Boston-born Willard Rockwell (1888–1978) made his fortune with the invention and successful launch of a new bearing system for truck axles in 1919. He merged his Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based operation with the Timken-Detroit Axle Company in 1928, rising to become chairman of its board in 1940.
In 1945, Rockwell Manufacturing Company acquired Delta Machinery and renamed it the Delta Power Tool Division of Rockwell Manufacturing Company and continued to manufacture in Milwaukee. In 1966, Rockwell invented the world's first power miter saw. In 1981, Rockwell's power tool group was acquired by Pentair and re-branded Delta Machinery. Pentair's Tools group was acquired by Black & Decker in 2005. Since 1994, Rockwell power tools are now manufactured by Positec Tool Corporation
In 1956, Rockwell Manufacturing Co. bought Walker-Turner from Kearney and Trecker. In 1957, Walker-Turner operations were closed down in Plainfield, New Jersey and moved to Bellefontaine, Ohio and Tupelo, Mississippi.
Timken-Detroit merged in 1953 with the Standard Steel Spring Company, forming the Rockwell Spring and Axle Company. After various mergers with automotive suppliers, it comprised about 10 to 20 factories in the Upper Midwestern U.S. and southern Ontario, and in 1958 renamed itself Rockwell-Standard Corporation.
Pittsburgh-based Rockwell Standard then acquired and merged with Los Angeles-based North American Aviation to form North American Rockwell in September 1967. It then purchased Miehle-Goss-Dexter, the largest supplier of printing presses, and in 1973, acquired Collins Radio, a major avionics supplier.
In 1968, Sterling Faucet Company was bought by Rockwell Manufacturing Co. and it became a subsidiary of the company for the following years.
In 1973, North American Rockwell merged with Rockwell Manufacturing, run by Willard Rockwell, Jr., to form Rockwell International. In the same year, the company acquired Admiral Radio and TV for $500 million. In 1979, the appliance division was sold to Magic Chef.
Rockwell International also drew on the strengths of several of George Westinghouse's concerns, and Westinghouse is considered a co-founder of the company.
Apex and break-up
With the death of company founder and first CEO Willard F. Rockwell in 1978, and the stepping down of his son Willard Rockwell, Jr. in 1979 as the second CEO, Bob Anderson became CEO and led the company through the 1980s when it became the largest U.S. defense contractor and largest NASA contractor. Rockwell also acquired the privately held Allen-Bradley Company for $1.6 billion in February 1985 — $1 billion of which was cash to the owners of Allen Bradley — and became a producer of industrial automation hardware and software.
During the 1980s, Anderson, his CFO Bob dePalma, and the Rockwell management team built the company to #27 on the Fortune 500 list. It boasted sales of $12 billion and assets of over $8 billion. Its workforce of over 100,000 was organized into nine major divisions — Space, Aircraft, Defense Electronics, Commercial Electronics, Light Duty Automotive Components, Heavy Duty Automotive Components, Printing Presses, Valves and Meters, and Industrial Automation. Rockwell International was a major employer in Southern California, northern Ohio, northern Georgia, eastern Oklahoma, Michigan, west Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and western Pennsylvania.
Anderson stepped down as CEO in February 1988, leaving the company to president Donald R. Beall. The completion of the Space Shuttle program and the completion of the B-1 bomber program had led to a decline in revenues, and Beall sought to diversify the company away from government contracts. The end of the Cold War and the perceived "peace dividend", however, prompted accelerated divestitures and sweeping management reforms. From 1988 to 2001 the company moved its headquarters four times: from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to El Segundo, California to Seal Beach, California to Costa Mesa, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
At the end of the 1980s, the company sold its valve and meter division, formerly Rockwell Manufacturing, to British Tyre & Rubber. It also sold its printing press division to an internal management team. Following the "peace dividend" after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the company sold its defense and aerospace business, including what was once North American Aviation and Rocketdyne, to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in December 1996. In the 1990s, the company spun off its semiconductor products as Conexant Technologies (CNXT), which is publicly traded and based in Newport Beach, California. Rockwell International also spun off its automotive division as a publicly traded company, Meritor Automotive, based in Troy, Michigan, which then merged with Arvin Industries to form Arvin Meritor. That company is now known as Meritor, Inc. In 1996, Rockwell International sold Graphic Systems (formerly Miehle-Goss-Dexter), an Illinois-based newspaper and commercial printing press company, to Stonington Partners as part of a new corporation for $600 million.
In 2001, what remained of Rockwell International was split into two companies, Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Collins — both publicly traded companies — ending the run of what had once been a massive and diverse conglomerate. The split was structured so that Rockwell Automation was the legal successor of the old Rockwell International, while Rockwell Collins was the spin-off.