Generations of Reinvention

For more than 150 years, manufacturing companies led by local families have been a key component of Chattanooga’s economy. From Chattanooga Medicine Company (now Chattem; founded by Zeboim Cartter Patten in 1879) to Coca-Cola Bottling Company (co-founded by John Thomas Lupton, Joseph Whitehead, and Benjamin Thomas in 1899) to Siskin Steel and Supply Company (founded by Robert Siskin in 1900), family-led manufacturers have prospered and provided employment in the Chattanooga area for over a century.
And yet, this prosperity did not come without challenges. Changing economic times, shifting consumer preferences, and global competition were just a few of many obstacles faced by company executives in their decades of leadership. Confronted with an ever-changing market, these leaders were forced to adapt, innovate, and when needed, even change their business models to survive.
Here, we profile five manufacturing companies that have flourished in the Chattanooga area for decades. Led by generations of local families, these companies have continued to grow and expand due to their ability to invent and reinvent what they do best. For some, that involved introducing new products and pursuing new markets. For others, it was about acquiring other companies, streamlining operations, and adopting new technologies.
For all, it required adapting to survive and thrive.

Lodge Manufacturing

Founded: 1896

Cast iron cookware is known for its excellent ability to withstand high heat – and you could say the same for Lodge Manufacturing. The South Pittsburg-based manufacturer is now celebrating 120 years, making it the only century-old American cast-iron cookware company to survive into the new millennium.

Joseph Lodge founded the company as “Blacklock Foundry” in 1896, but just 14 years later it burned to the ground. However, that wasn’t the last the world would hear of Lodge. Out of the ashes came Lodge Manufacturing Company in 1910, and the company has stayed in the family ever since.
As the years passed, Lodge Manufacturing stayed above ground by maintaining high standards of innovation, conservation, and technology. When electric power began gaining ground in the early 20th century, the company switched from steam-powered to electric-powered motors. When the Great Depression hit, the company added more items to its product lines – such as doorstops – to keep the furnaces burning. When the post-war years brought increased demand, the company ramped up production by automating and streamlining processes.
In the early ’90s, Lodge updated its foundry and replaced the coal-fired cupola furnaces with an electro-magnetic induction melting system – earning the company a Governor’s Award for Excellence in hazardous waste reduction. Then in 2002, the company grew from a regional distributor to a national household name when it introduced Lodge Logic, its foundry-seasoned cookware line. Lodge Logic eliminated the hassle of its unseasoned counterparts, earning it positive reviews from Good Housekeeping and other consumer magazines for product innovation.
“Chefs and consumers have always used cast iron cookware,” explains Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager. “But once our products became available already foundry-seasoned, it changed the whole ball game.”
Today, the company continues its reputation for quality under the leadership of Joseph Lodge’s great-grandsons Henry Ware Lodge (president and CEO) and Robert Finch “Bob” Kellermann (chairman of the board and CEO emeritus). And while it remains in the same 1910 facility, it has expanded its product catalog to include over 200 items. Just last year, the company increased manufacturing capacity by 50 percent – its largest expansion to date. A second expansion slated for later this year will double manufacturing capacity again.

Miller Industries

Founded: 1989

Since its inception, Miller Industries has continued to patent new towing methods in response to progress in the automobile industry.

William G. Miller Sr. founded the towing equipment manufacturing company in the early 1990s. His first step was to acquire major brand names in the tow truck industry – such as Century, Challenger, Holmes International, and Eagle – and consolidate them under one name. In 1994, the company went public on NASDAQ. In 1996, it went public on the New York Stock Exchange.
Miller Sr. ran the company until 1998, when industry veteran Jeff Badgley took over as CEO. Miller Sr.’s son, William G. Miller II, joined the company in 2002 and was appointed president in 2011 followed by co-CEO in 2014.
Miller II says innovations in the towing industry continue to be driven by advancements in the automobile industry. “As vehicles change, we are required to adapt our towing methods,” he says. “Miller Industries is part of a demanding and ever-changing market.”
For example, the use of plastics in car manufacturing shifted the towing industry from front-bumper towing techniques to a wheel lift technology designed by Miller Industries. Similarly, increased demand for timely interstate clearing has led to an increase in sales of the company’s patented rotator tow trucks for heavy duty recovery.
Today, Miller Industries is the world’s largest manufacturer of towing and recovery equipment. The company employs 1,000 people at its six manufacturing facilities worldwide – four in the U.S., one in England, and one in France – and its 2016 revenue is listed at $540 million.
Company leaders say that moving forward, pressure to stay in step with automotive manufacturing will remain a challenge, especially with the continued development of hybrid and electric cars. To keep pace with this momentum, Miller Industries is undergoing major expansions at three of its four U.S. plants to increase efficiency, quality, and capacity.

Textile Printing Company

Founded: 1924

Textile Printing Company was born in 1924 – the year Joseph A. “Smitty” Schmissrauter Sr. decided to invest $250 in a used letterpress and open up shop as a general commercial printer. In the early years, the company serviced the hosiery and apparel industries by printing labels, tags, and cards for the region’s booming textile mills.

Smitty’s son, Joseph “Joe” Schmissrauter Jr., joined the company in the ’50s when it was still a general service commercial printer. In 1958, he shifted the company’s focus to manufacturing packaging and folding cartons. “My father was responsible for transitioning TPC into its modern era,” says current TPC president Joseph “Joey” Schmissrauter III. “He worked to make it the strongest folding carton business in the country.”
The company continued to serve the domestic hosiery and apparel industries into the ’80s and early ’90s. Then came the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. “It all but wiped out the domestic hosiery and apparel industry in the United States,” Joey says. “TPC was left without about 90 percent of its customer base.”
Still, the family-led company would not be defeated. In order to survive, it began targeting and acquiring accounts in five new industry segments: cosmetics and fragrance, health and beauty, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and spirits. Entering these segments required obtaining new certifications and licensures, purchasing new equipment, and hiring skilled technicians. But the results paid off – the company has doubled in size in the last eight years.
Today TPC is co-owned by Joey, and his siblings Mark, Kurt, and Hilda Murray, who serve as executive vice presidents. The company employs 160 local men and women and manufactures packaging and cartons for well-known brands like Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Chattem, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniels. It also has expanded to provide fulfillment and contract packaging services.
TPC has received the Innovation Award from the Paper Packaging Council of North America three times in the last five years. Currently, it’s working on new innovations in specialty rigid packaging and shaped canister packaging.

Coker Group

Founded: 1958

Harold and Lillian Coker founded Coker Tire Company in Athens, Tennessee, in 1958. Initially, it was a tire retread shop. But in 1961, the couple relocated the company to Chattanooga and expanded it to a full-service auto center.

Meanwhile, Harold began collecting out-of-production tire molds for fun. A car enthusiast, he wanted to experiment with creating and selling era-specific tires. What began as a passion grew to account for about 5 percent of the business.
When Corky, Harold’s oldest son, returned from college in 1974, he was charged with overseeing the company’s fledgling antique tire division. Under his leadership, it grew steadily as interest and opportunity grew within the specialty market.
“Our collector vehicle tire segment grew with each old tire mold we found and put back into production. These tires would be sold and distributed to collector vehicle enthusiasts and restorers around the country,” Corky explains.
Corky scored big wins by brokering deals with major tire producers— such as B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, Michelin and U.S. Royal – to give the company exclusive distributorships to big-name vintage brands. Eventually, Coker Group’s sole focus shifted to creating new tires for classic cars using refurbished molds.
Today, the Coker Group is a parent company housing Coker Tire and five other operating companies plus a dozen brands. The business specializes in complete tire and wheel packages for the collector vehicle market, and it opened a distribution and manufacturing facility on the West Coast in 2014.
Coker Tire’s latest endeavors include developing wooden wheel services for turn-of-the century cars and expanding production of “bias look radial” tires, which look like vintage tires but perform like modern ones. Current president Wade Kawasaki oversees the company’s business in more than 50 countries worldwide, including their century-old headquarters in Chattanooga’s Southside.

M&M Industries //

Founded: 1963 (as Progressive Drugs of America)

M&M Industries has withstood the test of time through innovation and sound business leadership.

Glenn H. Morris Sr. founded the company’s predecessor in 1963 after years of working in the pharmaceutical industry. His constant exposure to prescription drug containers had left him with a question: how could he create a child-resistant bottle cap? He set about patenting new designs for closures, his goal to create safe, easy-to-use, re-sealable containers. The result was dozens of patents for child-resistant containers as well as closures for chemical, prescription and pharmaceutical products. His prescription drug “comfort cap” remains an industry standard today.
In 1986, Morris Sr., along with his son Glenn Morris Jr., founded M&M Industries to bring his creations to market. The company began manufacturing his patented Life Latch containers for packaging of hazardous chemicals. Not long after, M&M Industries expanded its product line to service the pool chemical industry.
Today, M&M Industries has facilities in Chattanooga and Phoenix, Ariz., and continues to manufacture pails and containers for storing both hazardous and non-hazardous materials. The company specializes in providing safe storage solutions for high-end materials to a variety of industries.
Glenn Morris Jr. now serves as the company’s president and CEO. Since he assumed leadership in 2004, the company has increased its number of product lines – including the world’s first re-sealable five-gallon pail –  and broadened the company’s distribution to new markets.
He says the company’s biggest challenge has been maintaining the safety and integrity of their containers, while responding to consumer demand. “For example, consumers are calling for less plastic, but many of the companies we serve depend on that material for safe shipping,” he explains. “So we have found ways to maintain our safety and quality standards while using less. Our mission is to respond to consumer demand and the changes brought about by globalization without producing an inferior product.”
The company is slated to open a second manufacturing plant in Chattanooga within the next two years to increase capacity for its growing business.