One hundred years ago, the gypsum business in North America was fragmented into regional markets. Then, in 1902, 30 independent gypsum rock and plaster manufacturing companies merged to form the United States Gypsum Company, consolidating their resources across the continent. The new company combined the operations of 37 mining and calcining plants producing agricultural and constuction plaster.
The following year, United States Gypsum Company developed its
first building product, Pyrobar, a gypsum-based, fireproof tile. The next step toward the wallboard we know today was the invention of Sackett Board, a panel made of multiple layers of plaster and paper. United States Gypsum Company purchased the Sackett Plaster Board Company in 1909, entering the gypsum board market.
The evolution of Sackett Board continued and near the end of 1916, a new manufacturing innovation produced boards with a single layer of plaster and paper that could be joined flush along a wall with a relatively smooth surface.
Originally called Adamant Panel Board, a sales representative suggested that the company brand the product as "SHEETROCK®", a non-warping, non-burning wall covering.
Post-World War I, the company entered a period of expansion with the openings of new facilities across the country. New markets were built and developed in Canada in the early 1920's with the Canadian Gypsum Company subsidiary. CGC was linked to United States operations in the late 1920's by a fleet steamers on the Atlantic Ocean.
During the Great Depression, the United States Gypsum Company continued to diversify and create demand for its products. In fact, it continued to make a profit each year. The 1933-34 World’s Fair in Chicago featured buildings made almost entirely out of SHEETROCK panels. This led to the first major advertising campaign for the brand.
New products expanded the company?s line into insulation board, exterior panels, joint tapes, finishing products, and industrial molding plaster. And the first acoustical ceiling panel, Acoustone, was introduced. But the new products didn’t just sell themselves. The company invested in formal training for the sales force, which then went out and created demand for their products in a depression economy.
At the end of World War II, the residential building market boomed with the returning GIs and the expansion of Levittown and other tract housing developments. The United States Gypsum Company positioned itself as a leading supplier for the housing revolution.
The 1950s continued the company's expansion, with the establishment of the first international operations outside of Canada with mining in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
Diversification was the theme of the 1960s with horizontal moves into cement, paint, and mica. The company expanded further into international markets with the acquisition of a new subsidiary in Mexico, Yeso Panamericano, and with the establishment of an International Division with operations in Europe.
The development of the first computerized information system and the emergence of mass merchandisers such as Lowes and Wickes as large customers began changing the future of the company.
The 1970s saw United States Gypsum Company once again adjust to a changing economy with an innovating product meeting a new demand. With residential construction slumping, the company looked to the still booming commercial side. New gypsum cavity shaft wall systems, first used in New York, allowed for cheaper and more flexible elevator and stairwell shafts in tall buildings, and therefore, taller buildings.
The company also officially expanded into the distribution business with the creation of L&W Supply Corporation. Within 10 years, it operated 86 building material supply centers, distributing wallboard and other building materials in 31 states.
Recession and its effect on the bottom line dominated the 1980s and led to a restructuring of the company. In 1984, USG Corporation was formed as a holding company–a reverse merger in which United States Gypsum Company became one of just nine operating subsidiaries.
Through research and development and acquisition, USG continued to expand into and lead new markets. DUROCK Cement Board offered new water construction solutions. And the acquisition of DONN Incorporated and its ceiling suspension systems positioned USG Interiors as the only company to offer complete pre-designed and fully integrated ceiling systems.
The early 1990s saw a return to a solid bottom line and continued innovation. A new headquarters building and the USG Interiors Solutions Center, both in downtown Chicago, showcased USG products and innovations. In the late 1990s, USG developed a new gypsum/cellulose product family called FIBEROCK Brand Panels.
As USG enters the 21st Century, new markets and opportunities present themselves for expansion and innovation. With the future being shaped by the Internet and e-commerce, new partnerships, and emerging markets, USG will continue to grow and lead the building materials industry.