The History of Graco

Follow the history of Graco from its founding by the Gray brothers in 1926 to present day. From a local family business to a global company with 3,500 employees.

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FOUNDED IN 1926 – THE HEIGHT OF THE "ROARING TWENTIES"

Brothers Russell and Leil Gray incorporated Gray Company in April 1926 during the height of the “Roaring Twenties.” The Gray brothers launched the company to manufacture and market an air-powered, portable lubricator Russell invented while working as a parking lot attendant. His big idea emerged as he fumbled with a manual grease gun in freezing Minneapolis temperatures that turned grease into thick sludge. The Gray brothers had a “startup” and we began operations at 120 South Tenth Street in Minneapolis.

Men in front of Graco building

1930s

LUBRICATION EQUIPMENT EXPANSION

As we marched into the 1930s, Gray Company found itself amid one of the most tumultuous periods in American history—the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, we formed a market niche that kept us growing. Increasing lubrication equipment demand pushed the brothers to develop larger, specialized lubricators. They loaded the new equipment into a traveling demonstration trailer and embarked on a cross-country tour, increasing sales and expanding distribution. Suddenly, we found ourselves a leader in the lubrication equipment industry.

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1940s

BIRTH OF INDUSTRIAL EQUIPMENT DIVISION

During World War II in the Forties, Gray Company turned our production capacity to help the war effort. We developed the famous Convoy Luber, which proved invaluable in keeping allied trucks, jeeps, tanks and aircraft lubricated across Europe and in the Pacific. In fact, Gray Company earned two of the coveted Army and Navy “E” awards for efficiency in war production. Returning to peacetime operations in 1945, we expanded the business when we formed the Industrial Equipment Division. The addition of the new division set Gray Company on a course that would take us far beyond our roots of niche market manufacturer. 

1950s

FIRST AIRLESS SPRAY GUN

As full-scale consumerism propelled the U.S. economy forward in the 1950s, Gray Company saw an opportunity to design fluid handling and finishing equipment for the companies that manufactured consumer goods. Meanwhile, as our core business continued to thrive, we introduced the first airless paint sprayer in 1958, an advancement that made Gray Company a market leader in paint spraying industries. Searching for new property to house expanding operations, in 1954, we bought the Hanna properties along the Mississippi River, which later became corporate headquarters.

man on aircraft wing

1960s

INTERNATIONAL MARKET EXPANSION

In a decade of rapid change and upheaval—often referred to as the “New Frontier”—the 1960s was also an inflection point for Gray Company as we experienced steady growth in global markets. The company acted quickly to create an infrastructure to manage worldwide growth, forming the first export department in 1960, followed by the first international sales division with subsidiaries in Europe, Asia, South America and Canada.

Toward the end of the 1960s we officially changed our name to Graco Inc. and took the company public. We also went through a leadership change when David A. Koch became CEO after Harry Murphy retired in 1962.

man operating Lubemaster module
Graco Technical Center

1970s

DOUBLING SALES AND MAKING A STRATEGIC ACQUISITION

Graco reached $50 million in sales in 1971, just five years before celebrating our 50th anniversary. By the end of the decade, sales had doubled to $100 million. This growth was achieved by solidifying our position in existing markets and entering new ones. We acquired Chicago-based H.G. Fischer & Co., which added an electrostatic paint spray gun to our product mix, dramatically boosting our position in the Industrial and Automotive finishing marketplaces. Graco also authorized a three-for-two stock split in 1973, the first in our history. Over the years we would split it 11 more times!

striping metrodome 1980

1980s

SETTING A NEW PRODUCTS RECORD

During the 1980s, Graco had more products in development than at any time in our history. We reorganized into operational divisions to more effectively focus on major market opportunities. Today’s Industrial Equipment Division, Contractor Equipment Division and Lubrication Equipment Division evolved from this structure. In 1983, we introduced more successful new products than any other year—particularly in sealant and adhesive applications as the electronics market grew. Midway through the decade, we listed our common stock on the New York Stock Exchange under the trading symbol "GGG."

1990s

TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION

In the age of information of the 1990s, Graco took advantage of emerging technology by incorporating state-of-the-art electronics in our sprayers and providing manufacturers with the capability to program functions into proportioning equipment, which made it easier to change materials and monitor usage. The 1990s also brought our innovative LineLazer™ pavement line stripers. Growth during the decade resulted in the expansion of our Russell Gray Technical Center for accelerating product development; a factory for manufacturing spray guns in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; a new European headquarters in Belgium; and a world-class manufacturing and distribution facility in Rogers, Minnesota. By consolidating manufacturing and distribution operations around the world, we were able to become more efficient and profitable. 

Under the direction of George Aristides, Graco began its most aggressive drive to increase sales and profits. While sales increased from $322.6 million in 1993 to $450.5 million in 1999, net income rose from $9.5 million in 1993 to a strong $59.3 million in 1999. 

Graco Belgium office circa 1990

2000s

More Acquisitions, Breakthrough Products

As Graco entered the 21st century, we celebrated the company’s 75th anniversary in 2001. From 2000 to 2010 we continued to thrive through well-defined goals and strategies that yielded top-quality products in every line of business. Among them was our first Reactor™ for applying 2-component foams, polyurea and epoxies. We also grew through several strategic acquisitions, including PBL, Sharpe Manufacturing Co., Liquid Control and Gusmer, Lubriquip, GlasCraft and Airlessco. In addition to a steady stream of acquisitions, the company invested heavily in capacity, opening a new manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China and expanding operations in Ohio and South Dakota. Pat McHale was named president and CEO in 2007.

man spraying foam in attic
RoadLazer

2010s

$1 BILLION IN REVENUE AND AN OIL AND NATURAL GAS BUSINESS

In 2012, Graco achieved a major milestone in our growth—surpassing $1 billion in revenue for the first time. This decade has also been marked by significant acquisitions, including QED Environmental Systems (QED), a leading manufacturer of fluid management solutions for the growing environmental monitoring and remediation markets, and EcoQuip, which designs and produces eco-friendly vapor abrasive blasting systems for coating removal and surface preparation. Both acquisitions opened up opportunities in niche markets where we had little to no presence. Once more, following our acquisitions of Alco Valves and High Pressure Equipment Company in 2014 and 2015, we launched a major business unit dedicated to serving oil and natural gas markets.

Graco continues to grow by investing in new products at a higher rate than our peers, transferring our technology into new markets and applications, expanding our global footprint and pursuing key acquisitions. We’re proud of our humble beginning more than 90 years ago and proud of where we are today.

woman and man in factory with robot

Future

THE INDUSTRY’S HIGHEST-QUALITY PRODUCTS, A+ CUSTOMER SERVICE

When Pat McHale was appointed CEO after a career at Graco that began in 1989, he had already helped engineer and envision a future that positioned us as the industry’s highest-quality manufacturer of fluid handling products cutting across several markets. All backed by a promise of exceptional customer service.

When asked about what he sees in the future, Pat takes an optimistic tone: “I am excited about the future of this organization and the foundation we have developed. Our culture is strong, we have sound processes in place, superior geographic coverage with world-class distributor partners and a team of employees I’d trade for no other.“

Leadership


Graco's Leadership Team

Graco is led by a team of accomplished executives, dedicated to meeting the needs of our customers, employees, shareholders and communities.

Graco