In my previous post about the Air Force Academy Chapel, mostly fabricated at two Maplewood companies, Mississippi Valley Structural Steel and Cupples Products Company, I expressed regret that while researching my first Maplewood history book I had not been able to interview anyone who worked at either of those places. That turned out to be a good thing to mention as it was seen by the son of a man who had worked at Cupples. His name is Robert Myers.
I had a nice conversation with Mr. Myers. He was very familiar with the manufacturing done at Cupples during the time he worked there – 1964-1993 or 4. I wondered how much of the fabrication of the curtain walls was done at the company’s location on Hanley and how much was farmed out? I was amazed to find that apparently everything was done on Hanley. Aluminum was the metal that was used the most. Some jobs required stainless steel. Not much at all was done with ordinary steel.
They received sheet stock and thirty and forty foot logs of aluminum from Alcoa. The logs were melted and used to make all of their own extrusions. The extrusions were then made into modular assemblies that would carry the glass or granite or whatever type of exterior the architect had specified. Some of the assemblies were anodized which is an electrochemical process that converts the metal surface into a decorative, durable, corrosion-resistant finish but most were painted. Mainly they had three colors, light (311), medium (315) and dark brown (335).
For those of you familiar with the Cupples buildings, the tallest one was somehow used for a process to treat the aluminum. They may have dipped the sheets in water and hung them in that tower. A picture of this building is in my previous post.
This company began in 1947 making residential Cupco brand windows. By 1960, they had a 16 percent share of the curtain wall business in the US. That’s only 13 years. That is truly incredible! I have to wonder who was behind that rapid and successful transformation?
What I learned from the article above was that Cupples employees also handled the installation of the curtain walls. Wow! Try to imagine what that involves on the tallest buildings in the world! How many employees did it take to install the curtain walls on the World Trade Center buildings? Who managed that? I would love to talk to someone who had worked on one of those jobs.
Somehow the owners and operators of the Cupples Products Company transformed the manufacture of their small extruded aluminum window frames for residences into the largest and strongest of this type of frame to completely cover a huge number of commercial buildings including some of the tallest in the world. And it didn’t take them that long to do it! That’s phenomenal!
Special thanks to Frank Peters who wrote this article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bob LaRouche who took at least one of the photographs.
Doug Houser April 20, 2021