Old Rolair Air Compressor

ROLAIR Then & Now

The year was 1959. Our goal was simple: Produce the finest compressors known to mankind…

It’s hard to believe, but we had the accountants check our math and they confirmed it: ROLAIR turned 60 this year. While the goal of producing the finest compressors known to mankind has stayed the same, a lot has changed. So, in honor of our Diamond Jubilee, we scoured the archives to bring you the ROLAIR origin story:

compressor without belt guard

Safety has always been a top priority at ROLAIR, but I guess standards change. Long gone are the days when we could sell compressors without belt guards. Nowadays, our warning labels come with warning labels.

Following the dissolution of Red Rocket air compressors, an engineer named Bob Laumer decided to set out on his own and produce a new line of quality air compressors. His company, Associate Engineering Corporation, was incorporated on January 27th, 1959. The primary product line included the Rol-Air brand of portable and stationary air compressors, as well as barn ventilation fans to serve the local agricultural community.

Over the next ten years, the Rol-Air brand built a solid reputation throughout the mid-western region. With his eyes set on retirement, Bob sold Associate Engineering to Joe Kelley, a local metal fabricator who had been supplying the saddles used on Rol-Air compressors.

Portrait of Joe Kelley

Joe Kelley

Following the purchase, Associate Engineering Corporation consisted of three employees – Joe Kelley, who split his time between AEC and his metal stamping business, Howard Bluemke, who handled production, testing and shipping, and a secretary who handled the clerical work and answered phones.

As sales grew, additional stationary models were added to the Rol-Air line. Campbell Hausfeld, based in Harrison, OH, agreed to manufacture private-color/private-label air compressors on 60, 80 and 120 gallon tank configurations. After expanding the plant and increasing the number of employees, however, Associate Engineering began assembling those on-site along with the portable models. The company quickly outgrew its manufacturing facility.

Old Ad

Back in ’59 there weren’t a lot of Don Draper types running slick ad agencies in rural Wisconsin, so the Rol-Air team had to take the DIY approach. Among many things, they learned that a clean cardboard box (or pegboard) makes a great backdrop for product photography.

Working with the village of Hustisford, WI, Joe Kelley purchased land in the newly developed industrial park for $1. Construction of a 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility soon followed. Over the next several decades, this building would grow to nearly eight times its original size.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1977, Joe’s son Tim joined the Associate Engineering team. As the company expanded beyond the Mid-west, the Rol-Air name began to find its niche within the residential construction industry and placed an emphasis on its line of portable air compressors. Unique innovations such as the roll-cage style tank assembly and Schmidt Belt-Tensioning device helped the brand stand out among the competition.

In an effort to capture a greater market share, the company joined STAFDA (Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association) in 1979. Distributor members quickly realized that the Rol-Air name was synonymous with quality and value. By leveraging the networking and educational opportunities provided by the STAFDA organization, the Rol-Air name quickly became a staple within the construction and industrial supply chains.

STAFDA booth comparison

Left – Trade show booth circa 1985 (roughly…). In addition to air compressors, Associate Engineering produced a few other product lines, including log splitters. Right – current trade show booth. The company’s focus has narrowed to air compressors and pneumatic accessories, but five booth spaces are needed to adequately display the breadth of its product offering.

Fast-forward to 2001. Tim Kelley, who had become president in 1996 following his father’s untimely passing, welcomed his son, Mike, to the Rol-Air staff. After several years in the sales department, Mike took on the role of Vice President. His commitment and enthusiasm added a whole new dynamic to the future of Associate Engineering Corporation.

Shortly after, a re-branding effort took place to modernize the look of the company’s product line. The shade of green used was darkened and given a glossier finish, the hyphen was dropped from the name, the letters were capitalized and a new font was chosen to give the logo a bolder look. These changes would help unify the ROLAIR brand and increase its appeal to a younger generation of residential contractors.

logo variations

The evolution of the ROLAIR logo.

Today, ROLAIR air compressors can be found on nearly every continent. They can be found powering construction sites, industrial settings, and auto shops. Complete compressor assemblies and bare pumps are used in numerous OEM applications. The company’s influence can be seen far beyond its humble mid-western origins.

The ROLAIR air compressor of today may look considerably different from that of 1959. The modern components, block lettering and dark green finish help these compressors fit in on today’s jobsite. Beneath that glossy surface, however, lies 60 years of experience designing and manufacturing machines that can hold up to the toughest conditions.

Special Consideration

Since 1959, countless hands have helped shape the ROLAIR brand. Many of those employees are still there today. The company specifically wanted to offer recognition to those current employees who have given their time and talent for 10 or more years.

Name Title Years of Service
Dennis D. Schmidt Plant Superintendent 42
Craig A. Lindert Asst. Plant Superintendent 41
Cheryl A. Bergmann Purchasing Agent 40
Scott P. Johnson OEM Pump Specialist 40
Timothy F. Breitkreutz Painter 40
Jeffrey L. Seefeldt Asst. Plant Superintendent 35
Gail M. Nampel Controller 34
Daniel R. Fox National Sales Manager 33
Pamela A. Hill Accounts Payable Manager 33
Douglas R. Schlefke National Customer Service Manager 31
Scott A. Fredrick Head Welder 30
David M. Razner Sales Manager – East 30
Jeff L. Kuehl Machine Shop – Head 28
Todd M. Schucknecht II Stage – Head 28
Brian P. Bachleitner Inspector/Assembly-Electric 26
Todd J. Persha Sales Manager – West 25
Deanna L. Livingston Credit Manager 25
John A. Corrao General Manager 23
Sally M. Wasinack Administrative Assistant 21
Michael A. Shouldice Welder 21
Amedee J. O’Gorman Assistant National Customer Service Manager 17
Joseph V. Kelley III Customer Service Manager 17
Lee J. Miller Compressor Specialist 17
Lacey K. Huff Parts Department/Stocker 16
Brock G. Schmidt Asst. Shop Superintendent 15
Chris J. Miller Compressor Specialist 15
Shane M. Sowin Assembler 14
Jon A. Manogue Compressor Specialist 14
Ricky L. Miller Painter 12

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4 thoughts on “ROLAIR Then & Now

  1. Thank you for the history lesson. I still have a ROLAIR compressor from 1978 or 1979. It still works. Your product is reliable and long lasting. Thank you for such a good product.

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