Copper in the Arts

April 2008

Revere Copper: America's Founding Foundry

By Melanie Votaw

statehouse Revere Copper covers the roofs of many government buildings, including the Massachusetts State House, above.

Photograph by Therese McKeon

Several companies may use the name "Revere," but Revere Copper Products has a special claim to that name. Paul Revere was the first person to roll copper in the United States, and he started the first copper mill in Canton, Massachusetts in October, 1801.

The U.S. had a fleet of wooden vessels that were sheathed in copper, but after the Revolutionary War, the new government could no longer purchase copper sheets from Great Britain. Since Paul Revere was known as a silversmith who also cast bronze bells and marine hardware, the Department of the Navy asked him if he could develop the technology to roll copper. He believed he could. To start his new venture, he invested some of his own funds and borrowed $10,000 from the government. Some of the first copper from Revere's company was used for the roof of the statehouse in Boston, for Robert Fulton's ships, and to resheath the U.S.S. Constitution (a.k.a. Old Ironsides.)

Today, Revere Copper Products, Inc. has its main headquarters in Rome, New York, which is primarily a rolling and extrusion plant, while it also maintains a plate mill in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

"We had our 200th birthday back in 2001, and the research we were doing for that celebration told us that we might be the oldest manufacturing company in the United States," says Donald M. Commerford, Senior Vice President,

There were a few detours during those 200 years, however, which even involved losing the name of its founder for a short time. The Revere family sold their interest in the company in the 1800's, and five copper mills, including Revere, merged into one in the 1920's. At that time, the company was named after one of the other mills in the merger, but a legal problem with that name brought about the decision to once again use the name of the patriot who started it all. The company then became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and eventually became a Fortune 500 company. It was also in the aluminum business then, including the production of the famous cooking utensils called Revere Ware.

"The world price of aluminum dropped down to 40 cents a pound back in the early 1980's," Commerford says. Since the energy to produce the aluminum cost 25 cents per pound, the company wound up in Chapter 11. A consortium of investment bankers bought it and spun off the different divisions. Revere Copper Products, Inc. then became a separate entity.

Today, Revere produces copper, brass, and bronze for several different markets. It is the market leader for the architectural industry, with several unique products, such as EverGreen™ Pre-Patinated Architectural Sheet Copper, a 99.5% pure copper with real patina on one side for those who prefer not to wait for the natural aging process. Another product is FreedomGray™, a sheet copper which is coated on both sides with a patented tin-zinc alloy for an unusual earthtone gray color. The Liberty Collection™ offers architects different patterns of textured copper, which is especially useful for high traffic areas where damage resistance is important. The company's innovative Alpolic composite panels combine copper sheeting with a thermoplastic core, which allows the material to be formed into almost any shape. This makes the panels perfect for curves and corners.

Revere also provides copper to the telecommunications industry for coaxial cable, as well as bus bar for large electrical equipment manufacturers, supplies for the air conditioning industry, and architectural shape extrusions for elevator manufacturers such as Otis Elevator Company. The company casts brass and bronze hardware for builders as well, such as decorative doorknobs and kick plates.

"What's unique about us is that we're the only copper company that has a technical service department," says Commerford. "We have certification from the American Institute of Architects, so we have staff that can go out and conduct seminars in architects' offices. Architects need to be re-certified every so many years, and they need to have so many credits. By attending a Revere Architectural Seminar, they can earn credits toward their re-accreditation."

Revere's senior managers bought the company in 1989, and the three original partners wanted to share the ownership with all of the employees. They gave stock to everyone in the company and negotiated the gift of stock with the hourly union employees.

"We're very proud of the fact that we're very much a team-based organization," Commerford says, "and all employees are owners."

Resources:

Revere Copper Products, Inc., One Revere Park, Rome, NY, (800) 448-1776

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