Since its inception fifty years ago, Simplex System Controls, a family-run business, has maintained a strong history of providing high-quality custom electrical and pneumatic control panels at a fair price.
As we approach the end of our 50th anniversary year, there is no better time to look back at how it all began.
1970 Humble Beginnings and the First Employee
In 1970, the average cost of a new house was $23,450.00 and a gallon of gas cost just .36 cents. Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles had disbanded. The first Earth Day was celebrated, the voting age was lowered to 18, and the number one song of the year was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel.
Also in 1970, in Cicero Illinois, Julius Sparacino established Simplex System Controls and set-up shop in an old 40’x40’ garage he had purchased from his mother. Located behind a two-flat, the building had at one time been a bleach factory.
The ramshackle building still contained a large concrete tank full of concentrated chlorine water – the fumes made it nearly impossible to breath. Because of the corrosive nature of chlorine, the interior bricks walls were crumbling.
Eighteen-year old John Palmer, who was dating Julius’ niece at the time, became Simplex’s first employee when he was brought on in January 1970 to help clean up and prepare the building.
In a recent interview, John recounted that, “You could take a push broom across the wall and chunks of the brick along with dust and dirt would literally fall to the floor.”
John spent his first few days at Simplex helping to clean, build workstations, and fix windows. It was not long, however, until he began wiring panels. Julius had hired a moonlighter from another company to wire the first panel, but he never came back after the first day. This led Julius to ask John if he thought he could learn to read a schematic and finish wiring the panel. John said yes, and his career as a panel builder was launched
For the first few years John and Julius were the only permanent employees. Though Julius did hire a few part-time panel builders to help here and there. Julius focused on getting the customers and John built the panels.
Julius was educated as an electrical engineer and had been a salesman with Cutler Hammer. “He was an excellent salesman. He brought in the work, I built the panels and then he brought more work in – he was like a machine,” John recalled.
“The first couple of years were pretty grueling. I had started college full time in the spring semester of 1970. I went back and forth between school and Simplex and worked every Saturday. Saturdays were good days to catch up. After about a year, I started working at Simplex more during the day and switched to taking night classes.”
John continued that, “Julius was bringing in more and more work and we could not always find reliable help. Eventually, it became more and more difficult for me for me to keep up with school – I never ended up finishing.”
During this period of rapid growth key Simplex customers included RR Donnelley and what John described as the “game changer” Continental Can. Not surprisingly, Simplex soon outgrew the Cicero location and moved to a larger building in LaGrange, IL.
Other changes were in the works as well. Take a look at Simplex’s New Directions …
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