Copper in the Arts

October 2017

The Dynasty of Distribution: Rotax Metals

By Jennifer Hetrick

Metalwork by Rotax Metals. Handcrafted handrail metalwork by Rotax Metals. 

Photograph courtesy of Rotax Metals.

Moving to the United States from Germany before World War II meant Ronald Rosenthal single-handedly reshaped his family’s future, bringing his his love of metals with him. Today, his legacy lives on with Rotax Metals, a multi-generational family business based in Brooklyn, New York.

Rotax Metals is a distributor of copper alloy products in sheet metal and plate form. They are also an East Coast go-to for varied shapes and sizes of solid rods and standard as well as specialized reeded and roped tubing,  U-shaped channels and handrail profiles for architectural work.

Rosenthal founded the company in 1948, having relocated to New York City in the early 1930s while in his 20s, as a young Jewish man seeking solace in the United States. With a broom in hand, he tidied the floors of a warehouse for a copper and brass distributor in the Big Apple. Picking up conscientiously on industry know-how and asking questions along the way, Rosenthal slowly pieced together what he wanted to create and build: a company of his own like this but with unusual sizes and options for customers, to fulfill not just the usual but also less expected needs.

“He was brilliant to make the determination ‘Better to have a little of a lot of items,’” reflects Nancy Rosenthal who co-owns the still family-run business today with her husband, Peter, who is Ronald’s son.  

“He knew when metal would go up or drop in cost—and then a few cents had a huge impact on inventory and sales,” Nancy adds. “He was well-rounded, well-read, frequently went to the opera and symphony and visited the mills in Europe, from which he would make purchases.”

Ronald’s work ethic shined through his lifelong dedication to what he founded as he showed up for his job daily until the very end of his life at the age of 86 in 2000.

Ronald’s inspiration and the example he set still permeates the business through Peter, Nancy and their employees.

An uptick in ecommerce in the mid-2000s illumined the importance of offering online orders in addition to still working with customers who called in their requests the old-fashioned way. The reach of Rotax Metals spans not just regionally but nationally and worldwide.

Manufacturers, architects, designers and other kinds of artists are some of the customers buying from Rotax Metals. Together, their final works are often elevator cabs, staircases, engraved signage, upscale furniture, sculptures and décor.

“Lamp and lighting manufacturers also utilize brass products in their designs,” John Genua, General Manager of Rotax Metals.  “And machining brass and other alloys are used in manufacturing throughout a variety of industries: automotive, aerospace, plumbing and bio-technology.”

Genua and his co-workers have seen the company’s brass tubing used in kaleidoscopes; half round rods used in sitars—stringed instruments native to India; solid, round forms in wheels for library ladders; solid round and square rods in chess game pieces; and a dog crate with durably fabricated bars.

“We’ve also supplied the marine industry, including wooden boat builders, with copper sheets, copper rods and brass tubing and half round shapes,” John says.

Handrail products for staircases in brass or bronze are a top-seller for Rotax Metals.

“Copper alloys are timeless: Even with the ebb and flow of design trends, their usage remains consistent and often increases in demand,” John says. “They are durable and workable, as is evident through their presence in history from the Bronze Age through today.”

Resources:

Rotax Metals, 400 Dewitt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 272-9800

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