Bond of Brothers: History of Lincoln Electric

John and James Lincoln combine talents to forge a lasting enterprise.

The science of welding is all about precise combinations of elements and procedure. Fittingly, the Lincoln brothers, with their blend of talents and temperaments, were the human equivalent of that process. In a classic case of dissimilar but well-matched partners, John, the inventor/entrepreneur and James, a student of science with a bent for business, were ideal complements to one another.

John had the right idea when he formed Lincoln Electric Co. in 1895 to produce the electric motors he designed. It was good timing for the product and technology, and by 1907 John was ready to hire younger brother James, who had studied electrical engineering at The Ohio State University. As captain of the school’s winning football team, James had also gained invaluable knowledge about successful teamwork and the power of incentive, principles he later applied to business.

In the early 1900s, the ancient concept of fusing metal to metal was becoming more efficient, accessible and successful than ever, thanks to the discovery and development of arc welding. New methods would replace riveting, which meant faster, sturdier, lighter-weight construction and a great savings of materials. Arc welding was becoming indispensable in the assembly of ships, skyscrapers, bridges, pipelines, vehicles and armaments, resulting in improvements for industry, science, transportation, energy, politics and art. The Lincoln brothers saw the vast potential of the technology and made welding products and equipment the company’s specialty.

The Lincoln Electric Co. was at the forefront of developments in arc welding, as shown in the lead photo above, which is an example of early welding equipment complete with wall-mounted control panel and its own generator (lower left).

Two years after James came on board, the company made its first welding set, followed by the world’s first variable-voltage single-operator portable welding machine. In 1914 John made James the general manager of the company so he could apply his inventive nature toward product development and process improvements. It was a smart move: Lincoln Electric has excelled both as a pioneer and champion of modern welding technology and as a model of business management.

As company leader, James was in his element, devising then-revolutionary employee incentives such as paid vacations, employee stock ownership and bonus pay. His philosophies of management and employer/employee relations became one of his great legacies. James also formed The Lincoln Electric Welding School in 1917 and published the textbook The Procedure Handbook of Arc Welding Design in 1933. The invaluable resource is now in its 13th edition.

Today The Lincoln Electric Co. is a world leader in the design and manufacture of arc welding products and equipment and robotic welding systems. It has operations and alliances in 18 countries, employing about 7,000 people worldwide. In addition, the James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation supports advancements in the technology through awards programs and publication of literature about arc welding and design. With their own company and its outreach, the Lincoln brothers fused their name to the history and to the future of welding.

John Lincoln (left) founded The Lincoln Electric Co. to produce electric motors that he had designed. Younger brother James' ingenuity showed in his philosophies of leadership, productivity and employee incentives.

Vital Statistics
Lincoln Electric Co.
Year founded: 1895
Founder: John C. Lincoln
First product: Electric motors
City originated: Cleveland, Ohio