From a Broken Pottery Kiln to a Leading Furnace Manufacturer

Ipsen Celebrates 75 years

This year, Ipsen celebrates 75 years in business, and it all started with an ambitious young man who had an entrepreneurial spirit and a mind for innovation.

The story of Ipsen began in 1940, when Harold Norregaard Ipsen established a commercial heat-treating shop in Loves Park, Illinois just one year after earning an engineering degree from Brown University. The company initially produced shell fuse parts for defense contractors.

In 1943, Ipsen and his wife Lorraine opened a decorative pottery business. When their kiln broke down, the entrepreneur designed and built a new one. Inspired by the need to produce more uniform parts for his customers, he used the same technology to build furnaces for heat treating steel.

By 1945, Ipsen had opened an office in Rockford, Illinois along with a second manufacturing plant.

Harold Ipsen 1939 Brown University yearbook photo
Lorraine Ipsen collection of pottery

The Early Years

On July 1, 1948, Ipsen was officially incorporated as a manufacturer of heat-treating furnaces.

In 1951, Ipsenlab was formed in Rockford to focus on commercial heat treating, research and development and included a showroom for the latest products. The establishment of Ipsenlab Canada followed in 1953. By this time, Ipsen had six branch offices across California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut and Toronto, with additional sales support in Colorado and Texas.

Exterior of IpsenLab building circa 1950s

In a matter of only a few years, Ipsen Industries had become a pioneer in the industry for its automatic heat-treating units, which promised more uniform metallurgical results, greater production capacity and lower operating costs. Other early innovations included the Dewtronik and Carbotronik recording instruments that controlled dewpoint and carbon potential in atmosphere furnaces.

By 1955, Ipsen was outgrowing its plant, and plans were made to construct a new, larger facility in Cherry Valley, Illinois, which would open in 1959. The company even had its own airplane, used to transport customers to and from Rockford. At this time, Ipsen furnaces were used to manufacture everything from typewriters and washing machines to automobiles and airplanes.

In 1957, Ipsen Ceramics, once part of Ipsenlab, began operations in a new, 15,000-square-foot facility in Pecatonica, Illinois. With a growing international client base, expansion continued in 1957 with the formation of Ipsen Industries GmbH (Ipsen International) in Kleve, Germany.

In the next decade, the company would further expand operations, producing its first vacuum furnaces, as well as experience loss and regrowth. Continue to follow our blog series for more on the history of Ipsen. The next post will focus on international expansion in Japan. Although Ipsen Japan was established in 2008, the company’s roots go back almost as far as Ipsen in the U.S.

Ipsen atmosphere furnace brochure circa 1950s
Cover of a vintage Ipsen Dewtronik and Carbotronik brochure

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.