The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 5 of 11)
These photos depict the earliest days of Kennametal, including its first shop (above) and original headquarters (below). The company would expand not just regionally but globally within two decades, first opening Kennametal of Canada in the 1950s.
By HAL B. KLEIN
images courtesy KENNAMETAL
One of the most valuable manufacturing companies in the United States has called the Pittsburgh region home since the end of the 1930s. Kennametal is the largest manufacturer of metal cutting tools in the United States — the second largest manufacturer worldwide — and the company also makes mining and construction tools. Kennametal employs about 11,000 people worldwide, including 1,000 people in five facilities in Pennsylvania. It does business in more than 60 countries, and its current annual sales are approximately $2.1 billion. Although Kennametal long has been a keystone of Pittsburgh’s industrial fabric, the company’s public profile generally has remained relatively quiet. One exception to that: The company’s signage graced PNC Park from 2001 to 2015, with a Kennametal “K” posted along the upper deck of the left-field line every time a Pirates’ pitcher recorded a strikeout during a home game.
- Kennametal’s story begins in 1938, when it was founded in Latrobe as the McKenna Metals Company. Founder Philip M. McKenna crafted a tungsten-titanium alloy for cutting tools — a significant breakthrough in efficiency and strength in machining steel. The name changed to Kennametal Inc. upon the company’s incorporation in 1943.
- Increased demand for heavy industry during World War II led to a 75-fold increase in Kennametal’s employment, as the company grew from 12 people to nearly 900.
- Mining was as important to eastern Pennsylvania as steel was to the western part of the state for much of the 20th century. After the end of the war, Kennametal focused on mining applications for its materials; the company was pivotal in the invention of the continuous mining machine.
- Kennametal of Canada became the company’s first international endeavor in the 1950s. By the early 1980s, international sales would make up 34 percent of the company’s total.
- One iconic brand moved into the digs known for another in 2015, when Kennametal moved its global headquarters to the U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown.
- The small town of Latrobe remains a part of the global brand today, hosting the company’s corporate center and technology facility.
“When you think about iconic Pittsburgh brands — and we have been fortunate to work with a number of them over the years, including Heinz, PPG, Alcoa and others — there is a common thread or theme that is consistent among them: There is realness or an authenticity to a Pittsburgh brand that I don’t think you would necessarily see in other parts of the country. It reflects the heritage of the region, and the work ethic and resiliency of the people here. Kennametal is probably a great example of this personality or tone ... From a B2B marketing standpoint, the company has maintained its reputation for developing advanced solutions in metalworking through the development of [cloud-based software] called NOVO that offers a streamlined online-transaction experience for customers around the globe. This is a prime example of how fresh, new ideas are not just reserved for the Googles and Ubers of the world. Big industry has always been a hotbed of big ideas. It’s one of the reasons why the Heinz History Center has a whole floor dedicated to innovation — featuring the likes of Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, Edwin Drake, and even David Strickler (who invented the Banana Split in a Latrobe pharmacy). Although not as tasty, Kennametal continues the tradition of forward-thinking companies that have made a name for our region. Most impressively, they have accomplished this in a humble, down-to-earth, way. You could say they’ve done it in a Pittsburgh way.”
— Bill Garrison, creative director and partner, Garrison Hughes Advertising