H. Ashley Barber and His Impact Locally and Around the Globe
2007 West Aurora Alumni Hall of Honor Induction
A 1929 graduate of West Aurora High School, where he was both student leader and football captain, H. Ashley “Ash” Barber continued his education at the University of Illinois and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1933. That same year he joined Barber-Greene Manufacturing Company, a company founded by his father, H.H. Barber with W.B. Greene, as a field service engineer and also worked in product development and field testing. In 1940, he was appointed a director of Barber-Greene.
Ash Barber was the inventor or co-inventor of unique road building and material handling equipment that was covered by 18 U.S. patents and a number of foreign patents. He played a major role in the development, testing, and introduction of the first successful asphalt paving machine and the continuous asphalt mixing plant, a forerunner of today’s drum mix asphalt plants. Approximately 85% of the asphalt mixing plants in existence today use the format developed by Ash Barber.
Involved in the company’s overseas expansions, Ash Barber was instrumental in the founding of subsidiary companies in England, Canada, Brazil, and The Netherlands, and served as officer and/or director of these companies. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company was so successful that the process was not called asphalt paving, but instead “Barber-Greening,” as a sign from Trinidad so clearly displayed.
In 1954, Ash was elected president and chief executive officer of Barber-Greene. He served as chairman and president in 1966, and then chairman from 1971 to 1976, when he retired. When he began working at Barber-Greene, it is believed that fewer than 100 employees worked at the plant on North Highland Avenue. By the time he retired, probably more than 2,300 employees were working for Barber-Greene in factories around the world.
Throughout his career, Ash was an active participant in many industry groups, including the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association, The National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the Construction Industry Manufacturing Association, where he also served as director.
In addition to his contributions as an innovative international business leader during the period of growth following the Depression, Ash was an active participant in civic affairs for more than 40 years. Not only was he a member of the board of directors of Copley Memorial Hospital, the Aurora Redevelopment Commission, and Northern Illinois Gas (the core company of NICOR, Inc.), he also served on the Illinois Governor’s Advisory Council and the Governing Board of the Illinois Council on Economic Education.
Throughout his long career of manufacturing leadership, Ash Barber was honored with numerous recognitions from organizations that included his peers, his competitors, and his customers. In 1973, he received the University of Illinois College of Engineering Alumni Achievement Award for distinguished service in engineering. In 1994, he was inducted into the Construction Equipment Industry Hall of Fame with these words: “Barber was instrumental in applying the continuous principle of material handling and processing to a variety of applications. He was responsible for many of the innovations that are still used on virtually all asphalt pavers.” The Copley Healthcare Foundation awarded H. Ashley Barber posthumously, along with eight other former chairmen, their Gift of Life Award in 2004.
Ash and his wife, Ruth Reid Barber, with whom he enjoyed 37 years of marriage, had 4 children: Ann, Joan, Susan, and Peter. The Barber family enjoyed their summers with extended families at a cabin Ash helped his father build on Stone Lake in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The children were encouraged to bring a friend with the family on their trips to the lake.
While growing up, Ash participated in Boy Scouts, earning the rank of Eagle, and was also a Scout leader. He earned a reputation as a magician, especially for card tricks, the skill for which his son, Peter, attributed to a broken finger he experienced playing football years earlier. Ash was also a self-taught oil painter and wood-carver.
Ash was the first Editor-in-Chief of the Red and Blue student newspaper at West High, which was created during his sophomore year. He lettered on the lightweight football team, and he belonged to the Masque and Wig Drama Club, the Hi-Y Club, and The Forum. In November of 2007, H. Ashley Barber was inducted into the West Aurora Alumni Hall of Honor.
Although the Barber-Greene Company closed shop more than 20 years ago, an annual reunion picnic is held every fall that usually attracts 150 to 200 former employees. Peter reports that many people comment that some of the best years of their lives were spent working at Barber-Greene. So, Ash Barber was not only a pioneering inventor of trend setting paving equipment, he was a manufacturing leader who gave his workers a rewarding and memorable experience.
H. Ashley Barber was a soft-spoken gentleman with a wide smile, who never hesitated to welcome people into his home and life. He was a man who championed community causes with style and commitment. And he was one of few home grown industrial leaders with a truly world-wide reputation.