Honeywell Heating Specialty Company
Although it is no longer known as Honeywell Heating Specialty Company, Inc., the more than 100 year old company does still operate, now as Honeywell International. It has a long history that began with the manufacturing of hot water heaters, and which through acquisitions became a larger company with a variety of products and services offered.
A key acquisition and merger resulted in Honeywell becoming liable for asbestos exposure and injuries. A refractory company became part of Honeywell in 1999 and with it came a number of lawsuits brought by former workers who were exposed to asbestos and became seriously ill as a result. Conditions like mesothelioma and lung cancer are why Honeywell’s NARCO division has been forced to enter bankruptcy and begin an asbestos trust fund.
Today’s Honeywell International is a large, Fortune 100 company that had $40 billion in sales in 2015. The company is focused on research and development and manufacturing a number of products and technologies. The company’s products include software, products that support efficient energy use, aerospace technologies, home and building products, including thermostats, fire systems, security systems, and water purifiers, chemicals, industrial products, and more.
The history of today’s Honeywell International dates back more than 100 years, with the inventor Albert Butz who developed a furnace alarm and regulator in 1885. Based on his invention he founded a company the following year called the Butz Thermo-Electric Regulator Company. He also invented and sold a device that would serve as the basis for the modern thermostat. Over several years, the company was sold, acquired other companies, and eventually became the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company.
In 1904 Mark Honeywell was hard at work on developing a heat generator for his business that included heating and plumbing. He used his designs to found the Honeywell Heating Specialty Company Incorporated in 1906. His company merged with the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company in 1927. The original name of the new company was the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company.
Over the next several decades the company would continue to innovate, develop new products, and acquire other, smaller companies to expand the product lineup. At the same time the company expanded its geographical reach, opening offices in Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia, and New Zealand. Honeywell’s entry into the computer and software industry began in the 1950s with a partnership with Raytheon Corp.
In 1999 Honeywell was acquired by AlliedSignal, but the company retained the Honeywell name for brand recognition. AlliedSignal brought several new industries to the company, including chemical manufacturing, oil and gas, aerospace, and a company called North American Refractories Company, or NARCO. Refractory materials are those designed to withstand high temperatures, and for many years those products were made with asbestos.
Honeywell may have avoided any asbestos controversy at all if it weren’t for the 1999 merger with AlliedSignal. The acquiring company was made up of several divisions and subsidiaries, including some that used asbestos at one time in their histories. The most important of these was NARCO. Refractory materials are things like fireproof brick and clothing, materials and products that have to withstand high-temperature environments.
Because asbestos is very efficient at resisting heat and fire, and because it was abundant and inexpensive, it was used heavily in refractory and other industries up until about the 1970s. It was at this time that it was finally widely known that asbestos was harmful and that the exposed fibers could cause serious illnesses like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Another company that came with AlliedSignal, Bendix, made automotive parts, and these also contained asbestos. Brake and clutch components in particular were car parts that contained asbestos for the purpose of resisting heat. These parts had to withstand a lot of friction, which generates huge amounts of heat. The asbestos helped to prevent fires and overheating.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Many workers were likely to have been exposed to asbestos because of the products made by Honeywell’s NARCO and Bendix companies. Workers that made the refractory products and car parts would have been directly exposed to asbestos in the course of their work, but they were not the only ones put at risk. Anyone who worked in industries that used the company’s products was also likely to have handled or been near asbestos. Any disturbance of the asbestos could send fibers into the air that could have been inhaled by the workers. The types of workers affected by Honeywell’s products may have included auto mechanics, factory workers, construction workers, ship builders and workers, and maintenance and repair workers.
Shortly after the 1999 acquisition by AlliedSignal, Honeywell became the subject of lawsuits related to asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses. One of the biggest of these resulted in a $53.5 million settlement to a victim of asbestos exposure. The auto mechanic, Stephen Brown, died from mesothelioma in 2000. His widow was awarded the multi-million dollar judgement with the payout coming from several different companies. Honeywell was found to be responsible for just over two percent of the payment because of its connection to Bendix. The NARCO division has faced even more lawsuits than Bendix.
Bankruptcy Protection and Trust
Honeywell has not had to file for bankruptcy. As a large company with multiple divisions, only a few of which used asbestos, it has been able to avoid an overall bankruptcy. However, the NARCO division has not fared as well. It has faced hundreds of thousands of claims of asbestos exposure. It entered bankruptcy protection in 2002 and the plan for reorganization was approved in 2007. This included the formation of an asbestos trust, called the NARCO Asbestos Trust. The trust is currently active and open for claims to be made by asbestos exposure victims.
Honeywell has been a successful and innovative company for over 100 years, but it hit a rough patch when it was acquired by AlliedSignal. The past use of asbestos by divisions like NARCO and Bendix got the company in trouble with thousands of lawsuits. By entering bankruptcy, NARCO was able to reorganize and also compensate worthy victims.
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