The History of Acme Duplex, Inc.
If you have ever tried to open a double hung window with broken window ropes, you know how heavy a single window can be. Double hung windows were the most popular window for the first half the 20th century. But when the rope broke that held the lead weight that counter-balanced the window, allowing it to be easily lifted, a homeowner was faced with removing the window trim molding and going through great effort to fix that rope.
In the late 1920’s, Aloysius F. Mantz, a young man with ingenuity, decided there must be a better solution. Mantz was an architect working in the movie industry for MGM, involved with set design. He was given free reign to develop what he needed. But, when he started to developed his idea for a new window balance, he realized it would be a conflict of interest to stay at MGM, and so he quit.
Able to spend full time on perfecting his sash balance, Mantz applied for a spring sash balance patent in 1927. It was granted about a year later. Mantz opened Acme Twin Sash Balance Company in 1932. Like many young entrepreneurs, Mantz opened the company from his garage in North Hollywood. In the mornings, he would make the parts and assemble the balances, and in the afternoons, he would visit local hardware stores and sell the parts. At that time, you could sell one or two pieces for replacements; you didn’t have to sell a full case of product for manufacturers.
During the next 10-12 years, the company grew and prospered. Window makers started installing the new balances during production and drove the lead weight idea out of business. They moved from the garage to their own building and hired five or six people. Their first shop supervisor was James “Barry” Jessup, a young man from Texas. Barry’s first job was in a gas station, and he had a mechanical gift. His skills were needed as, unfortunately, Mr. Mantz died suddenly of appendicitis. Mrs. Bertha Mantz, who had never been involved in the business, went to Barry and asked him to help her continue. She then hired Fred Booth, Jr. to come in as General Manager of the company.
Soon after, the company merged with Duplex Balance of Los Angeles.
During World War II, Duplex adapted the principles and mechanics of the Duplex window balance to use in “balancing” a machine gun in the B-25 Mitchell bombers. Fred Booth tells the story of how this came about in a war-time article published for Roebling Steel, who supplied Duplex with the special flat wire needed.
Booth stated, “Our advent into the manufacture of equipment for bombers came about in a quite accidental manner. George Bussiere, Armament Engineer of North American Aviation, Inc., happened upon one of our Duplex Window Balances – apparently the ideas we had incorporated into the manufacture of this product appealed to Mr. Bussiere. He could see the possibilities of adapting our ideas, talents and skill to advantage in solving a problem which had been vexing North American for two years. The result of that incident with Mr. Bussiere was fortunate – in collaboration with Mr. Bussiere, we developed a product of great value to the Air Corps and North American Aviation, and also made an important place for our company in the war program.”
These balances for machine guns were used to carry the weight of .50 caliber machine guns, mounted in the waist of B-25 Bombers. These guns are heavy (about 75 lbs.) and the gunners had to handle them in the fast action encountered in a battle in the skies.
After the end of the war, the demand for machine gun balances ended. So, Acme Duplex focused on its primary business in the building industry. And, with the return of soldiers, the housing market took off. At the same time, large hardware stores, such as ACE Hardware and California Hardware developed. A distribution channel for building parts developed. So Acme Duplex hired salesmen to develop the business.
Ralph Tollet, of Chino Hills California, and an owner of Acme Duplex for 25 years starting in 1982, said that one of the salesmen, in the late 1940’s, took off to Mississippi where there was a huge track of land under development. There were about 3000-4000 houses under construction. When he came back to California, the guy had sold Duplex balances for the entire tract. Soon the company was selling primarily to wholesalers.
In 1982, Tollet, who was a manufacturing manager in the aerospace industry, decided he would like to own his own business. He went to a lawyer in Hollywood, and asked the attorney to let him know if he ran across anything, then forgot about it. A few months later, he got a call back and we went to visit Barry Jessup at Acme Duplex. Jessup told him, “I am an old man, and I just want to retire. But, I can’t let this business go to seed. It was entrusted to me. I’ve got to do something with it.” The business had been his baby for years, and he wanted a nice home for it. Tollet agreed to review the paperwork, and a month later he decided to buy the company.
Ralph Tollet successfully ran Acme Duplex for twenty-five years, manufacturing both the adjustable sash balance and preset Acme Twin window sash balance. It provided him and his family with a good life.
Don McFarland, owner of Paramount Windows and Doors www.paramountwindowsanddoors.com , needed the superior quality of the original Acme Duplex balances. Paramount has built custom, furniture quality, grade wood windows and doors for two decades, and his customers demand the durability and quiet sound of the Acme Duplex sash balance. In frequent contact with Tollet, McFarland casually mentioned that if he ever wanted to sell the company, he might be interested. When one of Paramount’s employees repeated the same offer, Tollet looked at his daughter, who was working with him, and said, “You know, we could just retire!” So the deal was done.
McFarland took all of the equipment and key people, moving the operations to his manufacturing plant in San Bernardino. While the engineering had been perfected back in the 1930’s, the expertise in manufacturing was a skill that needed to be transferred in person.
Although it is possible to find knock-offs of the Acme Duplex sash balance, the quality and engineering has yet to be duplicated. Quality, wood double hung windows and sliders will continue to be best balanced with Acme Duplex. In 1932, Mantz literally changed the way we open windows, and Acme Duplex continues to be the supplier of choice for windows across the country.