A History of Oregon Tool, Inc. through the 1990s
THE 1990s: MAVERICK WAYS
The history of Oregon Tool, Inc. is defined by what we call the “pioneering spirit,” an innate desire to forge ahead with bold ideas against the odds. It’s a tradition that goes back to Joe Cox and the original Oregon Saw Chain Corporation. Each of our brands has a share in this core value, and each of our brands has a story to tell.
MAVERICK WAYS: THE FOUNDING OF THE ICS® BRAND
The initial concept was championed by Oregon® team member Lewis Scott, after a plant-wide “Idea Fair” that put everything on the table in search of the next great innovation. The ICS® products became a new division of Blount Inc. (now known as Oregon Tool, Inc.), led by Mike Wilson, Don Bell, and Jake VanderZanden. Like the Oregon® brand, the ICS® brand was intended to be a supplier of saw chain for whole-good manufacturers. But when the search for a worthy manufacturer came up short, then-CEO Jim Osterman challenged the team to develop their own powerhead. Soon, the division transformed into an entirely new offering, developing its own diamond cutting systems from initial concept to finished product.
INNOVATING FROM THE GET-GO
The first ICS® cutting system, a hydraulic chainsaw called the 801H, won Best New Product of the Year award at the 1990 World of Concrete, a major U.S. tradeshow. It could even make square corner cuts without the overcuts associated with the circular diamond saws that came before it. The following year, the brand launched in both the U.S. and European markets, and by 1993, annual revenue exceeded $1 million.
With the introduction of 1997’s 623G, a gasoline-powered saw head, ICS® brand awareness grew leaps and bounds, as the unit was extremely popular with general contractors and rental equipment users. Sales increased over 30%, with a third of sales coming from Europe.
HUGE MARKET, ENORMOUS POTENTIAL
Jake VanderZanden was named President of the ICS® brand in 1995. He was quick to attribute his success to his mentors at the company, noting how their guidance instilled the next generation with the same eagerness to create something new — and what he calls "maverick ways."
Spirited is the word that encompasses all ICS® endeavors. It has been the ever-present motivator since the beginning of our formative years.
— Jake VanderZanden
By the end of the decade, the ICS® brand had established itself as the world leader in diamond cutting systems. Its product line included not only diamond-abrasive cutting chain and hydraulic power saws but a full range of construction-related products and specialty accessories. "The uses for the concrete-cutting saw continue to grow. There is a huge market to tap into, and the potential is enormous," noted Jake VanderZanden.
A TALE OF TWO TRAILBLAZERS
As the ICS® brand grew out of the Oregon® brand, the Woods® brand was still off on its own, redefining the farm and ranch industry with every new product.
In 1993, the Woods® brand introduced the 3180 Batwing® cutter, the latest edition of its most popular product, which had been a point of pride since its debut in the 1960s. This was followed by another flurry of new releases, including a hydraulic stand that helped attach and remove a loader from a tractor; a flanged washer, which kept debris from wrapping on a rotating shaft; a drive system with a hollow shaft that could drive two spindles on the same axis; a folding defoliator for easier storage and safer transport; and, last but not least, a more precise hydraulic grapple for excavators — each product a patented new innovation and a testament to the Woods® brand’s ongoing ingenuity and leadership.
And the Oregon® brand was right there with them. In 1992, the brand launched the WoodZig® Power Pruner, which was hailed as a revolutionary new product for the lawn and garden industry. Business Week named the WoodZig® Power Pruner “one of the best new products of the year.”
Gator® blades also changed the lawn and garden market. Ideal for mulching, these innovative, toothed lawn mower blades were designed with progressive geometry along the cutting edge to lift grass up into a lawn mower’s deck.
The Oregon® brand expanded further into mower blades with Blount, Inc.’s 1996 acquisition of Frederick Manufacturing Corporation and Obex, Inc. Fully integrated into the Oregon® brand by 1997, the new companies added $20 million in sales and created new international marketing opportunities.
1996 was also a big year for Oregon® products, like the Vanguard 72L chain, the Micro-Lite™ 90SG, Micro-Lite™ guide bars, bar and chain kits for tree surgeon saws, as well as flail heads and straight and D-handle pruning saws.
1998 shaped up to be equally impressive: The Oregon® brand introduced the Intenz guide bar, which provided an easier way for non-professional consumers to tension a saw chain. And for professionals: the Power Match® Plus, a Double Guard® bar, now the industry standard for cutting clean wood. The brand also introduced a high-performance harvester chain, the fastest cutting chain on the market for mechanical timber harvesting and slasher applications.
SEE YOU IN THE NEXT MILLENNIUM
Based on their track records through the latter half of the 20th century, it feels only natural that one day the Woods® brand would team up with the Oregon® brand under the banner of Oregon Tool, Inc. And when you add the ICS® brand to the mix, you have three world-class offerings within a portfolio built for enduring success. They have withstood the test of time, persevering through increased competition, an ever-widening global economy, and even the occasional recession. It’s a mark of Oregon Tool, Inc.'s pioneering spirit.
In our next post, we’ll follow our trio onward into the next millennium, as our brands refocus their efforts and grow even stronger, each continuing to dominate its respective marketplace.
As you learned in this article, the ICS® brand was formed in the 1990s by a small team of Oregon® team members. They built on the product expertise and Oregon® brand innovation in the saw chain space to create a new method for cutting concrete. Even though the names of the brands were different, at their core, ICS® products have always been Oregon® products. That’s why ICS is now the construction division of Oregon® products, part of Oregon Tool, Inc.’s Ag, Turf and Construction Business Unit. The ICS® brand name and website address have changed, but the industry-leading tools, commitment to precision cutting excellence and dedication to customers hasn’t. For more information, visit oregonconstruction.com.