The Rust Engineering Company was founded in 1905 as a partnership between three brothers from Virginia; Ellsworth Marshall Rust (E.M. Rust), Edmund Jennings Lee Rust (Lee Rust), and Stirling Murray Rust (S.M. Rust). Originally created to handle boiler sales and brickwork for the Rust Boiler Company, which was owned by three older Rust brothers, Rust Engineering quickly expanded into other subsets of design and construction and was soon building foundations, power houses, and eventually entire manufacturing plants. Rust Engineering was also a leading builder of industrial chimneys and furnaces, which were in high demand throughout most of the twentieth century.
In 1913, Rust Engineering opened an office in Pittsburgh, where the Rust Boiler Company was already established. The small office was headed by S.M. Rust, who already had experience working in the Pittsburgh region. In 1920 the partnership was dissolved and Rust Engineering was incorporated into three separate companies based in Pittsburgh, Birmingham, and Washington, D.C. S.M. Rust became president of the Pittsburgh companies, while vice-presidents E.M. Rust and Lee Rust headed the Washington, D.C., and Birmingham companies, respectively. The partnership struggled at first, facing railroad delays, uncooperative workers, and droughts in the south. In the mid-1920s, the Washington, D.C. company was dissolved and became a sales office, and the Birmingham and Pittsburgh companies merged. The official headquarters was in Pittsburgh, but the Birmingham office continued to operate independently for many years. The company survived these initial difficulties, as well as the Depression that followed, through its versatility. By taking on everything from simple repair jobs to complex design projects, the company could adapt to major changes.
In 1939, S.M. Rust, Jr. became the operating manager for the Pittsburgh office, although his father remained president until 1944. A mechanical engineer, S.M. Rust, Jr. had the daunting task of managing a constant supply of government contracts during World War II. Rust Engineering's experience with many types of industrial construction made it ideal for wartime work.
By the 1950s, Rust Engineering was a leading engineering firm known for its furnaces, paper mills, concrete work, and "turn-key" plants, so called because the company handled everything from the blueprints to the installation of machinery, leaving the plant fully operational and the keys in the hands of management. Rust Engineering took contracts across the United States, but was especially important in Pittsburgh, where it built for Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Plate and Glass, and many of the city's steel mills. Rust Engineering also built the foundations and steel framework of the Koppers Building, one of the distinctive features of the Pittsburgh skyline.
In 1967, Rust Engineering was sold to Litton Industries. In the years following the sale, the company was merged and reassigned numerous times, and in 1971 its headquarters was moved from Pittsburgh to Birmingham, Alabama. Now owned by Morrison Knudsen Corporation, the company operates under the name Rust Constructors, Inc., and continues to specialize in the design and construction of heavy industrial plants.
Historical detail about Rust Engineering's work at particular times is described at the series level.