Stephens Adamson (SA) 1901 - 1964

Stephens Adamson (SA) was founded in 1901 in Aurora on Ridgeway Avenue by W.W. Stephens, F.G. Adamson and D.B. Piersen to design and manufacture conveyors. Mr. Stephens was President from 1902 until 1922, and Mr. Piersen, who had been V.P. Sales, became general manager in 1914 and President in 1922. L.S. Stephens, the son of W.W., started with SA in 1914 after graduating from Cornell and working in service and in the plant. He became President in 1934. F.G. Adamson, who came to the business from the railroad industry where he had been an accountant, was the Secretary/Treasurer until his retirement. His son, Clarence, became Secretary after serving in the advertising department and in sales until he retired prior to the War.

Specially designed conveyors in the aggregate industry, the mining industry, the shipping and loading industry, and in later years in the people movement systems were the primary products of Stephens Adamson. During the World War II, SA performed special work for the Navy, designing ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore loading systems to expedite the transport of military supplies around the world.

In the late 1930’s, Julius Schaefer, who had worked for McGill Bearing, joined SA to develop and produce a line of Sealmaster bearings. Bearing inserts were bought from McGill, and other components were manufactured and distributed by the new Sealmaster division of SA Ball bearings were key components in the manufacturing of idlers, which were the supporting components of rubber belt conveyors. This was a natural extension of the conveyor business, as well as opening of new sales to other manufacturers. The growth in the bearing division led to building of a new and separate bearing plant on the Ridgeway property.

In the 1950’s, Lee Stephens’ son, Donald, who had been Treasurer, became President, and Lee became Chairman. Don Stephens resigned from the company in 1959 for personal reasons and Charlie Hurd was appointed President. Continued growth in the bearing division necessitated further expansion. After much planning, the decision was made to build an entire new bearing plant on Aurora’s North East side, bordering the tollway, which is the present location. That plant became operational in 1962.

The continuous need for capital and the departure of Don Stephens from the company prompted Lee Stephens to search for an outside buyer. After several years, Borg Warner, who had seen the Sealmaster operation and wanted it as part of their Morse Chain Division, approached the company. The sale was consummated in 1964. Morse Chain organized the company into two divisions. SA did not fit with the Morse Chain organization, and it was sold in 1970 to Allis Chalmers, a Milwaukee company that was a leading manufacturer of agricultural, mining and construction machining.

With the Allis Chalmers bankruptcy in the 1980’s, SA along with some other Allis Chalmers divisions was purchased by a Swedish company. The Ridgeway plant was closed in 1988, and the engineering was moved from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh, where the SA name may still be used.

The bearing division continues to operate in Aurora. When Morse Chain decided to discontinue a small Sealmaster product line of rod ends, Jesse Mayberry, Harvey Sterkel, Chuck Walsh and others left Sealmaster and started Aurora Bearing in the 1970’s. Aurora Bearing operated on Prairie for a number of years. In the 1980’s they moved to a plant on South Lake Street that they purchased from Lyon Metal where they continue to produce bearings today.

Stephens Adamson contributed much to the community in service and reputation. They supported an active social and athletic association, run by employees. It was probably best known for Harvey Sterkel’s brilliant pitching for the Sealmaster softball team, which, with other stars like Chick Walsh and Charley Essig, won world championships in the 1960’s. Although the ball field on Ridgeway is now a storage yard, many can still visualize the ghosts of those long ago diamond heroes or recall with a smile their dreams of some day becoming a Sealmaster star, as they honed their skills on SA Aurora Little and Pony league teams.

The following is included from for all who recall Harvey Sterkel and the Sealmasters. Sterkel remained in Aurora associated with Aurora Bearing operations long after the 1964 Borg Warner sale and subsequent Stephens-Adamson ownership changes indicated above.

Already a member of the ASA National Hall of Fame, Sterkel will now be enshrined next year in the ISF (International Softball Federation) Hall of Fame at the annual meeting in Reno, NV.

Almost speechless when informed of his election, Sterkel is the second USA player elected and the first male player. Sterkel admitted, "this award is certainly right at the top" of the honors he's received during his career.
Sterkel twice hurled the Sealmasters to ISF World championships, 1966 and 1968, and was unbeaten (7-0) in ISF World competition. In 1966, he was 4-0 and two years later 3-0. In 45 1/3 innings he struck out 74 batters, walked 15 and allowed only three runs (two earned). In the 1966 World championship he hurled the gold metal game and was named MVP of the championship.
Besides the two World Championships, Sterkel had another highlight when he single-handed pitched Aurora to its first ASA national championship.
The Sealmasters lost their first game and won nine in a row to cop the crown. Sterkel won eight games in a row including 24 scoreless innings in three games on the final day of the championship. In 60 2/3 innings Sterkel struck out 84 allowed four runs, walked 11 and allowed 28 hits. He beat the famed Clearwater, FL Bombers twice on the final day by identical 1-0 scores, the first two runs allowed by the Bombers after five shutouts. Sterkel and Hall of Fame pitchers Bobby Spell and Bill Massey in the two Clearwater games allowing nine hits.
"The game (softball) has been great to me," said Sterkel, who likewise has been good to softball.

After retiring as an active player in 1977, Sterkel continued to stay involved by giving numerous clinics or helping the Aurora fast pitch team where necessary.
His three sons also became pitchers. None reached the level of their famous dad.
Sterkel pitching was a picture of controlled power and grace and he had tremendous control.
He pitched anyplace, anytime, against any team with never a complaint, and he did it at times with an arm so sore that a less of a man would have thrown in the towel. Not Sterkel, who was respected for not only his abilities as a world-class athlete but as a world-class human.



Dave Hipp, Elmer Renner, Aurora Beacon News