Legends of Manufacturing

DES MOINES – Paul Gregoire, Vice President of Global Human Resources of Emerson Process Management/Fisher Controls in Marshalltown, and the late John Norris Sr., inventor of the forced-air furnace for Lennox Industries, were recognized for their significant contributions to manufacturing in the second annual Legends in Iowa Manufacturing event sponsored by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry earlier this month. Norris was a major innovator and former president of Lennox Industries, which was founded in Marshalltown. He received the Posthumous Legends award.

Paul Gregoire

Gregoire’s award in the large manufacturer category was a complete surprise.

“I had no idea I was going to get any kind of award, I was shocked when they announced it,” said Gregoire. “I am absolutely honored and flattered. It is the second year they have presented the ‘Legends’ award. The two gentlemen who were the co-recipients (of the award) last year were Drew Vogel of Diamond-Vogel Paints and Charles Sukup of Sukup Manufacturing, two business leaders I look up to. I thought to myself, ‘I get to be mentioned in the same breath with them … as influential Iowa leaders like these guys, as well as the late John Norris’. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the recognition, and absolutely speechless for a few minutes.”

In addition to his many responsibilities at Emerson/Fisher, where he has worked 11 and one-half years, Gregoire has taken on a major leadership role, and has been a tireless promoter of ABI’s Elevated Advanced Manufacturing program.

“This is really a strong project under the ABI banner,” Gregoire said. “We are working to change the perception of advanced manufacturing in the state. It (advanced manufacturing) is positive, with great jobs, great careers and great pay. It is not your father’s manufacturing facilities that were stodgy and unsafe. We are working to sell advanced manufacturing as a huge job creator.”

Currently, Gregoire said he loves being part of the Emerson organization in Iowa.

“It is a great organization of seasoned professionals … and good young ‘first decaders’ who are going to help us push this business further down the road. A recent acquisition will make us the largest entity within Emerson globally, something we are proud of. I certainly seeing spending the rest of my career here if they want me. It is a great organization to be in … and Marshalltown and Central Iowa is a great place to be, because people ‘step up.’

This is something my wife (Karn Gregoire) are so proud to be a part of.”

Before joining Emerson/Fisher, Gregoire worked 19 years in a global capacity for TyCo in Marinette, Wisc.

John Norris

Before he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Norris began working for the Lennox Furnace Co. as a furnace cleaner in the summer of 1925, reported the “Continuing History of Marshall County, 1997.” His first full-time job after graduating in 1927 was as a salesman in the company’s factory in Syracuse, N.Y.

Norris was interested in engineering new products at a time when the heating industry was on the brink of fundamental change. He had developed plans to put blowers furnaces so warm air could be pushed through longer pipes and heat larger homes and buildings.

However, Norris’ father, D.W. Norris, was not interested.

The younger Norris devised a strategy.

He found a secluded corner in the rear of an empty warehouse, a place he was convinced his father would not visit.

He began experimenting with blowers, oil burners and gas furnaces with another engineer, F.H. “Whit” Whitcombe.

Being convinced his forced hot air concept would work, Norris displayed the model to a group of Midwestern Lennox dealers.

They were excited, and convinced D.W. Norris of the practical value and market potential of his son’s ideas.

In 1935, Lennox furnaces were built with blowers and enameled cabinets.

John Norris began holding classes to teach Lennox dealers the new heating system.

By the end of the 1930s, John Norris had become the top warm-air heating engineer in the country, and Lennox was the world’s largest manufacturer of forced-air heating systems.

Steady growth brought about by John Norris’ innovations resulted in the building of a new factory in Columbus, Ohio, in 1940.

Post World War II growth

D.W. Norris had predicted new furnaces would be in great demand after the war.

The company moved quickly to meet the demand as new housing starts exploded.

A nationwide expansion took place in 1958, with branches established in Decatur, Georgia (an Atlanta suburb), Fort Worth, Texas, Los Angeles Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sadly, Lennox Co. President D.W. Norris died in 1949 at age 73, initiating a changing of the guard.

Lennox under John Norris

The Lennox Co. would scale new heights with John Norris as company president. Between 1950 and 1960, Lennox became an international name.

But in 1952, John Norris turned his attention to a new challenge – residential air conditioning.

While some business associates though residential air conditioning was a bad idea, Norris prevailed, and staff began to sell them in 1952.

Meanwhile Canadian operations were opened.

On Dec. 30, 1955, the company’s name was officially changed from the Lennox Furnace Co. to Lennox Industries, Inc. By 1960, Lennox had established an international division in England.

A significant announcement came in 1965, when the company announced it would discontinue selling coal furnace parts.

It marked the end of an era: Lennox coal furnaces had been produced and sold since Dave Lennox built the first in 1895.

On Dec. 16, 1970, after 21 years as president, John Norris announced Ray Robbins would become president and chief executive officer effective Jan. 1. John Norris would remain as chairman of the board.


“As one of Iowa’s largest industries, manufacturing contributes $31 billion annually to the state’s economy,” ABI President Mike Ralston said. “It is an honor to recognize the founders and leaders of these amazing Iowa companies, and to thank them for the outstanding contributions they make to our state.”