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Rain Bird Corporation

Rain Bird Corporation


145 North Grand Avenue
Glendora, California 91741
U.S.A.
Telephone: (626) 963-9311
Toll Free: (800) RAIN BIRD
Fax: (626) 335-1865
Web site: http://www.rainbird.com

Private Company
Incorporated: 1933
Employees: 250
NAIC: 332919 Other Metal Valve and Pipe Fitting Manufacturing

Rain Bird Corporation is the largest manufacturer of irrigation systems, products, and services in the world. Rain Bird's customers include golf courses, sports arenas, farms, commercial developments, and homes in more than 130 countries. Rain Bird has been awarded more than 130 patents on its more than 4,000 products. It maintains manufacturing assembly facilities in California, Arizona, and Alabama in the United States, as well as in France, Sweden, and Mexico. The company also has sales offices in more than 20 countries around the world. The birdlike appearance of the efficient impact sprinklers inspired the company's founders to name their company after the great rain bird of Native American legend, which brought life-giving rain after a terrible drought. The company is divided into seven strategic business units: agri-products, golf, commercial, landscape drip, accessories, and residential for professional installers and residential for do-it-yourselfers.

1933: THE ORIGINAL SPRINKLER TAKES FLIGHT

Orton Englehart, a Glendora, California, citrus farmer, unhappy with the other sprinklers he used to irrigate his citrus groves, began to build a better sprinkler for his own use in 1933. His invention was made of short lengths of pipe, cross-joint, solder, scrap iron, tin can, and the winding off of an old broom handle. Engle-hart's prototype led to the development of the first full-circle impact sprinkler, offering slow, reliable rotation and more uniform watering than other sprinklers of the day.

Englehart's friend, Clem LaFetra, offered to help him sell his sprinklers. LaFetra visited the Los Angeles Country Club, where the skeptical greenskeeper ordered 12 after seeing Englehart's sprinkler in action. By April 1935, Englehart's sprinkler had been granted a patent. However, the two men had sold fewer than 100 sprinklers. Englehart decided to return to his citrus groves and focus on make a living by farming.

However, LaFetra, convinced that there was money to be made in Englehart's invention, bought his friend's inventory and tools. On October 13, 1935, he moved Englehart's forge and anvil to the hayloft of his family's barn, and bought a drill press to speed up sprinkler assembly. By the late 1930s, Rain Bird Corporation offered a line of full and part-circle impact sprinklers. In 1941, in response to customer demand, Rain Bird introduced pop-up impact sprinklers that, when not in operation, disappeared out of sight below turf level.

A new era of growth began for the company whose headquarters were still in the LaFetra barn. However, from 1942 to 1945, Rain Bird suspended production to conserve brass as part of the U.S. government's war effort. In May 1946, LaFetra moved Rain Bird into its first modern factory on Foothill Avenue in Glendora, California. With 5,600 square feet of clear floor space under 50-foot roof trusses, Rain Bird ramped up its state-of-the-art sprinkler production to meet rapidly growing postwar demand.

Rain Bird experienced tremendous growth during the second half of the 1940s with the introduction of lightweight, extruded aluminum pipe. This new pipe was light enough for a single man to move a 40-foot section of it by himself. Between 1946 and 1948, Rain Bird introduced several new models: a low-pressure sprinkler designed to operate on pressures as low as three pounds per square inch (psi); a large-impact drive sprinkler able to effectively irrigate up to three acres with its 420-foot radius; and a hose-end sprinkler with an easy-to-reposition steel ring-, wheel-, sled-, or aluminum roller-base.

In 1948, Rain Bird also prepared its Sprinkler Irrigation Handbook, which quickly became the industry's standard irrigation reference book. Contents included a discussion of irrigation efficiency, design factors, nozzle pressure, plant water requirements, application suggestionss, and technical data to give engineers, farmers, and turf professionals a handy tool in solving their irrigation problems with modern sprinkler systems.

THREE DECADES OF EXPANSION AND HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION

The 1950s were a decade of expansion and horizontal integration for Rain Bird. In 1950, the company formed Rain Bird Sprinkler Mfg. Co. Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia, which began expanding into the international market. In July 1956, Rain Bird opened its own sand cast foundry called CAMSCO, a name that combined the first initials of Clement, Anthony, Mary, and Sarah Lynn LaFetra. In July 1957, Lyntone Engineering, Inc., named for Sarah Lynn and Anthony, took over product engineering responsibilities for the company. Rain Bird also opened its own screw machine plant, Sierra Screw Products.

The company also enhanced its focus on quality and customer care. Rain Bird installed a Western Union Teletype machine on its private line in 1954 to speed up ordering time. Also in the mid-1950s, Rain Bird set up extensive sprinkler testing facilities at Citrus Junior College and behind the Rain Bird manufacturing plant in Glendora. In 1956, the company built its second field service truck equipped with its own power plant and its own machinery to do all the necessary repair work on any of the Rain Bird sprinklers. Truck personnel could also provide training on Rain Bird products to dealers and distributors.

Rain Bird introduced more new sprinkler features and models in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. A new sort of bearing sealed out sand and silt to reduce wear and allow sprinklers to operate with far less friction in 1957. In 1960, an innovative valve closed at pressures below 20 psi to prevent line drainage, flooding, and runoff at the sprinkler head when the system was turned off. In one of the more clever applications of Rain Bird sprinklers, in 1961, students at the University of California Agricultural Extension Service developed a labor-saving system for washing dairy cows. A patented feature in 1962 completely eliminated side-splash from the oscillating drive arm by redirecting the water stream forward through a novel "S" tube. Also in 1962, the advent of the electronic controller ushered automatic irrigation into the modern age. Rain Bird sprinklers featured automatic, semiautomatic, and manual operation modes greater for control of watering schedules.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES


Rain Bird's mission is to be the industry leader by: profitably providing defect-free, high value products and services that promote the intelligent use of water for worldwide irrigation applications; achieving customer satisfaction by meeting or exceeding customer expectations; being a responsible employer respected by employees and the community; enabling employees to be the best they can be.

When Clem LaFetra died in 1963 of a sudden stroke, his wife Mary Elizabeth (Betty) took the reins as company president. Betty LaFetra helped guide the company forward through some of its greatest years of expansion. She remained president and chairman of the board until 1978 when she turned over leadership of the company to her son, Anthony LaFetra. Under Betty LaFetra's guidance, the company opened its new sales headquarters building on Grand Avenue in Glendora, California, the year following Clem's death in 1964. This was also the year that Clem and Mary's son, Anthony LaFetra, joined the company.

The 1970s was a decade of further horizontal integration for Rain Bird, which, by the beginning of 1971, had expanded its product offerings to more than 200 items. In 1970, Rain Bird added a plastic injection molding division where high-powered injection molding machines transformed barrels of plastic chips into the parts needed for Rain Bird sprinkler products. The company formed Tri-Met Die Casters, Inc., in 1971 for the precision casting of high-volume parts in brass, aluminum, and zinc.

Rain Bird also expanded its domain in the early 1970s with the opening of Rain Bird Europe in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1972. As demand for Rain Bird products grew throughout Europe, the company formed additional subsidiaries in Germany, Spain, and Sweden. European headquarters in France made it easier to ship products to the Middle East, where Rain Bird sprinklers were in high demand due to their reliability under very harsh sandstorm conditions. International demand for Rain Bird products increased dramatically and key Rain Bird employees spent many hours in foreign universities teaching proper irrigation techniques and providing technical support to help irrigators convert from flood techniques to water-saving sprinkler irrigation.

Rain Bird took product testing to more scrupulous levels in 1979 with the establishment of the Rain Bird Product Research Center in Glendora, California. Using state-of-the-art testing facilities, the company put its products through rigorous and demanding tests possible to help maximize their performance and reliability. By the early years of the next century, the center's seven-acre, self-contained complex consisted of inside test stations, covered outdoor test stations, a central pump room, a power distribution center, and a zero-wind building for determining sprinkler distance of throw and distribution characteristics.

ONGOING INNOVATION TO PROMOTE THE "INTELLIGENT USE OF WATER"

As computer technology advanced throughout the 1980s, so did Rain Bird's sprinkler control systems. In 1977, Rain Bird had pioneered the world's first computerized central control system for golf course irrigation management at the Ahwahtukee Country Club in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1978. The system monitored wind, humidity, and temperature to maximize watering efficiency. By 1984, Rain Bird was introducing commercial irrigation application control units at universities, parks, corporate campuses, and other large commercial sites. The increased complexity of these systems led the company to establish Rain Bird Technical Services in 1988 to assist homeowners, contractors, and other irrigation professionals with product troubleshooting and problem-solving advice over the phone.

KEY DATES


1933:
Orton Englehart invents the horizontal impact sprinkler.
1935:
Clem LaFetra buys Englehart's tools and inventory.
1946:
Rain Bird Corporation moves into a modern factory.
1950:
The company forms Canadian subsidiary Rain Bird Sprinkler Mfg. Co. Ltd.
1956:
Rain Bird opens the CAMSCO foundry.
1957:
The company forms Lyntone Engineering, Inc.
1963:
LaFetra dies, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, takes over the company.
1964:
The company opens its new sales headquarters in California; Anthony LaFetra joins the company.
1971:
Rain Bird forms Tri-Met Die Casters, Inc.
1972:
The company forms Rain Bird Europe in France.
1979:
The company establishes the Rain Bird Product Research Center in California.
1988:
The Glendora Preservation Foundation moves Englehart's original workshop to and restores it to its original condition.
1990:
The American Society of Agricultural Engineers designates the Rain Bird Impact Drive Sprinkler Head a historic landmark of agricultural engineering.
2003:
The company launches Rain Bird Services Corporation for training.

Rain Bird gained notoriety for its status as the largest and premier manufacturer of irrigation systems, products, and services in the world in 1988 when the Glendora Preservation Foundation restored the workshop where Orton Englehart had invented his first "horizontal action impact drive" sprinkler and moved it to nearby Centennial Heritage Park in Glendora, California. In 1990, the Rain Bird Impact Drive Sprinkler Head joined the ranks of other famous inventions, such as Eli Whitney's cotton gin, when the American Society of Agricultural Engineers designated it a historic landmark of agricultural engineering. The Rain Bird sprinkler was recognized for its major impact on worldwide agricultural development and efficient use of water in sprinkler irrigation.

New levels of user-friendly programming for irrigation control systems became possible in 1991 with handheld, icon-based control units. Throughout the late 1990s and into the next decade, Rain Bird continued to enhance its battery-operated controller line. In 1994, the company launched its first battery-operated controller for turf applications, which ran for up to one year on a single, nine-volt alkaline battery. The waterproof and dual-sealed control modules were specially designed to resist harsh, humid environments, which allowed them operate underground or submerged in water. In 2000, it improved radio transmission range for its handheld units and offered a PC-based management system to simplify programming.

Beginning in 1997, Rain Bird also became committed to the "intelligent use of water" on a global basis and began deliberately to foster programs and educational initiatives and to develop products that promoted environmental preservation and water conservation. It joined the Tournament of Roses Parade, and its award-winning float that year and each of the eight subsequent years helped bring attention to the importance of water conservation and environmental preservation.

In 2003, the company launched Rain Bird Services Corporation to provide irrigation training class resources. This group expanded Rain Bird's Professional Irrigation Training Camp and Central Control Training events and added turf irrigation, drip design, and golf course irrigation classes in numerous cities around the United States and Canada. Additionally, Rain Bird partnered with California State Polytechnic University to present the Rain Forest Teaching Curriculum, a teaching tool, organized by grade level to help children learn about science and the environment. Rain Bird also sponsored three learning centers that provide real-life experiences for students, educators, the community, government, and industry leaders, called the Cal Poly Pomona Bio Trek Project.

The company was honored in 2003 as the R. Marlin Perkins Conservation Organization of the Year in recognition of its commitment to environmental conservation. To help raise awareness of the world's growing global water crisis, Rain Bird produced and distributed an educational white paper, "Irrigation for a Growing World" in 2004. This document outlined the challenge of water scarcity and the available options for solving the problem. The white paper was translated into eight languages and distributed to thousands of water agencies, irrigation contractors, system designers and homeowners around the globe. The company also too advantage of its role in irrigating the most prestigious sites of the 2004 Olympic facilities in Greece and 2004 European Football Cup stadiums in Portugal to raise awareness of the importance of water conservation.

As part of its focus on educational awareness, Rain Bird became a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, which supports the construction of environmentally responsible buildings in 2005. It also teamed up with the television show This Old House to design a gray-water irrigation system for the show's contemporary-style project. It also established a forum via a series of summits on the intelligent use of water to define the relationship between water conservation and landscape use, water conservation policies and legislation, and potential programs and initiatives to bring greater awareness to the need for water conservation.

Patricia J. Lodato

PRINCIPAL DIVISIONS

Consumer Products; Turf; Golf; Landscape Drip; Rose Parade.

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Ewing Irrigation Products; Pool Corporation.

FURTHER READING

"Glendora, Calif.-based Sprinkler Firm Reports Increased Sales, Expects Backlog," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, June 16, 2004.

"Panelists Examine Global Conservation Initiatives at Rain Bird's Intelligent Use of Water Summit," Grounds Maintenance, August 15, 2006.

"Rain Bird Corporation," Landscape Management, July 2004, p. 76.

Schmitz, Barbara, "Sprinkler Maker Eliminates Guesswork," Computer-Aided Engineering, October 1992, p. 24.

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