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Skip tells stories passed down through the generations of how CAW came to be where it is today.
It is our ability to fight through the hardest of times that has helped us sustain a thriving company. In the 20th Century, the company survived the Great Depression and watched as our country along with several employees fought in Vietnam and World War II.
Frank Steffner. Now head of the Chattanooga Armature Works, Mr. Steffner is one of the enterprising manufacturers of Chattanooga, and has built up an industry whose products are distributed over many states of the Union. He began in a small way with little capital, but possessed the courage, ability and determination for success. He manufactures articles which are of practical value to the industrial world, took much pride in improving and maintaining a high standard for his goods, and is today head of a plant which is not only a permanent asset of the city, but undoubtedly has a much larger future.
Mr. Steffner has had the kind of career which has been typical of many industrial leaders in America. Born in Bristol, Virginia, January 27, 1862, receiving a common school education in his native town. At the age of fourteen he had completed a course in the King College and went to Texas with C. T. Campbell of Salem, Va., then superintendent of the Texas Express Company. In that employ he acted as agent, messenger, freight or money clerk, and all other duties which were required of him. After three years in 1879 he returned home, and became an employe of the Southern Express Company. A year later he resigned a job which carried a salary of seventy-five dollars a month in order to learn a trade, and the only compensation he received for several years was board and clothes. He spent four years learning watch-making, and continued to follow that trade until 1886, when ill health obliged him to give it up. In the fall of 1886, after his marriage, Mr. Steffner went to Tampa, Florida, where he put up and ice plant. He was caught in the yellow fever epidemic of 1887, and in the fall of 1888 located at Chattanooga, where he began work as a contracting freight agent for the C. R. & C. Railway. He was with that road until it was absorbed by the Richmond & Danville Railway, and the new organization requested him to go to Nashville as its representative, but his preference was for Chattanooga, and he therefore resigned from his railroad position and entered the manufacturing field. He established the firm of Steffner & Sloan, as manufacturers of armatures and field coils, and also in the general motor and generator repair business. Subsequently the firm was incorporated under the name of Chattanooga Armature Works, with a capital of thirty-five thousand dollars. To the building up of this business, of which Mr. Steffner is president, he has since devoted his entire attention, and concentrated efforts and exceptional ability as an industrial organizer has been the chief factors in the success of the enterprise. At the beginning the facilities of the plant were limited, and the business was only slowly extended beyond the local field. During the last few years, however, the trade has reached such proportions that the products of the Chattanooga Armature Works are now sold from Washington D. C., to the states of Iowa and Oklahoma. The kind of manufacturing covers all kinds and makes of stationary motors and generators, and also the manufacture of tapeing machines for the insulation of coils, but the specialty is the manufacture of armature and field coils for coal mining locomotives and for coal cutting machines and street railway motors.
Frank Steffner was a son of John U. Steffner, who was born at Anserseihl in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland. The father came to America in 1852, locating in Wyeth county, Virginia, where he was engaged in the trade of coppersmith. He spent some time at Elizabethtown in Tennessee, but later moved to Bristol, Virginia, where he remained until his death in 1898 at the age of sixty-three. The maiden name of the mother was Ann Porter, daughter of John Porter of Crocket in Wyeth country, Virginia. She now as her home at Atlanta, Georgia, but spends her summers with her son Frank, and is now seventy-six years of age. Frank Steffner was the third in a family of nine children, five of whom have their homes in Chattanooga, the others being Mrs. N. B. Mullenix, Mrs. A. N. Sloan, Mrs. F. H. Dowler, and Mrs. E. W. Schofield.
Mr. Steffner has always taken much interest as a manufacturer and business man in the municipal affairs of his home city. He was one of the leaders in the movement to establish a commission form of government and was also prominent in the young men's business league, which was formed for the purpose of securing the passage of the Jarvis law. He is independent in politics, though usually a Democrat, on national issues. Mr. Steffner is a member of the Chattanooga Manufacturers' Association and the Tennessee State Manufacturing Association. He is past master of Temple Lodge, and past high priest of Hamilton Chapter in the Masonic Order. The Highland Park Methodist Church, South, has one of its active members in Mr. Steffner since its organization, and he is superintendent of the Sunday school.
Mr. Steffner was married at Bristol, Tennessee, September 2, 1886, to Miss Lura Honnaker, daughter of S. N. Honnaker of Abingdon, Washington county, Virginia. Their five children are Samuel Ulrich, who is secretary of the Chattanooga Armature Works; Annie Elizabeth, wife of J. E. Brannen of Chattanooga, Franklin W., Lura Virginia, and Margaret King, the last three being at home. Their residence is at 509 Chamberlain Avenue.
Following excerpt taken from
"A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry, and Modern Activities"
by Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt
Copyright 1913 Volume VIII
Pages 2257 - 2259
In September 1876, C.T. Campbell of Salem, Virginia and F.C. Hargis of Jonesboro, Tennessee and John Lovett of Atlanta, Georgia were going to Texas to open up the Texas Express Company. C.T. Campbell asked my Father, who had been Agent for the Southern Express Company in Bristol since the close of the Civil War, to let me go with them as they could use me. So I went and was a supply for everything from Messenger to Agent.
The railroads at that time were Gulf Houston and San Atuna from Galveston. The Texas Pacific Terminal was Fort Worth in which office when opened I was money clerk for six months. The Agent was a Mr. Cromet from somewhere in Virginia. Before I was sent to Fort Worth I had plenty of fun with the Bandits who were then holding up trains. Sam Bass was the leader and the Ford boys his able assistants. Bass was shot in the hold up at Round Rock; he got away but was found the next day by the Texas Rangers and died before they got him to the hospital. In the cemetery at Athens, Tennessee lies the body of Horace Hiccox who was held up in one of the T.P. robberies. He was so mad he resigned on his arrival at Houston and immediately joined the Rangers to run down the robbers and get his revenge. Matters got so bad five men were put with each messenger with a guard and all armed with a sawed off shotgun and a pair of 45 Colts with a belt of fifty cartridges.
In September '78 I was given a two week leave to visit my home in Bristol. I had been home about a week with N.S. Woodward, Route Agent for the Express Company from Bristol to Chattanooga came into my Father's office and said they were putting on a through train from Lynchburg to Chattanooga and I was to take the run. He had a telegram from C.T. Campbell saying if I wanted to stay back then it was alright, so that ended my Texas experience.
I continued with the Express Company until 1880 when I quit and entered and apprenticeship of four years to learn the watchmakers trade with A. Picken, an Englishman who lived in Bristol. My board and clothes were to be my reward. His son, Archie, and I were great friends and when I decided to join them his Father said, "You and Archie will open a store in Abingdon, Virginia." So until 1884, I resided there.
In 1885 I went on a trip to New York where I spent three months, and was returning to Bristol in December. At Lynchburg, Virginia I walked up to the Express car to see who was the passenger and found Mr. V. Spaulding, the Route Agent. He said, "Where are you going?", and I said, "Bristol." He said, "Get in the car, I am going, too." En route he said, "We are loaded with business and I want you to help me over this Christmas rush." I agreed, and the next morning brought the run to Chattanooga. This continued until after my marriage on September 2, 1886 to Lura Honaker, of Abingdon, Virginia.
In October my Father-in-law told me he had decided to erect an ice plant in Tampa, Florida where he was heavily interested in orange groves and he wanted me to go there and take charge, which I did, and the plant was erected in Ybor City, which had just been established by Ybor and Sanches and Haya for manufacturing cigars. This was the first absorption ice plant in Florida. Then yellow fever struck and a brother-in-law, William Honaker, and his daughter died. I worked and helped all I could and then one of the bugs bit me and I went down for three days and nights, then I went back to Virginia to visit my wife and baby.
Soon after my return to Florida I received a telegram from A.N. Sloan, General Freight and Passenger Agent for the new Chattanooga, Rome & Columbus Railroad offering me the position of Traveling Freight Agent. I accepted and came to Chattanooga. Then the CR&C was taken over by the Central of Georgia and I was looking for employment. The bicycle craze was on and I decided to embark in it. Rented the room on the corner of the Times Building and Georgia Avenue, secured the Agency for the Remington Arms Company's new Chainless Bicycle, and was making a fair living when there was a strike on the Street Railway lines and they had no one who could rewind the armatures for the motors. I called on Major J.H. Warner and asked him to let me wind one and he said, "Frank, you don't know anything about this kind of work." I replied, "Major, I never tried anything and failed." Then well, finally he said, "Tell John Hunt", who was foreman of the Car Barn, "to let you have one." Later in the day Ike Rosser, an old Donkey draman, brought one to my shop. I wound it, and they came in dray loads. Then I concluded to look further for rewinding armatures and got them from as far West as Denver and East as Washington, D.C. Then I moved in 1898 to the present location on Duncan Avenue and Belt Railroad, where the Chattanooga Armature Works serve the South.
Chattanooga Armature Works
Electric Motors, Drives, Pumps & Gearboxes Sales, Service & Repair
Taken from dictation given January 26, 1961, as read from history written by Frank Steffner.
Today Chattanooga Armature Works is in its fifth generation. The Shop has been managed by male members of the Steffner family until now.
In 2009 John Steffner, Jr. (Skip) passed the reigns to his daughter, Starr Steffner Wilson. Starr became the first female president of the company in a male-dominated industry, and she serves on the Board of Directors of the CRMA (Chattanooga Regional Manufacturer's Association), where CAW has been a member since Frank's era.
Like so many other businesses, CAW has fought hard to survive the current economic downturn. With the help of just over twenty team members, CAW gets the job done to keep customers coming back for quality work, a quick response, and fair pricing.
Together, the family continues to look after this
historical Chattanooga business and plans to see
it through to a sixth generation!
At one time, Chattanooga Armature Works employed more than 60 people. We ran three shifts and had more work almost than we could do. Chattanooga was a booming industrial city with paper, textile, and chemical plants, foundries, and manufacturers. Times change, and Chattanooga has become a premier tourist destination city and some of the industrial work has fallen away. In order to grow with the city, we expanded our services to include motor sales and motor control sales and service.
While we work hard to bring quality motor repair and new products to our customers, in the 1950's we started a tradition that we take time out of the workday for every Wednesday at noon. Billy Graham came to Chattanooga and challenged local businesses to have a meeting every week with their employees to recognize God in the workplace. We have met every Wednesday for a prayer meeting since.
Frank started the company in the 19th century; three generations after him ran the company in the 20th century. In the 21st century, more than a hundred years after the company's inception, Frank's great-great-granddaughter is president in the 21st century. We are able to know quite a bit about the company's first few years from stories passed down, books written on Chattanooga and its history, and a copy of a dictation given by Frank. Please read below to learn more about Chattanooga and our company.
1209 E 23rd Street
Chattanooga, TN 37408