In the early years of the 20th century, the chance to earn American citizenship was a life-changing prospect for millions of immigrants. For Martin Skok, who traveled to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia more than 100 years ago, that opportunity helped fuel one of the Midwest’s most enduring business success stories – the founding and growth of Elgin Industries, the engine and vehicle components manufacturer that is now celebrating its 95th anniversary.
Skok’s son, Martin Skok Jr., and grandchildren joined more than 100 employees in marking the milestone during a recent picnic at the scenic Elgin headquarters and manufacturing complex in Elgin, Ill.
Elgin Industries is a global supplier of engine, chassis and custom components for virtually any type of vehicle as well as a variety of specialty applications. The company is North America’s largest producer of engine push rods and one of the automotive service industry’s only fully integrated manufacturers of rocker arms and a wide range of valve train components. Elgin also manufactures and markets an extensive line of performance engine components under the popular Elgin Pro-Stock and Black Ice brands.
The company’s founder left school after the fifth grade to join the workforce as a drill press operator. Skok then learned to operate a punch press and a variety of tool-making equipment. One afternoon, while still a teenager, he was awestruck by his first sighting of an automobile, and with that experience his career path was set. After learning the ropes as a mechanic, he became supervisor of an engine assembly operation. Later, at a different manufacturing firm, he and an associate developed one of the first automotive starter motors.
In 1918, Skok took charge of the service department of an Elgin-based Hudson and Oldsmobile dealership. It was there that he discovered a huge, unfulfilled demand for high-quality piston pins. “The pins available back then didn’t have sufficient hardness to deliver more than a few thousand miles’ service,” said Skok’s grandson, Bill Skok, now president of Elgin Industries. “The engine manufacturers didn’t have the capacity or interest to service the replacement market, so vehicle owners sometimes had to wait up to six months to get replacement pins for their vehicles.”
Before long, Skok had rented space at a local factory and was experimenting with processes to harden piston pins. He was able to raise enough capital from private investors to purchase manufacturing equipment and in September 1919 founded Elgin Machine Works. He soon expanded into a variety of other products, including water pumps, oil pumps, push rods, king pin sets, steering gear sets and pistons.
Martin Skok Jr. took over the company in the early 1950s, expanding its engineering, manufacturing and distribution capabilities to a global scale. He also continued one of his father’s favorite pursuits – building and campaigning racecars for national and international road races and early stock car racing, but above all the Indianapolis 500.
The company’s continued growth has been driven by its integrated engineering and manufacturing capabilities. It operates one of the nation’s most sophisticated heat treatment facilities, serving not only its own production needs but also a variety of other manufacturers. The company’s expansive new tube mill also serves manufacturers throughout North America.
“We strive to be a world-class company with a family touch. Everyone is important to us, from our suppliers to employees to customers – everyone has a stake in our success,” Bill Skok said.
Today, Elgin Industries is a leading supplier of original equipment engine and chassis components to such organizations as Chrysler, Deere & Co., Ford, General Motors, Harley-Davidson, Mack and Navistar. The company also is a leading manufacturer of replacement components for automotive and heavy-duty applications worldwide. It has earned dozens of quality awards and has received its certificates of registration to the ISO/TS 16949:2009 Quality Management System and ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management System. It also has received its Ford Q1 Quality Certification.