the company. Meanwhile, ownership of Longyear was still not finalized. FACTS was dissolved when Boart bought out CDP’s interest. Then on July 31, 1974 Boart International, headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, purchased all outstanding shares of Longyear, becoming the company’s sole owner.
Although Longyear’s name remained the same, the Boart purchase resulted in a new corporate culture, according to Longyear: The Mesabi and Beyond. Previously, Longyear emphasized its Minnesota roots and American operations, with foreign subsidiaries seen as branches of the main company. Under Boart influence, “The new idea was that of a group of companies scattered over the world; the U.S. company one of the group. The Corporate Headquarters, which happened to be in Minneapolis, was increasingly thought of as separate from U.S. operations, a distinction non-existent under the old guard.”
New ownership also brought new management. By 1976 Longyear President/Chairman John Hoffmeister had retired. Peter Bremmer became the new president in 1975. In 1976 Hilton Davies, Boart International’s managing director, became Long-year’s board chairman.
Meanwhile, Longyear acquired new technology from a competitor. In 1975 the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company decided to end its production of diamond drills. Longyear purchased the right to make and sell Chicago Pneumatic’s small CP-65 compressed air drill designed for underground use. Longyear also made spare parts for the hundreds of CP-65 s already in use.
In the late 1970s Longyear benefited from the availability of small synthetic diamonds, the hardest substance on earth. By scattering these small particles uniformly throughout the matrix, Longyear made impregnated diamond bits, which allowed deeper and faster drilling. Longyear Canada first sold the new bits in 1979 and by 1980 was the major bit supplier in Canada. Longyear in 1979 built a new plant in Salt Lake City to produce both the impregnated bits and the older surface set bits. Other diamond bit facilities were purchased overseas.
In the 1960s and 1970s Longyear began to diversify into areas beyond its traditional mineral exploration drilling. The company began using diamond bits for drilling and sawing concrete in the construction industry. In 1977 Longyear purchased rights to make concrete saws from the Drillistics Company. The firm’s Salt Lake City plant began making diamond saw blades in the early 1980s.
From 1957 to 1978 Longyear drilled 432 holes in northeastern Minnesota to explore for copper, nickel, and other minerals. This Minnamax Project, the longest in the company’s history in Minnesota, resulted in a permanent collection of split-core samples less than 15 miles from Edmund Longyear’s 1890 drill site on the Mesabi Range.
Crisis in the 1980s
In 1979 Longyear exceeded $100 million in annual sales for the first time. The worldwide mineral exploration boom continued, and the company added its Longyear Iberica subsidiary in Spain in 1980. By 1981 company sales reached almost $200 million.
In the mid-1980s, however, metals prices collapsed and the good times for the mining industry ended. Longyear’s business decreased by over 50 percent, and the company ceased its operations in Japan and Brazil. Facing decreased worldwide demand for minerals, Longyear in 1985 closed its historic Minneapolis plant and made its North Bay, Ontario plant its main production site. In 1988 the company moved its headquarters to Salt Lake City, where the company already operated a contracting office and a diamond bit plant. Utah’s right-to-work law helped Longyear save on its labor costs, and its new headquarters were closer to the nation’s mining areas in the West.
Meanwhile, the company stepped up its diversification program. In 1983 Longyear acquired Lang Exploratory Drilling based in Utah and in 1984 purchased Cushion Cut, a firm with 25 years experience making and using diamond tools to saw concrete in runways and highways. In 1986 Longyear acquired three more companies: Morissette, an underground and surface diamond drilling firm; Brainard-Kilman, a maker of civil engineering devices, such as well monitoring and test equipment; and Chemgrout. Longyear acquired Slope Indicator Company, the nation’s largest producer of geotechnical instruments and Northern Air Supply in 1988, followed by the Campbell Pacific Division in 1989 and WTD Environmental Drilling in 1990.
In the 1980s Longyear sold more than $1 million worth of equipment to help the renovation and seismic upgrading of the historic Salt Lake City-County Building built in the 1890s. The firm has contributed to other construction-related projects, such as restoring parts of the Panama Canal and earthquake studies of Egypt’s famous Aswan Dam.
Developments in the 1990s
In the 1990s the Longyear Company continued its historic drilling activities and continued to find new applications. More American firms found Longyear’s environmental testing services and products useful because of increased government regulations. For example, new gasoline stations called on Long-year to install four federally mandated wells to monitor storage tank leakage that might pollute underground water sources. Longyear products helped save many lives in 1994. Company instruments detected an imminent earthquake at London’s Heathrow Airport, which allowed three subways under the airport to be evacuated before they collapsed.
On January 2, 1995, the Longyear Company changed its name to the Boart Longyear Company and adopted a new logo and colors. However, management and ownership remained the same; Hilton Davies continued as the board chairman and Michael H. Moore, as president.
Most of Boart Longyear’s employees and revenues in the mid-1990s came from international operations. Operations in the United States employed about 1,000 people and accounted for about $130 million in sales, a relatively small part of the firm’s 8,000 employees and over $600 million in annual revenues worldwide. With diverse products and services and decades of international experience, the Boart Longyear Company seemed well prepared to enter the new century.
Slope Indicator Company; Chemgrout.
Cushion Cut; Lang Exploratory Drilling.
Longyear, Edmund J., and Walter R. Eastman, Longyear: The Mesabi and Beyond, Gilbert, Minn.: Iron Range Historical Society, 1984.
Pine, Carol, “Around the World with Longyear,” Northliner, January-February 1977, pp. 30-33.
Swinton, Heidi, Longyear: The First 100 Years, Minneapolis: Longyear Company, 1990.
Walden, David, “Boart Longyear Company,” in Centennial Utah: The Beehive State on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century, edited by G. Wesley Johnson and Marian Ashby Johnson, Encino, Calif.: Cherbo Publishing Group, 1995, pp. 112-13,.
—David M. Walden