Our History | about us

It Started in 1884 when

two young men named Alonzo Pawling and Henry Harnischfeger embarked on a business venture in old Milwaukee.

Pawling, age 26, was a Chicago-born patternmaker. Harnischfeger, age 28, was a German immigrant and locksmith journeyman.

Despite their relative youth, each had accumulated several years of experience in service to industrial manufacturing firms of various kinds by the time they began working together in 1882 for the Whitehill Sewing Machining Company in Milwaukee.

Both Pawling and Harnischfeger had experienced the frustration of seeing previous employers falter due to economic recessions, and sometimes due to failure to achieve operational excellence in delivering value to their customers.

Out of Failure, Opportunity Knocks

When it became clear in 1884 that Whitehill would succumb to the latter fate, Pawling decided he wanted to establish his own machine and pattern shop business.

While Pawling had pattern-making experience, he needed someone with machining experience to round out the business.

He approached his former co-worker at Whitehill, Henry Harnischfeger, to join him as a partner. Henry, who also saw the coming demise of Whitehill, decided a partnership with Pawling had good potential. So he pooled his hard-earned assets and experience with those of Pawling, and on December 1, 1884, a new business was begun - the Pawling & Harnischfeger Machine & Pattern Shop.

Formed with a simple handshake and dedicated to the objective of delivering excellence in quality and service value to the customer, the Pawling & Harnischfeger Machine & Pattern Shop was off and running at a fortunate time. The ingredients of success were there. Milwaukee's fast-growing industrial community called for the services of a dependable machine shop. Pawling and Harnischfeger were confident about their ability to provide such a service. Still, it was a gamble.

They were betting that success would come in ahead of financial crisis, but it shaped up to be a very close race, for their entire combined resources didn't put the threat of trouble very far down the road. In retrospect, if you're born tough, you're going to survive. The fledgling P&H partnership was ready for the challenges and opportunities to come.

Humble beginning for Pawling & Harnischfeger

Pawling and Harnischfeger moved into a poorly insulated wood-frame building at 292 Florida Street in Milwaukee's South Side "Walker's Point" neighborhood during a severe snowstorm on December 9th, 1884.

One pot-bellied stove in the center of the structure was the only source of heat. It was far from enough. Tools and materials broke out in a cold sweat, then began to rust. Every morning their little 4x6 steam engine - prime mover for their shaft-and-pulley driven machine tools - had to be thawed out before production could begin. After every snowstorm, and there were many that winter, Pawling and Harnischfeger took turns shoveling the snow off the building's flat roof to prevent its collapse.

But the jobs did come - fast enough to see them through that first hard winter.

Gradually, momentum began to build. Milwaukee's growing knitting industry turned to the young craftsmen at P&H for help in the design and repair of knitting machinery. Pawling and Harnischfeger soon became recognized for their expertise and began to attract other manufacturers for such things as file-cutting machines, stamping presses, brick-making equipment and beer-brewing equipment.

The variety of jobs proved their versatility. More important, the partners became known for their creativity as well as their craftsmanship. What is more, they attracted employees with like-minded dedication to innovation and customer value. What began as a two-man partnership was building momentum.

Support role for future industry giants

The first big development for Pawling and Harnischfeger was their association with Christopher LeValley. LeValley invented what he called a "link belt" and he sought the manufacturing assistance of Pawling and Harnischfeger. P&H made the patterns for the castings and handled the assembly of the chain for five years. Using this successful start as a springboard, LeValley formed Chain Belt Company, precursor to mining conveyor manufacturer Rex Chain Belt. Pawling and Harnischfeger made poppet valves for Bruno Nordberg for several years prior to the establishment of the Nordberg Manufacturing Company.

The two early P&H customers - Chain Belt and Nordberg - eventually joined forces to become the mining processing equipment manufacturing firm Rexnord Corporation with extensive operations around the world. Still another infant giant, the Edward P. Allis Company, came to Pawling and Harnischfeger for pattern work before that firm became Allis-Chalmers.

Up to this point, the P&H firm was known and respected locally, but the name was seldom heard beyond the city limits, for it had no products of its own. P&H was simply a job manufacturer for products or components of products which carried other names. P&H was simply a sign on a building - until the year 1887.

In that year, an event involving Edward P. Allis changed the course of Pawling and Harnischfeger. A.J. Shaw, an employee of Allis, oversaw the rebuilding of a rope-driven overhead traveling bridge crane in the Allis plant. The crane worked, but it was overly complicated. Shaw had a better crane concept in mind.

Why not replace the complex rope-driven mechanisms with three electric motor-driven functions - bridge drive, trolley drive and hoist drive? The idea was revolutionary. Such a device had never been built. Obviously, then, it was a job for Pawling and Harnischfeger.

P&H overhead crane led to more P&H products

The finished product proved to be so far superior that Pawling, Harnischfeger and Shaw formed a separate company to manufacture the new three-motor overhead crane.

After Shaw withdrew from the company, Pawling and Harnischfeger hired a chief engineer to design a complete line of cranes and hoisting machinery. For the first time the P&H trademark appeared in industrial plants throughout the country on this equipment.

Other products followed, including steam-powered engines for saw mills, steam-powered steering gears for ships, and machines for the brewing industry which were sold locally and also in England, France and Holland. All carried the P&H label.

Although Pawling and Harnischfeger bought the best electric motors available for their overhead cranes, the best was not satisfactory - they were cumbersome and unreliable.

Knowing their customers needed greater reliability, Pawling and Harnischfeger explored making their own motors. To do this, however, required a great deal of specialized equipment.

Opportunity arrived in the early 1890s when Westinghouse bought out the Gibbs Electric Company and closed Gibbs' Milwaukee plant. Pawling and Harnischfeger acquired all of Gibbs' production machinery. Soon, a complete line of vastly improved electric motors bearing the P&H trademark became available for many industrial applications. And now, powered by the new P&H motors, P&H overhead cranes became even more popular.

The improved P&H electric motor also led to smaller products - and bigger business. Overhead cranes were used to move material weighing many tons. There was a large gap between pieces that could be safely lifted by hand and pieces that required a power-assisted mechanical device such as the overhead crane.

To fill this gap, P&H developed an electric hoist capable of lifting one or two tons. A P&H motor provided the lifting force. A hand-operated chain drive, tracking along a simple I-beam, provided the travel function.

The idea was so well accepted that Pawling & Harnischfeger decided in 1902 that they needed to expand their manufacturing operations to accommodate their growing business. When fire destroyed their foundry building on April 15, 1903, they were forced to put that plan into action by acquiring a 26-acre manufacturing site located "out in the country" at 4400 West National Avenue.

Mechanizing pick-and-shovel work

In the early 1900s, America was busy expanding cities, building roads, factories and utilities. All of these things comprising growing civilization started the same way - with picks and shovels. Buildings needed footings for basements. Roads needed leveling and drainage. Utilities needed trenches and manholes. Considering their record of achievement, it is not surprising that Pawling and Harnischfeger would recognize the need to mechanize this slow, hard work. So they set about designing machines to meet construction needs.

Their first development was a ladder-type trench and manhole digger, mounted on a four-wheel wagon and operated by a steam engine. The endless belt of conveyor-type buckets was designed to descend vertically into the excavation, make a dirt-scooping U-turn at the bottom, and ride up the backside of the mast with its load. The machine could move as it dug, making a trench, or it could dig in one place and make a manhole. Even in its early, crude form, the P&H digger far outpaced the productivity of the pick and shovel. Further refinements would follow, and the P&H trademark was now officially on a growing line of trenching machinery.

Boom and wheel-type excavators followed, and each built upon the experience gained from their predecessors. The step from trenching to excavating equipment was logical and probably inevitable. And although other firms by this time were offering their own shovels and draglines, Pawling and Harnischfeger avoided the "me, too" approach.

P&H knack for innovation

Their first, history-making contribution to the excavator field was the introduction in 1910 of a gasoline-engine-powered dragline. Its advantages immediately set P&H apart from the cumbersome steam-powered diggers of the day.

Their next step was to apply the gasoline engine to a shovel, then add a planetary sprocket-and-chain crowd mechanism - another productivity-enhancing P&H innovation - to further establish the firm's reputation as the pioneer builder in the power crane and excavator field.

From that point forward, the excavator industry would regularly advance with innovative new machines bearing the P&H trademark.

In 1911, ill health forced Alonzo Pawling to dissolve the partnership that started with a handshake - a handshake that set in motion a business that would become an industry-leading supplier of powerful, productive and reliable construction and mining equipment.

Shortly after Pawling retired and sold his interest to Henry Harnischfeger, the name of the business was changed to Harnischfeger Corporation. The now-famous P&H trademark, however, would thereafter remain on the firm's products as a lasting reminder of the quality and service value for which it stands.

Henry Harnischfeger continued to direct the firm until the late 1920s. His son, Walter Harnischfeger, would apply experience he gained starting as an apprentice several years before when taking the reins of the company in 1930 at the start of the Great Depression.

Walter led the company with skill and determination during those difficult years, and began to expand Harnischfeger Corporation's business horizons to include new products and markets spanning the globe. By the time Walter turned over the helm to his son, Henry Harnischfeger, in 1970, the P&H line of cranes and excavators was well-established as one of the world's finest.

Henry Harnischfeger, grandson of the co-founder, guided the company until his retirement in 1986, with continued service as a member of the firm's board of directors until his death in 1993.

In the 1990's, the material handling division of Harnischfeger was sold and became known as Morris Material Handling, a recognized industry leader in technological and product advancements and a world-class manufacturer of high-quality, highly-engineered cranes.

Morris Material Handling, Inc. Announces Its Unification With Konecranes

In May of 2006, Konecranes, Inc. acquired MMH Holdings, Inc., the owner of Morris Material Handling, Inc., its affiliates and subsidiaries–after three decades of operating independently and competing directly in several market segments.

Konecranes’ intention has been to take the development of these two leading organizations to the next level by fully unifying operations under the Konecranes name, enabling access to the broadest range of products and services and the most experienced service technicians and engineers in the industry, all from a single supplier.

Traditional P&H branded products continue to be offered, supported and serviced through Morris Material Handling, with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts, training and know-how. In the U.S., parts for P&H branded products as well as many other brands including but not limited to CMS, Shepard Niles and Kranco, can be purchased through Konecranes’ parts organization, Crane Pro Parts.


Through our renowned Training Institute, we are the leading trainer and certifier of overhead crane operators, inspectors and technicians...