This year, 2011, Armstrong marks its 151st anniversary. The Armstrong experience stretches over more than half the life of the Republic; few American business enterprises have endured as long, or with such continuing success.
When it all began in a tiny two-man cork-cutting shop in 1860 in Pittsburgh, our national frontier barely reached beyond the western mountain ranges. Thomas Armstrong’s first deliveries of hand-carved corks were by wheelbarrow.
Today, five generations later, Armstrong is a worldwide family of 16,000 employees who manufacture and market hundreds
of branded products and services worldwide. Its products include floor coverings and acoustical ceilings and grid systems. Through its subsidiaries, Triangle Pacific Corp., the world’s largest manufacturer of hardwood flooring and a major producer of hardwood cabinets; and DLW Aktiengesellschaft, the leading flooring manufacturer in Germany, Armstrong now produces high-quality wood flooring and wooden kitchen and bath cabinets, commercial carpet, and linoleum.
In the company’s early days, Thomas Armstrong, the son of ordinary Scotch-Irish immigrants from Londonderry, steered his struggling company through the Civil War, financial panics, disastrous factory fires and a cutthroat marketplace.
He succeeded because he relied upon a family credo of hard work and faith. He attracted and held dedicated employees who shared the same values. He took pride in the production and sale of quality products that bore his family name. And he was determined that his company always act with fairness and in the "balanced best interests (of) customers, stockholders, employees, suppliers, community neighbors, government and the general public."
Armstrong was among the first American entrepreneurs to discard the old business maxim of Caveat emptor-"Let the buyer beware"-and replace it by practicing the principle of "Let the buyer have faith."
He was a brand-name pioneer, too, stamping "Armstrong" on each cork as early as 1864. And soon he was tucking a written guarantee into the burlap sacks of cork shipped from a big new factory on a Pittsburgh riverbank.
As buyer confidence in the Armstrong brand of product and service grew, so did national sales. In the mid-1890s Armstrong emerged as the world’s largest cork company.
But at the turn of the century-the company already was 40 years old-cork was being popped out of its old markets, and Armstrong added to the formula for success the capacity to adapt to changing conditions while at the same time sticking to the business it knew best.
The company found new uses for cork, first with insulating corkboard and brick. Then, in 1906, it foresaw that the avenue to the future was laid with linoleum. A new factory rose from a cornfield on the edge of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in 1909, a year after Thomas Armstrong died, Armstrong linoleum was first offered to the trade.
From that point, the company let one product use logically lead to another. Corkboard led to fiberboard, fiberboard led to ceiling board, cork tile and linoleum led to vinyl floors. Ceramic tile would be added later.
This natural progression of product development brought the company to its position of leadership in its industry. Armstrong learned, through the traumas of the 20th Century, to build on its traditional strengths, to diversify and innovate, while following a market-minded, customer-oriented path.
Through it all, the company’s leadership adhered to Thomas Armstrong’s central belief that his company’s greatest asset was the people associated with the business-its employees, its customers, its neighbors.
By devotion to the balanced best interest of all, Armstrong endured. Today it’s dynamically growing well into its second century of progress.