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A tribute to the WMIA's founding fathers: these seven men helped change the face of the American woodworking industry.

On a snowy Chicago evening in the winter of 1978, seven men joined together to form an organization of machinery importers committed to making the U.S. woodworking industry more productive and competitive.

While an unforgettable storm ravaged the Second City, Richard Byrnes Sr., Richard T. Byrnes Co.; Edwin Bass, Holz Machinery Corp.; Bert Lewyn, Lewyn Machinery; Peter Kleinschmidt, Stiles Machinery; Edward Joel, Amersagg; Roger Criau, Danckaert Woodworking Machinery Co.; and Alvin Corenbium Woodworking Machinery Imports; made their way to the law offices of Halfpenny, Hahn and Roche. For many months the seven men had tried without success to negotiate their grievances with the organizers of the International Woodworking Fair, which a few months earlier had taken place in Louisville.

Each of the seven men said they believed their companies received second-class treatment at the Louisville Show because they represented equipment imported from Germany, Italy, Japan and elsewhere. Worse still, they felt their pleas for parity and fairness were falling on deaf ears.

Believing they had little other choice, they worked with the Chicago law firm to formally establish the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association. Among the fledgling group's first acts was to form a new woodworking show in Atlanta that would compete with the Louisville show. The World Woodworking Expo was held in 1980 at the Georgia World Congress Center and again in 1982.

After the second WWE, cooler heads prevailed. The organizations that ran IWF and WWE agreed to merge for the greater good of the North American woodworking industry. IWF moved from the Louisville Fairgrounds to the state-of-the-art Georgia World Congress Center in 1984 and quickly staked its claim as one of the world's most Important woodworking expositions.

Eighteen years later, the WMIA, which now stands for Woodworking Machinery Industry Association, the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America and the American Furniture Manufacturers Association are preparing to host the biggest IWF yet. The recent completion of a major addition to the Georgia World Congress Center is allowing exhibit space to surpass 900,000 net square feet for IWF 2002, set to take place August 22-25.

Honor Thy Fathers

WMIA members celebrated the achievements of the seven Founding Fathers at the Woodworking Industry Conference held in early May in San Antonio, TX. The tribute included a Powerpoint presentation highlighting the careers of each of the seven men, including their thoughts and recollections on the significance of their actions.

Highlighting the special tribute were appearances by three of the Founding Fathers: Richard Byrnes, Edwin Bass and Bert Lewyn. Each of the three men earned a standing ovation from the audience when they took their turn at the podium-to make a short speech.

As proud as the current membership is of its Founding Fathers, the founders expressed their pride in how far the WMIA and IWF have come over the last two decades. Today the WMIA has more than 160 member companies including dozens of woodworking machinery distributor companies that joined the WMIA through a merger several years ago with the Woodworking Machinery Distributors Association.

In addition, the WMIA members have brought an incredible array of woodworking technology to the U.S. industry. In return for the great amount of business U.S. woodworking companies have given its member companies, the WMIA has given much back to the industry. On the education front, the WMIA has played a leadership role in WoodLINKS USA, a program that promotes woodworking careers to high school students. The association also doles out college scholarships to deserving students each year.

What's more, the WMIA honors U.S. companies and educational institutions that demonstrate excellence through its annual Innovator, Global Marketer and Educator awards programs.

Yet, all of the WMIA's accomplishments would never have come to fruition if not for the determination and vision of its Founding Fathers. Here's a closer look at each of them and some of their memories.

Richard T. Byrnes Sr.

Richard T. Byrnes Sr., the WMIA's first president, began his career selling imported metalworking machinery in the United States. By 1962, when he moved the Richard T. Byrnes Co. to its present location in West Chester, PA, Byrnes was becoming increasingly involved in selling imported woodworking machinery.

Byrnes said he regularly traveled to the international woodworking expositions in Milan and Hannover. He imported one of the first feed-through edgebanders, an Ocmac from Italy.

Byrnes also arranged to import Scheer panel saws made in Austria when panel saw technology was still in its infancy. "Panel manufacturing was a new concept for the U.S. manufacturers. Our business steadily grew and we regularly exhibited at the show held in Louisville every two years."

Byrnes said importers, while making inroads into American woodworking, were treated like second-class citizens at the Louisville Show. "At the 1978 show, I was carrying a box of literature of the machinery I was showing. I was trying to hand it out to show attendees when I was stopped by a show organizer. Our exhibit area was tucked away from the main expo area in a place that a month earlier had been used to house horses and livestock. In addition to the flies, the roof leaked and at every step of the way we were at odds with the unions, who insisted on setting up our machinery, which was very complicated.

Before the show ended, I spoke with some of the other importers and we decided we had to protest the unfair treatment. We outlined our concerns, aired our grievances, asked for changes and were basically told that we should consider ourselves lucky to be allowed into the show at all. We knew then that we had to make a change. I got the ball rolling for forming the WMIA by calling a lawyer and setting up the first meeting in Chicago."

Edwin Bass

Edwin Bass has a long, rich history in American woodworking. Among woodworking machinery importer pioneers, he was the first to bring foreign equipment to the United States.

Bass' father, Rudolf Bass, founded Rudolf Bass Co. in 1918 in New York. "I came along in the middle to late 1930s," Bass said. "I attended college and then went to work in my father's store in Lower Manhattan."

Bass said the main concerns of selling woodworking equipment in the early days remain to this day. "Service and parts have always been a key. In order to be successful, you had to prove you had a backup in both service and parts and this pretty much still applies."

Bass is credited by his contemporaries for being a leader in hosting regional woodworking machinery shows and helping to educate the public about technology from abroad. "You really needed one of two things to succeed in the importation business back then," Bass said. "You either had to have a machine equal to an American-made machine but at a lower prices of at least 20 to 30 percent or you had to specialize in machines that were not being made in the United States, like edgebanders."

Bass said the success of many products is very easy to explain. "If you make a better chicken coop, you're going to sell it."

Bert Lewyn

Bert Lewyn, retired owner and president of Lewyn Machinery Co. of Atlanta, GA, arrived in the United States in 1949. Both of his parents were killed by the Nazis during World War II. Lewyn recently finished his memoirs, "On the Run in Nazi Berlin."

When he came to the United States, Lewyn said he could not speak English but he studied the language and the business world. After attending Georgia Tech and getting married, he took a job as a manufacturers representative. Then he formed Lewyn Machine Co. and became a major importer of European and Japanese woodworking machinery.

Lewyn recalled the formation of the WMIA and the decision by the group to host a trade show. The big question was where to hold it.

"Ed Bass wanted it in New York. Peter Kleinschmidt wanted it in Michigan and Roger Criau and I wanted it in Atlanta. Roger and I persuaded the others to give the Georgia World Congress Center a try. It's turned out to be a fabulous place that has grown as the woodworking show has grown. Atlanta has been very happy to have us every two years and IWF has turned into a world-class show."

Peter Kleinschmidt

Peter Kleinschmidt, the youngest of the Founding Fathers, is president of Stiles Machinery of Grand Rapids, MI. He came to the United States in 1975 when the group of companies he worked for in Europe acquired Stiles Machinery, which was just beginning to introduce European woodworking equipment to the U.S. market.

Kleinschmidt said he remembers the cold walk to the first meeting at the Chicago law offices of Tom Roche. He recalled being resigned to the idea that the group had to make a change based on the feeling of having been segregated at the 1978 Louisville Show.

"Our facilities were barely tolerable and not at all suited to the needs of imported machinery, which tended to be much larger than American-made machines and more sophisticated. We had different power needs and some of our machines were linked, requiring complicated setups.

"At Louisville we were dealing with union workers who wouldn't let us touch or move our machines. The buildings were bad and when it rained, the roof leaked on our machines and controls. We asked for the maintenance staff to fix the roof, instead they brought a piece of plastic to put over our machinery. That set us over the edge."

The acrimony of 1970s has long been replaced by a spirit of cooperation, helping to make IWF the world-renown show it is. "The organizers of the first World Woodworking Expo in Atlanta were familiar with woodworking shows in Italy, Germany and Japan; we wanted to offer a show of that type to America. I think we have succeeded very well."

Edward Joel

Edward Joel, CEO of Allwood Machinery Inc. (formerly Amersagg) of Greensboro, NC, called the decision to form the WMIA and break from the Louisville Show a "pretty good idea."

Joel, who previously worked for Ed Bass at Holz Machinery, a subsidiary of Rudolf Bass Co., said he and the other importers found it impossible to work within the system of the day.

"It was a different climate back then for importers," Joel said. "We worked hard to get the public to accept the innovation available from overseas. There was resistance to imported machinery and to new ways of working with wood. The manufacture of furniture has changed dramatically in this country over the years and imported machinery methods have played a major role in bringing that change. I think that many American manufacturers who resisted the changes, sadly, went by the wayside."

Roger Criau

Roger Criau said he and the other Founding Fathers of the WMIA were "upset, to put it politely" about their treatment at the Louisville woodworking shows. "Importers were a growing presence at the show, but we had no say. There was no sense of balance in representation."

Criau said one particular incident at the Louisville Show still makes him laugh. He said he was at his booth and realized that he had forgotten his business cards, so he went to his car to retrieve them. "You really need calling cards at a show to distribute to everyone. I was entering the building with my two boxes of cards weighing no more than 2 pounds total when I was stopped and told I couldn't carry them in. The union had to do it and they did. A union man walked beside me carrying my cards back to my booth."

Criau is originally from Brussels Belgium. He began his career in the woodworking industry by working for Cima, a woodworking machinery and tooling manufacturer. In his travels for Cima Criau met Robert Danckaert, who owned Danckaert Machinery in Brussels.

He worked at the company in Europe and then came to the United States to open a North American branch, first in New Orleans and then in Atlanta. Eventually Criau bought the U.S. business from the parent company, keeping the name Danckaert Woodworking Machinery. Today his son Marc owns the company, which also employs several other family members.

Alvin Corenblum

Alvin Corenblum opened his woodworking machinery sales company, A.C. Sales, in Miami after working in his family's business that included millwork and wholesale lumber sales.

"I always liked machinery and I decided to go out on my own," he said. It turned out to be a good decision; Corenblum owned his business for 38 years. Like the other Founding Fathers, Corenblum said importing woodworking machinery was both exciting and challenging.

"Back then imported machinery was the 'coming thing' and quite controversial in the United States. The older established domestic woodworking machinery firms, what we called the 'Big Boys,' seemed stuck with processes from early in the century. Europe on the other hand was coming up with all sorts of innovative ideas and machinery."

Corenblum said the WMIA members "burned our bridges when we said goodbye to Louisville and established our own show. There was a lot of tension about making it a success. An awful lot of people wanted to see us fail.

"I considered the first show in Atlanta a learning experience. The second show was better but took place during a slow economy. With the third Atlanta show (after the two opposing show groups united) everything took off."

In retrospect, Corenblum said forming WMIA and launching a new show in Atlanta "was a gamble, but it paid off. When you look at the impact imported machinery and IWF in Atlanta has had on the industry, it proves our instincts were right."
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Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Previous Article:President's message.
Next Article:WMIA has big presence at IWF 2002: nearly 100 members will exhibit.

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