How the world hinges on Landrum

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bommer President Charlie Martin started as comptroller in 1978 and says, “Ah the stories I could tell...there was the time a general at the Pentagon called with a rush order.”

Bommer President Charlie Martin started as comptroller in 1978 and says, “Ah the stories I could tell…there was the time a general at the Pentagon called with a rush order.”

Written and Photographed by Vincent Verrecchio
So many things in life we take for granted. As you are reading this right now in your home or elsewhere, imagine the scene around you without a hinge.


I would venture that few of us contemplate the ubiquitous hinge or would bother to read about it or introduce it into conversation. Yet there are 80 or so of our neighbors with a passion and a pride for how the world literally swings on the hinges and pivots they make.

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Who amongst us when driving on Hwy. 176 south of downtown Landrum have noticed the sign for Bommer Industries? Have we wondered what was going on in there? Never guessing that the 120,000 square feet inside the Fifties-style brick building was a historic wellspring of innovation. Never knowing that when Bommer shipments arrive in locations as far flung as Montreal, Las Vegas, Cairo, and Dubai, a color label on every carton reads Made in USA under an American flag. Another bold color label proclaims BHMA Certified, recognition in the construction industry as a rigorously tested quality product. And right there on the side panel in bold type for all to see—Landrum, S.C.


“All of us here are heirs to the vision, inventiveness, and dedication of Lawrence Bommer,” says Charlie Martin, Bommer Industries president.


Innovation may not be a word immediately associated with an invention of such antiquity. A 5,000-year old hinged door found in Switzerland, for example, predates the hinge uncovered under the volcanic debris of Vesuvius, 79 A.D. Both work the same way. The origins of the hinge are obscure, and like the wheel, the inventor is anonymous. Yet in 1863, Bommer patented an improved single acting spring hinge that automatically closed a door and created a business model of continuous improvement that continues today. In 1880, he patented the world’s first double acting spring hinge that allowed a door to swing in both directions before slowing to a stop. Charlie notes, “That’s the door you see every time John Wayne pushes into a saloon. Bommer is on many western movie sets.”


“Our gate springs were invented in 1911, and patents just kept coming. 2002 was our patent on a single acting spring hinge that reduces friction. The most recent patent was less than four years ago,” he continued.



To keep the momentum, a design engineering team meets every three weeks to review and stimulate progress on at least one new product and two product improvements.


“We design, stamp, press, bend, punch, cut, polish, assemble, and test a wide range of hinge and pivot types and sizes…more than 6,000. We use only raw material sourced from the US…cold rolled steel, stainless steel, and brass…rolls, rods, and some sheets. A roll of about 4,000 pounds of steel becomes about 1,100 to 1,400 hinges depending on size.” Charlie explained.


The basic hinge involves two leaves with knuckles that engage around a pin with a cap at each end. The basic pivot is a pin that protrudes from the top or lower corner of a door and fits into a socket.


When first entering the plant, you note that the employees seem to disappear in the almost three acres of mysterious equipment, pallets and shelves, and lengthy aisles marked into a grid of safety lanes. People on a mission smile and wave in passing or from the distance. Others cluster around hubs of activity. Individuals in one small group, for example, are at benches assembling hinge components, each person wearing gloves to reduce smudges.


From a far place, you hear Godzilla footsteps, the beat of machinery with up to 250 tons of pressing and punching power. “That’s the sound of making money,” jokes Charlie.


If you peek in the window of a car-sized CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, you’ll see steel blades sculpting steel rods into precision shapes under a spray of cutting oil. “We hold tolerances of plus or minus five thousandths of an inch for uniform fit, function, and appearance,” Charlie says with satisfaction. Five thousandths of an inch is just slightly bigger than the average human hair which is .0039 of an inch.


In a room of doors and panels opening and closing pneumatically over a blank wall, Charlie explains, “In cycle testing, single acting hinges, for example, need to reach one million cycles for UL Certification.” Stewart, design engineer with Bommer for more than 20 years, adds, “But we’ve taken them to 100 million just to prove to ourselves how good we are.”


That last sentence reveals a strong and persistent motivation at Bommer.


“Pride,” says Charlie, “is why every one takes personal responsibility for quality control. Steve, for example, has been here 34 years and knows that what he does today, precisely setting up a die on a press, makes a difference not only to the end customer but to the next person in our manufacturing process who trusts Steve to always do it right.”


A corporate culture of self-sufficiency and self-worth would be one explanation for a startling Bommer statistic: 32 employees belong to the Over 30 Club. That’s not age but rather the number of years they have been with the company. Charlie says, “I started here as comptroller in 1978. Others have been here longer. One lady says we’ve been Bommerized. And no mistaking her tone that it’s a good thing.”


While Bommer is not a household name found in retail outlets, it is the standard of quality for commercial and institutional doors as in hospital ORs, restaurant kitchens, school lavatories, mall entrances, and occasional submarines. Customers have titles such as Contract Hardware Distributor and Architectural Hardware Consultant.


“We are often surprised who knows our name,” reflects Charlie. ”I remember when Stewart popped in to say he had an order for four special pivots. You mean 4,000 I asked since our orders are usually much larger.”


“No, four.”


“Four? Who do they think they are?”


“The White House.”

“What white house?”


“The one on Pennsylvania Avenue.”


“Then there was the time a general at the Pentagon called with a rush order.” Charlie smiles. “Ah, the stories I could tell about the years at Bommer. You’ve probably heard of Trump Towers…”