The History of Taylor Devices

Taylor Devices facility

As Taylor Devices, Inc. approaches its 65th anniversary, we look back at how the company began, how it has changed over the years, and where it stands today.

Founding the Company

The story begins with the founder of the company Paul Taylor. As a child, Paul was fascinated with aviation and had always dreamed of working with airplanes. As he grew older, he spent time as a ‘barnstormer’ and was copilot to an older pilot who flew an old WWI vintage Curtiss ‘Jenny’ trainer aircraft. They flew from town to town, selling rides in the aircraft to brave residents. He decided to pursue his knowledge of aviation and in 1938, graduated from Parks Air College (now part of St. Louis University) as an aeronautical engineer.

After college, Paul worked at the Curtiss-Wright Company designing airplanes during WWII before moving to the Wales-Strippit Company manufacturing machines for the tool and die industry. Paul thrived at Wales. He loved what he did and quickly helped grow the company and eventually worked his way up to the position of Vice President. While creating new product lines, Paul began tinkering with liquid springs and filed multiple patents. As Paul continued to develop his product, his prototypes worked surprisingly well, with such high forces that one liquid spring could replace ten mechanical coil springs of the same overall size.

In 1955, when Wales-Strippit was about to be taken over by a larger firm Paul decided it was time that he started his own company. With the hopes of making his patented liquid springs himself, Paul rented out a small old lumber mill office in North Tonawanda, NY and Taylor Devices, Inc. was founded.

Business continued to grow, and the company eventually moved into a large space on Tonawanda Island, which sits about halfway in between Buffalo and Niagara Falls and where it is still located today. Paul looked for other markets including active suspension systems for automobiles and controllable isolation systems for NASA’s space programs, most specifically the Apollo program with its gigantic Saturn family of space launch vehicles. While the automobile products did not see much success, the aerospace products did.

Paul Taylor - Founder of Taylor Devices
Model of Original Apollo Launch Gantry, Circa 1965. Photo Courtesy NASA

Entering the Space Race

By 1966, Taylor Devices produced two major products for Apollo. The company’s success led to similar products in later years for the Space Shuttle program, plus various unmanned launch vehicles. The main product used by NASA was a huge Taylor Devices damper/retraction element with both semi-active and active controls. The way it worked was when it was time to launch, a command signal caused the damper to instantly convert to a tension actuator, which rapidly disconnected the umbilical cables from the vehicle. The swing arm, to which the damper was mounted, would then quickly swing clear of the launch vehicle. Terminal velocity on the tip of the swing arm was greater than 30 feet/second, and a set of 18-inch stroke Taylor Devices’ shock absorbers had to smoothly decelerate the swing arm into its retracted position so a mechanical locking latch could engage as a safety lock.

Along with projects for the aerospace industry, Taylor Devices also made products for shock and vibration control for the military. These included projects such as the CH-54 Sikorsky Skycrane Helicopter for the US Army, and an isolation system consisting of multiple semi-active hydro-pneumatic suspension elements and anti-roll mechanisms for the US Navy. At the time, the Vietnam War was going on, and the company decided to focus on military contracts for the foreseeable future.

The other main product line was industrial crane buffers. These large shock absorbers were used to protect steel mill buildings and large overhead traveling bridge cranes from crash damage. With worker safety beginning to become a major issue in the United States and the newly formed OSHA Regulations being put in place, Taylor Devices was able to fill a growing need for these buffers and satisfy an astounding nearly 90% of the market.

The Development of the Seismic Damper

For the next decade, Taylor Devices was primarily involved in two main markets – industrial crane buffers and custom aerospace and military applications. However, by the 1980s, Paul Taylor soon realized that the company would need to shift to commercial sales. Industrial crane buffer sales were stagnating, and the Cold War was beginning to decline suggesting that there would be fewer government contracts.

Paul’s son, Doug Taylor, who was newly named Executive Vice President began exploring new ideas. One idea was to take the dampers they used in missile launch structures and put them in buildings to be used for earthquake protection. Doug began working with Dr. Michael Constantinou and the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER) at the University of Buffalo, to learn more about earthquake protection in buildings. He soon realized that they could take the fluid viscous dampers used from military and aerospace applications and provide superior damping by cutting deflection while reducing the mechanical stress in a structure. This was an exciting discovery that quickly became the focus of Doug and Taylor Devices.

Doug Taylor with the First San Bernardino Damper

In 1991, Doug Taylor took over as president of Taylor Devices, with the company’s new goal of developing a product line of seismic dampers. By 1993, a new sales department was formed dedicated primarily to the seismic industry and the newly formed technology. The company gained its first major project with seismic dampers; a hospital in California called the San Bernardino Medical Center Replacement Project, today known as the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake occurred, elevating interest in dampers for all types of structures. The technology quickly gained fame and was used in buildings such as the three-story Pacific Bell North Area Operation Center in Sacramento, CA, the four-story Hotel Woodland in Woodland, CA, and many more. While these dampers were primarily used on the west coast of the United States in seismic areas, Taylor Devices also began exploring markets in the Eastern United States. The engineers at Taylor Devices found that these dampers could also be used in very tall structures to help reduce unwanted motion due to strong winds, and began adding dampers to buildings in Boston, New York, Chicago and many other cities throughout the entire country. Today, Taylor Devices has products in over 750 structures world-wide including high-rise buildings, bridges, stadiums, hospitals, airports, and more.

Looking to the Future

As Taylor Devices looks to the future, we are committed to creating a safer world. With over 65 years of experience, we look towards the next generation of shock and vibration management systems and components to protect life, platform and structures throughout the world with the highest standard of quality.

To learn even more about the history of Taylor Devices, check out our recent interview with past company president, Doug Taylor on The Damp It Out! Podcast

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