Hans Gruner: 100 Years of History

Heutenburg (near Gerstetten), Germany - 1910

Hans Gruner (first on left, lower row) looks away even at four. Fourteen years later he immigrated to the United States. Directly behind him is his brother Georg, who avoided the draft in World War I by shooting off his trigger finger. His sister, Berta (last on right, first row), died at Heutenburg in 1987.

Gerstetten Map

Hans Gruner - 1948

After spending nearly twenty years in the Oklahoma oil fields my Dad starts a small business manufacturing rock bits used for drilling oil wells. The Oklahoma and Texas oil fields are booming and business is good. The only problem is that the rock bit industry is dominated by one company: Hughes Tool owned by Howard Hughes.

Gruner & Company - 1948

Even in 1948 start-ups were housed in garages. The company's first factory was located in Tonkawa, Oklahoma and its first employees was my Mother, Frances, who painted the bits machined by my Father.

Gruner & Company - 1960

Now located in Ponca City, Oklahoma the company had grown to 52,000 square feet and 125 employees by 1960. In order to compete with Hughes my Dad developed the four-cone rotary drill bit which not only was one of the first to circumvent the Hughes Tool Company patents, but also drilled straighter. He and a handful of others were the only ones to ever challenge the Howard Hughes monopoly and survive.

Patent - 1934 | Patent - 1938 | Patent - 1949

Tulsa Oil Show - 1960

For much of thr 20th century Tulsa, Oklahoma billed itself as the "Oil Capital of the World." Although that title long ago migrated to Houston, Tulsa University remains one of the top petroleum engineering schools in the country. Gruner & Company was a major exhibitor at the International Petroleum Exhibition held in Tulsa in 1960. Unike today where convention exhibits are designed and built by specialized exhibit companies, Gruner's exhibit was entirely done by its employees.

Smith Tool (formerly Gruner & Company) - 2002

In 1970 Smith Tool acquired Gruner & Company. Today the factory has grown to be the second largest employer, after PhillipsConoco, in Ponca City. Note its location on the south end of the town's airport (KPNC). As a child I remember fondly watching Central Airlines' DC-3s landing just behind the factory.

Ponca City Map

Father and Son - 1954

My Dad and I enjoy a night out on the town in the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago. We often traveled to Chicago on the Sante Fe Texas Chief; a wonderful experience boarding the train at 7:40 pm, having dinner, sleeping in a Pullman car, always extra bacon for breakfast and then arriving at Chicago's Dearborn Station the next morning. We all lost something when we let the great passenger trains disappear.

Heutenburg, Germany - 2007

After 125 years, the house my Father was born and raised is still in the family. Today it is occupied by Georg Klaus and his family. Georg is Berta's son, my Father's sister. Georg has deeded the house to his son, HansJörg, so the house will remain in the family at least another generation.

Family Reunion - Gerstetten 2007

My sister Maria, my brother Don and his wife Becky, and Nancy and I reunion with many of our German relatives in and around Gerstetten, Germany. Berta's son Georg (see Berta in Heutenburg, 1910) is third from the right. Claudia and Inge, the daughters of Elsie Hagmeier who stayed with us several years in Ponca City, are 2nd and 8th from the left.

Hans Gruner


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