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Power behind the Panama Canal,Mackinac Bridge, celebrates 150th anniversary

FERRYSBURG, MI – It started 150 years ago with an abandoned factory.

It was 1864 when entrepreneur John Watt Johnston, a direct descendent
of steam engine pioneer James Watt, purchased the defunct Turnbull
Boiler Works building on the banks of the Grand River.

Little did he know he was founding a company whose business destiny
would parallel the industrial growth of the nation for more than a

Johnston Boiler Company, located at 300 Pine St., celebrated its 150th anniversary late last week, and for those who have been part of the company the longest, the day held special meaning.

“I’m just thoroughly excited about this day,” said Director of Sales
Pat Baker, who has been with the company for 37 years. “I was thinking
of retiring a year or two ago but I wanted to be around when we
celebrate 150 years because it’s very important to me. This is a huge

Johnston Boiler began its long history of operations supplying
boilers to the many lumber mills operating throughout West Michigan. In
1870, the company pioneered the design for water-backed boilers which
could be used for both stationary and marine applications.

Johnston Boilers have been used in the construction of monumental
feats of engineering such as the rebuilding of Chicago after the Great
Chicago Fire of 1871.

The company also contributed 60 boilers used in the building of the
Panama Canal from 1907 to 1910 and 16 in the construction of the
Mackinac Bridge in 1954.

Four generations of the Johnston family maintained ownership of the
company until 1974 when it was sold to a private investor. Eventually,
the company was purchased by the Muskegon-based Hines Corporation and
Larry Hines in 1987. He continues to own the business today.

According to Baker, it is the company’s ability to change with the times that has allowed it to survive this long.

“We have great people, great workers and great product designs that
last a long time,” he said. “Most importantly is the fact that we
learned to adapt to new applications. Many of the customers that we’ve
built for and the process have gone away, but we’re still here.”

Today, Johnston Boiler Company producers boilers used by a wide range
of facilities, including manufacturing, schools, institutions and
commercial buildings.


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