The majority of the documents in this collection follow the Rust Engineering Company from its founding in 1905 until its sale to Litton Industries in 1967 -- the time when Rust was a family-run organization. Although it contains a variety of material, the strength of the collection lies in the correspondence and project files of the company's first two presidents, S.M. Rust and S.M. Rust, Jr., who operated from the Pittsburgh office.
Working at a time when most long-distance business communication was by letter or telegram, both presidents wrote constantly to their officers, their brothers and uncles at branch offices, foremen and site superintendents, lawyers, financial advisors, other companies, and clients. Their discussions, which are often detailed and sometimes personal, show how they handled management decisions day to day; a typical letter might inquire about a shipment of brick, settle a dispute between workers, or discuss contacts in the paper mill industry. A great deal of correspondence is devoted to individual jobs, since the presidents were ultimately responsible for arranging contracts and correcting any problems that arose, such as delays, union strikes, or unexpected costs. The frequency and detail of the letters makes it possible to see what was important in the office at nearly any time from 1918 to 1949.
Taken as a whole, the president's files demonstrate how the company reacted and adapted to the major events of the twentieth century, as well as changing ideals in business culture. Rust Engineering profited from the need for steel and steam power during the 1920s, survived the Great Depression, served the home front during World War II, and reverted to peacetime operations afterwards. In the process, Rust Engineering also transformed from a small, family-run company offering a single specific service into a large corporation overseeing multiple projects of many types across the United States and around the world.
In addition to providing a record of one company's changes over time, the collection can also be seen as the history of the careers of S.M. Rust and his son S.M. Rust, Jr. The files span S.M. Rust's career from his time as a 27-year-old worker in New Orleans, just beginning his professional work, through his retirement from the presidency in 1944. His letters are clear and logical and often explain in detail the reasoning behind the decisions he made. He was especially attentive to human resource decisions, since he believed that getting the "right man for the job" was key to the success of any business. There is little evidence of self-censorship in these files; S.M. Rust discussed the strengths and weaknesses of employees with honesty and fairness, and he did not hesitate to tell them what they did wrong. More telling, though, is that his workers often had no qualms about responding to their employer in an equally frank tone. He maintained a strong sense of loyalty to those who worked for him, and attempted to solve or prevent problems rather than simply replace a worker.
Similarly, the files trace S.M. Rust, Jr.'s transition from a management position to president of the company. Like his father, he had to make personnel decisions and was concerned with character and potential. Perhaps the most striking example is a series of letters in which S.M. Rust, Jr. is the only employer among ten companies willing to consider a former Alcatraz prisoner for a job. S.M. Rust, Jr. was also involved in the local community as a member of several social and charitable organizations.
The record of president's files ends abruptly after 1949. The few materials from after the company's sale to Litton Industries in 1967 are mostly published items, probably collected by the Rust family.
In addition to the president's files, the collection contains minute books and charters, promotional items, an extensive clipping collection, and approximately 400 photographs of construction sites and employees at work. A photo album from 1917 and 1918 captures the construction of structures for the steel industry in Alabama, including coal tipples, coke ovens, storage bins, screening plants, and blast furnaces.
1905: The Rust Engineering Company is founded in Birmingham, Alabama, as a partnership between three brothers.
1913: Pittsburgh Office opens.
1920: Partnership is dissolved, and the company is incorporated into three financially independent companies: Rust Engineering of Delaware (Pittsburgh Office), Rust Engineering of Maryland (D.C. Office), and Rust Engineering of Alabama (Birmingham Office).
1918: Rust purchases the Birmingham Clay Products Company to manufacture brick.
1925: Eric Plagwit is hired and placed at the head of a new Chimney Department.
Mid-1920s: Rust Engineering of Maryland is dissolved, assets go to Pittsburgh.
1927: Rust's first subsidiary, the Rust Furnace Company, is formed.
1936: The Allegheny Industrial Electrical Company is formed as a subsidiary.
1938: The Woodbridge Clay Product Company becomes an affiliate.
1939: S.M. Rust, Jr. becomes operating manager of the Pittsburgh Company.
1944: S.M. Rust retires from the presidency and becomes Chairman of the Board of Directors; S.M. Rust, Jr. becomes president.
1967: Rust is bought by Litton Industries, becoming a division of that company.
1971: Rust's headquarters is moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Birmingham, Alabama.
1972: Rust is bought by Wheelabrator-Frye
1981: Wheelabrator-Frye acquires Pullman, Inc. Rust's northeast operations are merged with Swindell operations, forming Swindell Rust.
1981: The Rust Engineering Company becomes a division of Kellogg Rust, Inc., still owned by Wheelabrator-Frye.
1982: Kellogg Rust forms Rust International Corporation by merging all of Rust's former divisions.
1983: Wheelabrator-Frye merges with the Signal Companies, Inc. Rust becomes one of the signal companies.
1985: The Signal Companies and Allied Corporation merge into Allied-Signal, Inc.
1986: Kellogg Rust is dissolved. Rust International becomes part of Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of the Henley Group, Inc. The Henley Group had been created in a spin-off of Allied-Signal to its shareholders.
1990: Waste Management Inc. becomes Rust's parent company by increasing its equity ownership of Wheelabrator Technologies.
1992: Rust International, Inc. is formed by combining parts of Waste Management companies Chemical Waste Management, Wheelabrator Technologies, and the Brand Companies.
1993: Waste Management changes its name to WMX Technologies, Inc.
1995: Rust is owned 60 percent by WMX Technologies and 40 percent by Wheelabrator Technologies.
1996: Raytheon Engineers & Constructors, part of Raytheon Company, acquires Rust.
2000: Morrison Knudsen Corporation acquires Raytheon Engineers & Constructors and creates Washington Group International, Inc. It is one of the largest engineering and construction firms in the United States. Rust is now known as Rust Constructors, Inc.