The beginning of present day BendTec dates back to 1916 when Rubin Meierhoff started a company called Modern Plumbing & Heating Co. The business, prior to World War II was primarily involved in the conversion of building heating systems from coal to oil. During World War II, the business installed piping systems in many of the ships constructed in Duluth, Minnesota; which were for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. After World War II, the business expanded into the mechanical contracting field under the name of Modern Constructors. Modern Constructors constructed piping for tank farms and oil terminals throughout the Midwest and installed refrigeration-piping systems in ice skating rinks across the United States.
After the discovery of oil in Western Canada in 1946, a crude oil pipeline system was constructed in order to transport the oil to markets located in Eastern Canada. Construction of this pipeline system, known as the Interprovincial Pipeline in Canada and the Lakehead Pipeline in the United States, started in 1947 and still continues to expand today. Modern Constructors installed piping in the pumping stations, tank farms, and terminals along the United States portion of the pipeline which began at the Canadian border, continued through Northwestern Minnesota, crossing over to Detroit, Michigan, and then crossing back into Canada. The pipeline passes through the United States due to extremely rugged terrain on the north side of Lake Superior on the Canada side.
In addition to this pipeline work, Modern Constructors installed mechanical systems in refineries, steel plants, taconite plants, and other heavy industrial and commercial construction projects throughout the Upper Midwest. In 1967, construction of a large natural gas pipeline system was started to carry the Canadian gas to markets located in Eastern Canada; once again traveling through the United States. The natural gas pipeline was constructed parallel to the crude oil pipeline system. Modern Constructors provided the construction services and built many of the compressor stations along the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan portions of the pipeline. This pipeline system, known as the Great Lakes Gas Transmission Company, has undergone continuous growth; also providing Modern Constructors with a market for its services.
In order to efficiently construct the piping systems on these projects, Modern Constructors built a pipe fabricating plant to preassemble the piping components off-site in a controlled environment. Over the years, this fabrication facility grew to the point that economic considerations began to argue for operation year-round; as opposed to operation only during the summer construction period. Therefore, Modern Constructors started providing fabrication services to other contractors for construction projects throughout the United States.
Robert Meierhoff grew up working on construction projects for his father’s company during school vacation periods. He joined the company on a full-time basis in 1968 after receiving a degree in Welding Engineering from Ohio State University (OSU). His first two years were spent primarily working on oil and gas pipeline construction projects. The problem areas he encountered during this time involved the bending of large diameter pipe.
In 1970, Mr. Meierhoff and his father began investigating the technology for bending large diameter pipe in order to improve BendTec’s pipe bending capability. After traveling to Japan in 1971 and Europe in 1972 to observe small bending machines being used, they decided to design and build a machine themselves using the same process, but it would be able to bend larger diameter pipe to better service the expanding pipeline industry.
The Meierhoff’s formed Pipe Benders, Inc., in 1972 to design and build the machines and market the bending service. In March of 1973, Pipe Benders, Inc. put its first induction bending machine; which was capable of bending pipe up to 66 inches in diameter, into operation. In August of 1975, as the market grew, Pipe Benders, Inc. built and installed a second machine which was capable of bending pipe up to 27 inches in diameter.
In 1980, Tulsa Tube Bending Company bought and installed an induction bending machine, which bent pipe up to 24 inches in diameter. It was the first that any company other than Pipe Benders, Inc. offered; the service of bending pipe using the induction process in the Western Hemisphere.
The Duluth, Minnesota based pipe bending operation provided bending services to nearly all of the pipe fabrication companies in North America and continued to grow during the 1970’s. The bending capabilities led the company into many new markets. One of these new areas was the fabrication of abrasion-resistant piping systems for the pneumatic conveying of pulverized coal in steam electric generating plants. BendTec is now considered to be the leader in this field. Another new area that the bending capability opened was that of making rubber and urethane lined piping components. These linings are used to reduce abrasion and wear in slurry conveying systems, and then provide smooth direction changes which allow for lower wear rates. The primary market for these components is in the mining industry.
In 1986, Bob Meierhoff merged Pipe Benders, Inc. and Modern Constructors. The combined entity concentrated on pipe bending and fabricating aspects of the piping industry. Pipeline construction in the region had slowed down considerably. What limited work remained was very competitive.
In mid 1989, Pipe Benders, Inc. and The Vectura Group formed BendTec, each having a 50% interest in the company. Bob Meierhoff wanted to expand and move the operation to a new location and Vectura’s pipe fabricating division, Connex, wanted to vertically integrate to more effectively serve the power generation industry.
In 1989, BendTec moved to a new plant facility that was more efficient and better suited to meet future needs. In 1991, Vectura changed directions; decided to concentrate its efforts in the maritime industry, and sold Connex to the Whessoe Group of Great Britain.
In 1995, Bob Meierhoff and Tom Conrad, a Duluth banker, purchased Vectura’s interest in BendTec, and it continues today under the same ownership.