Since 1897 and across four generations, the family-owned business of A. Zahner Company produced highly crafted architectural metalwork for artists and architects around the globe. Throughout the company’s history, employees at Zahner have developed advanced metal surfaces and systems for both functional and ornamental architectural forms.
FOUNDING OF THE COMPANY
The company was founded in 1897 by Andrew Zahner. The grandson of Swiss-German ancestry, his family emigrated to America in the late 1850s. They arrived in New Orleans and traveled north to Louisville, Kentucky and eventually purchased a small farmstead in southern Indiana. Andrew Zahner was born here in 1871. A few years later, his father Maximillian purchased a farm in Shawnee, Kansas and moved his family again to the Kansas City greater area.
As a young man, Andrew Zahner would begin his career in the late 1880s by traveling south to the industrial city of Joplin, Missouri. At the time, Joplin was a boom town, experiencing significant growth from the zinc and lead mines in the area. For many years during the late 19th century, Joplin was considered the zinc and lead capital of the world.
It was there that Andrew started his first company, Eagle Cornice Works. He began working on metal cornices on significant buildings in the booming towns of western Missouri and eastern Kansas. Metal was the ‘new’ material of choice for prestigious buildings of these small towns. Cornices were the decorative features clad in metal, usually tin coated steel, hot dipped galvanized steel or copper.
In 1897, he brought this expertise back up to Kansas City and it was here that he established the A. Zahner Sheet Metal Company. The firm produced and installed tin and copper roofing, decorative cornices, and metal skylights for various buildings around the Kansas City region. Over the years, the firm would transform in many ways, working with new metals, developing new technologies, and exploring the unknown.
Note: Andrew’s brother, William, also had a very successful metal company called Zahner Metal Sash and Door Company. Located in the Kansas City area, for a time it would become one of the largest manufacturers of kitchen hardware in America.
A HISTORY OF RESPECT AND DIGNITY
Andrew Zahner was instrumental in promoting the Sheet Metal Industry. His firm was a union employer from the beginning and understood the importance of a trained workforce. Thousands of union employees, as well as their sons and daughters, have worked for the company over the past century. Andrew Zahner was a founding member of the Sheet Metal Association and added his knowledge of metal work to the development of instruction on the use of metals in architecture.
Andrew Zahner was awarded the first patent for a machine seamed metal roof. In 1939 the US Patent office awarded Andrew Zahner and his son Leo Zahner a patent for a machine (pictured above) that would ride over and lock the seams of a metal roof. The company has continued this tradition, developing a number of patents for architectural systems.
After World War II, Andrew Zahner’s grandson Leo W. Zahner Jr. became the President of the A. Zahner Sheet Metal Company. The company was going to close their doors during the war but Leo Zahner Jr. wanted to continue with the company after the war was over.
Now in the third generation, the company moved deeper into the use of metal in architecture. After the war there was an eruption in new forms and uses of metal. New processes such as roll forming metal siding and decking and extruded aluminum coupled with the production capacities of the United States opened a massive new market in the newly revived Midwest.
The company became heavily invested in the promotion and use of metal siding and metal decking for building construction. Leo Zahner Jr. was very involved with the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Association (SMACNA) and chaired their Architectural Sheet Metal division. He was instrumental in the Architectural Sheet Metal Manual and Architectural Sheet Metal Specifications which found wide use in every architect’s library.
EXPANSION INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
The firm held a strong regional presence in the promotion and use of sheet metal in Architecture. Many roofs, power plants and industrial buildings around Kansas City still bear the surfaces created by the A. Zahner Sheet Metal Company.
In 1989, L. William Zahner took over as Vice President of Marketing and Sales, and in 1992, he became President of the firm. He pushed the company further, expanding its scope to the nation’s coasts. His acquaintance and friendship to architects such as Frank Gehry, Gyo Obata, and Antoine Predock helped to challenge the firm and the extent of metal in architecture at the time. The company expanded the knowledge and systems of metal in architecture and set the seeds of what now is the A. Zahner Company. The ‘Sheet Metal’ portion of the name was dropped because the firm had expanded into more than a sheet metal fabricator.
OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE
We are a family company. There are currently five great grandchildren of Andrew Zahner working in the company, and fifth generation family members are entering the engineering team today. There are two-hundred families represented at our plants in Missouri and Texas, and more who travel for Zahner installations around the world.
We have provided beautiful works of metal art and architecture in over 17 countries across the globe. We owe our success to the past and current employees, and to the drive for excellence instilled by our forefathers.