Gas Products Company

Member Profile – Butler Gas Products Company
July 26, 2019 – 06:31 am

Not only are gases in the blood of the Butler family, they’re at the core of Butler Gas Products Company. In the 1930s, John T. Butler, grandfather of current Butler Gas Products president and CEO Jack Butler, had finished school at Carnegie Tech and was fascinated with technology and making things more efficient. He and his friend Leonard Pool purchased several patents for mixing gases that were up for sale at an auction. The men knew they were on to something. Pool went off to found Air Products, and Butler went to work for National Cylinder Gas.

John T. Butler’s two sons followed in their father’s footsteps and opened a distributorship in Reading, Pennsylvania, where they sold welding supplies and cylinder gases. A few years later, in 1948, one of the brothers, Jack Butler Sr., moved to Pittsburgh with his new bride and opened Butler Gas Products. Jack Sr. took care of sales and distribution, Mildred managed the books. They worked hard to grow the company and by 1972 were able to acquire the Pittsburgh business of National Cylinder Gas.

Unexpected Succession

Like many children of this industry, Jack Butler grew up among cylinders. He thought he would be a lawyer when he went to Boston University, but decided to study sociology and minor in business. A year before his graduation, Jack Sr. announced to the family that he was dying of cancer and within a week, he and his son figured out a way for Jack Jr. to take over the business. The first step was learning how to sell. During his senior year, Jack Jr. sold first aid kits to colleges in Boston, which he claims he was not very successful at. When he returned home in 1975, his father said to him, “Now you have products, you have trucks, and you have people. Go and do something.” Jack took his father’s directive to heart, and began to learn the intricacies of the products he was selling and the management of the company. He kept pace with his father and learned all he could from him, capturing his vision and his dream to manufacture gases.

Jack’s Sr.’s legacy to his family was that of a pioneering spirit, very similar to the pioneering entrepreneurship of his own father. Jack Sr. taught his son that the business was capable of surviving the various challenges it would encounter, and that his family could grow the company and make it profitable. Jack Jr. was 24 years old when he became president of the company after his father passed away.

Market Shift Demands Refocus

Pittsburgh, one of the nation’s greatest industrial cities, was world renowned for its steel, aluminum, glass, iron and railroad equipment production. Industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon drove its progress. By the mid-1970s, Butler Gas Products (BGP) was a profitable company selling welding supplies and industrial gases. Cylinders were filled at the nearby National Cylinder Gas plant.

When the steel industry began to collapse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with it went many of the businesses supporting it. The Butlers realized that a change was needed and with 85 percent of company sales devoted to welding supplies, a market shift would be critical to ensure survival.

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