Renold plc is known throughout the world as a supplier of quality transmission and conveyor chain. Unfortunately not so many people know anything about its founder Hans Renold. This article gives an outline to the life and works of Hans Renold who was described by many as 'The Father of the Chain Industry'.
He was born on July 31st 1852, at Aarau, in Switzerland. Aarau was then a small mediaeval town surrounded by walls. His father had a small bakery and restaurant in an old house under the town walls, and the Renold family had been burghers of the town, probably since the middle Ages. There was little money in the family, but its wants were simple. Like most of the Swiss it was characterised by a sturdy self-reliance and a strong democratic sense of the dignity of work.
His interests were always mechanical and he managed to get taken on by a local watchmaker in the school holidays. He kept all his life the watch, which he bought for himself out of the saved-up earnings from that work. Later he managed to get to the Polytechnic School at Zurich, and then had a brief military service achieving a commission in a technical corps, the artillery.
The photograph below shows Hans Renold aged about 20, just before he came to England.
As a young man of 20 he set out, like so many of the Swiss, to seek his fortune in other countries. He first went to Paris, and came to England in 1873. On his arrival he first went to London but soon journeyed on to Manchester where he gained employment at a Company called Felber-Jucker who were machinery exporters. After a short while he ventured into partnership at Salford, Lancashire with a gentleman named Calvert. Together they exported machinery.
This venture proved to be unsuccessful so 2 years later, in 1879, he bought for £300 a small business in Salford, Lancashire, employing perhaps half-a-dozen people and making rough chains for textile machinery. That same year J.K.Starley of Coventry brought out the "safety bicycle" but the only chain that was available was the textile pin chain. This wore out far too quickly and in 1880 Hans Renold designed and patented the bush roller chain which help make the "safety bicycle" a complete success. Hans Renold was in fact one of the fathers of the Cycle Industry. Due to Hans Renold's invention the future of the bicycle was assured.
To demonstrate its success and contribution to Industry, after more than 125 years the chain, as patented in 1880, still forms the basic concept of transmission chains used today throughout the world.
The machinery and plant at the Works at Salford were used by Hans Renold in the manufacture of his chains for about 18 months, but being very old and in poor condition these premises were vacated and new machinery installed in a room in Brook street, Manchester, part of an old sawmill, which he rented – the landlord supplying the power.
The bicycle industry developed with great rapidity from about 1880-1896 and it was impossible to produce chains fast enough with these limited premises and plant. In 1889 Hans Renold started to build a six-storey building set back from Brook Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock (see photo below). The building was known as 'Progress Works'. From then until 1905 the story was one of steady expansion – one new building after another. For example in 1895 the factory was substantially extended.
Progress Works c1889
To celebrate the opening of the first new building in 1889 a party was given. Conditions of work were very different in those days. Everything was much rougher and cruder, and to give a works party was a somewhat anxious experiment. The neighbourhood was an unsavoury one and drunkenness was one of the problems. This resulted in many concerns in the Renold household regarding the wisdom of holding such an event. The main concern being that things could get out of hand. The party however was a great success, though the men would not remove their caps when they danced and a few people had to be tactfully persuaded to leave. It is thought that the party must have been the beginning of social life at the Works, which finally blossomed out into the Hans Renold Social Union as early as c1910.
Around 1895 Hans Renold had started a Works Canteen. He did this because of the poor neighbourhood and poor homes from which many of his workmen came.
Progress works c1895 after its extension
Another landmark made by Hans Renold was his introduction of the 48-hour week in 1896. There was a general demand throughout the engineering trade for shortening the hours of work, which at that time were 52 or more per week. Hans Renold, in company with half-a-dozen other employers, believed that as much work could be done in 48 hours as in 52, and as a result he adopted the 48-hour week without reduction of wages. Soon many other industrial employers followed suit.
In 1898 Hans Renold made his first journey to America and came back filled with enthusiasm for the developments he had seen there in machine tools. The result was the introduction of Brown & Sharpe Autos into his Works. Hans Renold was also one of the first to introduce precision grinding into the UK as a production process.
The Hans Renold business was initially based on the bicycle chain and Hans Renold himself soon realised that chains had other possibilities and he gradually evolved other types of chains for power transmission. During this early period Hans Renold would work all evening over his drawing board at home designing chains and machines to make them.
By 1905 the business had outgrown the Brook Street site and Hans Renold purchased a large amount of land in Burnage (South Manchester). On this land he built his new factory (known as Burnage Works) together with his home (Priestnall Hey), which later became the site for the Hans Renold Social Union.
Although Burnage in those days was in a remote location (no major railway connection, no buses, and limited road access) Hans Renold thought that he would locate his new factory out-of-town in a clean air environment. At one stage the possibility of a railway line running into the Works was investigated but this had to be abandoned due to the high costs that would be involved. Hans Renold also had serious plans to start a farm on the Burnage site so that the Works would be self sufficient in respect of food and drink.
The Works at Burnage, in fact, stood on this site until c1990 when then current manufacturing facilities were moved to their present location in Bredbury (near Stockport, Cheshire).
From 1906 to 1914 the buildings at Burnage were erected bit by bit. The money for all this expansion came almost entirely from profits reinvested back into the business. Hans Renold and his wife lived very simply during that period of growth. The needs of the business always came first and his household went short until the needs of the Works had been satisfied.
It was during the 1914-1918 World War that the Works Committee movement began and the Hans Renold Company was one of a very few to welcome the Shop Steward movement.
From 1879 to 1903 the business was a private one of which Hans Renold was the proprietor. When the Company – Hans Renold Limited - was formed Hans Renold wished to associate a number of the leading employees with him, and he accordingly presented blocks of shares to about a dozen of them.
Burnage Factory c 1910
Priestnall Hey c1960 (it was demolished c1981)
Although Hans Renold is famous for his patent of 1880 for the 'bush roller chain' he also introduced had many other chain designs and patents which include:
- block chain in 1885
- twin roller chain in 1887
- shouldered bush chain in 1889
- silent (inverted tooth) chain in 1895
- chain with necked and recessed ends in 1899
- new tooth form for sprockets in 1907
- keyed bush chain in 1927
In addition Hans Renold designed and manufactured machinery for the manufacture of chain components and also for the assembly of chain.
Hans Renold was a keen enthusiast for standardization of chain and its associated products and as early as 1897 he was instrumental in the introduction of Wheel Gauges Standards into the UK. Due to the efforts of Hans Renold the chain standard BS 228:1925 was introduced.
Other notable achievements of Hans Renold were:
his adoption of a profit sharing scheme in 1922
a visit to the Engineers Club, New York, USA to address various chain manufacturers in 1913 where he shared his findings on sprocket tooth design.
Hans Renold, an early motorist, is a passenger in this 18-24 hp Austin,
which used his roller chains for the rear wheel drive.
Hans Renold pictured in the works with one of
the heavy presses of his own design, for punching out chain parts.
On May 2nd, 1943 after a period of failing health Hans Renold passed away.
Following his death his son Charles Renold gave a talk to the employees at the Burnage factory where he said the following:
"My father was a great man and I have often pondered over the secret of his character and achievements. No simple formula can explain any man but looking back on him I think that the keynote of his whole life was a passion for good work. He enjoyed money when it came, but commercial success was of quite secondary interest. What drove him on was the joy of creation – of doing something just as well as he knew how. "Good enough" was a sentiment that was quite unknown to him. It might well have been written of him, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." His relations with other people were based on this same deep instinct. He valued and respected people according to the quality of their work whatever it was, and the degree of their devotion to it. That also was at the root of his relations with his employees. He had no particular theories of social conditions or relationships. His respect went out to the good workman. He collected good workmen around him, and the mutual respect between good workmen knows no social distinctions. His care for working conditions and good wages arose from the same feeling. "The labourer is worthy of his hire," and the good workman deserves good conditions.
After his passion for good workmanship perhaps his most striking quality was his capacity for remaining young in mind and spirit. In the course of his business life he saw profound changes, but he encountered each with enthusiasm and confidence. No one ever heard him complain that the world was going to the dogs because things were no longer as they used to be. He believed in the fundamental goodness of his fellowmen and I think that he felt that all change was growth and must somehow be good.
Unlike many self-made men, he was content to allow those whom he had trained to take over the reigns from his hands well before the end of his life.
Now that we have said goodbye to him he would have wished to be remembered as a lover of good work and of good workmen, who died at the age of 90, still young in spirit.
After his death praise for Hans Renold's contribution to engineering was also made by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in a memoir that stated:
' In addition to his many chain inventions, a great deal of the machine tool development in this country is attributable to Dr. Renold. Precision grinding as a production process, for example, was practically unknown here until his use of it for preparation of cold-drawn rod preparatory to feeding into automatic turning lathes. Renold's first machine development for this purpose was the design and building of centreless grinding machines for dealing with wire rods up to 10 feet in length, and working to a limit of +/- 0.0005 inch. Later the development of sub-press units to undertake at one setting the blanking, chamfering, holing, and naming of link plates pioneered the development of designs that have since become the recognised practice in most production blanking processes.
Few realise how extensive is the influence of Renold's inventiveness on both civil and industrial life throughout the world. Virtually every form of modern transport by road, sea, or air, employs or depends on chain. Millions are bicycle-conscious without necessarily being chain-conscious. Likewise the automobile has at all stages of its development been one of the major industries utilising chain as an essential feature of design: in fact, there is hardly a phase of any industry or public works in which the chain is not to be found making an obscure but vital contribution to our welfare.'
History of Hans Renold compiled by: Eur.Ing. E.J.Brownhill C.Eng.M.I.Mech.E.
April 11th 2006
This article could not have been written without using information found in the Renold Archives, the reflections of Sir Charles Renold and also the use of the memory of some of the older Renold employees.