During the late 1920s and early 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Grinnell Company in Southern California marketed cast iron water pressure pipe. A vast new opportunity came into focus when an enterprising young Grinnell salesman named R. H. Baker noticed irrigation pipe, made from thin-walled steel pipe, leaked. Mr. Baker developed a banding device to stop the irrigation pipe leaks and thus repair the pipe. For a time, Mr. Baker continued selling pipe for Grinnell, until his clamp business yielded more income than his regular job.
As people began to become more aware of Baker's banding device, his side business sales grew, even during one of the most devastating economic times in American history. Amazingly, he was able to quit his primary job at Grinnell and open the R. H. Baker Company. Customers appreciated the utility of his device and how it stopped leaks and extended the life and utility of their piping. As the new business thrived, Mr. Baker's nephew, Telford Smith joined his uncle's company and went to work as a salesman. That was in 1930s, and it wasn't too long before Mr. Smith's entrepreneurial spirit resulted in his wanting to operate his own company. Due to the opportunity that had been given to him by his uncle, he decided he would open his own company in an area in which he would not compete with his uncle and the R. H. Baker Company. Mr. Smith moved to San Francisco to set his new company up. In those days, San Francisco seemed quite far away from Southern California. Mr. Smith's first company was called Smith & Abraham, but it was dissolved. The company was later called Smith & Smith.
The second Smith and partner was his wife, Dellah. Before long another name change ensued when another investor was brought in. The name was changed and that is when the company took its present name of Smith-Blair. In the early days, Mr. Smith continued to make sales calls, obtain orders for repair clamps and this entrepreneur manufactured the product in his garage. The company incorporated in 1941, which coincided with the timing his investor, Ben Blair, decided to leave the company. Mr. Blair felt the company was not large enough to support both of their families. In the 1940s, everything came together for Mr. Smith and the company when it launched the Full Circle Clamp, which has become a staple in the industry, with a full array of these clamps being offered today. In those days, the clamps were made using cold rolled copper bands and lugs developed by The R. H. Baker Company. Its gasket was manufactured by hand and had no taper. Armor on the early clamps was a separate piece of metal that was added at the time of clamp tightening.
During the next ten years, competition became fierce. Smith-Blair was joined by new competitors and products were improved. During this period, Smith-Blair sales continued to grow but the California business was about to get even bigger. In the 1950s, Smith-Blair opened its first company branch in Los Angeles, followed by another brand in Greenburg, PA. The third branch later opened in Henderson, TX, which ultimately moved to the company's present location in Texarkana, where an entirely new factory was built. Growth in Texarkana was so positive that the Texarkana factory was enlarged three times, and management then decided to move all manufacturing to this central location. Throughout this growth period, Mr. Smith remained involved in all parts of the operation including sales. Smith-Blair customers from that era recall he often appeared for appointments bearing fresh apples from his orchard. Crispy fresh apples became Mr. Smith's personal calling card and a wonderful, welcomed treat for those customers with whom he visited.
Some retired Smith-Blair employees remember Mr. Smith frequently appearing near their desks or drawing tables. He would ask them to explain what they were working on and how it worked. Of course, he knew the answer before he asked, but he wanted to make sure the employee understood exactly what he or she were trying to accomplish. When an employee gave the correct answer, Mr. Smith would quietly walk away presumably to ask another employee the same or similar questions.
In September of 1970, Smith-Blair was sold to the manufacturing giant Rockwell International and operated as a wholly owned subsidiary for three years. Smith-Blair's management structure was then dissolved and became part of the Municipal and Utility Division of Rockwell. At this time, Telford Smith resigned as company president. In 1974, further expansion occurred under Rockwell's watch as the current Texarkana manufacturing facility was built and the previous buildings sold. In 1989, Rockwell sold the Measurement and Flow Control Division, of which the Texarkana unit was a member, to British Tire and Rubber Company (BTR). BTR incorporated the Texarkana unit under the name of Smith-Blair, Inc. as a result of its former brand recognition.
Currently, Smith-Blair is part of Sensus, a group of companies who offer world-class clean technology solutions including smart metering, communications systems, software and services for electric, gas and the water industries. Sensus technology helps utilities drive operational efficiency and customer engagement with applications that include advanced meter reading, data acquisition, demand response, distribution automation, home area networking and outdoor lighting control. The company continues to operate from its 261,000 square foot plant on 34 acres in Texarkana, Arkansas, in which it builds thousands of products that ship around the world each day.
To help keep pace with global growth, Smith-Blair opened an additional 50,000 square foot manufacturing plant in 2005, in Shanghai, China. The Shanghai facility's products are made by Smith-Blair employees to the same quality control and inspection standards as those in Texarkana.
In October 2016 Sensus was acquired by Xylem, a leading global water technology company with innovative and smart technology solutions to meet the world's most challenging water issues.