Merkle-Korff History

More than a century of precision innovation

Merkle-Korff Industries was founded as the Modern Tool & Stamping Company on Oct 11th,  1911 by Abraham Korff.  The Company was located in the west end of Chicago’s downtown area and has maintained its National Headquarters in the metropolitan Chicago area for 107 years.

Mr. Korff (born in Odessa, Russia) fled to the US at age 16 to avoid conscription into the army.  He worked as a machinist until partnering with Mr. Merkle.  Barnard J. Merkle (Alton, IL) worked for Western Cartridge and Emerson Electric prior to moving to Chicago.  After moving to Chicago, he met and partnered with Mr. Korff and the name of the company was changed to Merkle-Korff Gear Company in 1913.

Merkle-Korff manufacturing, circa 1915


Initially the company produced gears, stampings, and radius rods for Model-T and Model-A Ford automobiles.  The original building was destroyed in 1922 when the entire block burned to the ground.  The company rebuilt at 213 N. Morgan Street, occupying roughly one-quarter of the third floor.  By 1939 the company occupied the entire 50,000 sq-ft building. 

By the late-twenties a miniature line of speed reducers was being produced for several neighborhood customers for use in animated displays.  A customer convinced Mr. Merkle to buy the small electric motor, mount it to the speed reducer, and provide the display industry a complete package.  The gearmotor was born!  The first application was a walking foot demonstrating the merits of a Dr. Scholl’s corn plaster.

In 1937 Norman Korff, the son of Mr. Korff, was made a partner.  The same year Walter Strand joined the company as an assistant to Mr. Merkle.  In 1955 Mr. Korff and Mr. Korff retired from the business and sold to Merkle and Strand.  Shortly thereafter Mr. Merkle was struck with a serious illness.  Prior to his death in 1964, he appointed Mr. John Simms, Sr. as President and John W. Brown as National Sales Manager.

Helping with the war effort

 During World War II, the manufacturing facilities of the Company along with a sister company (Merkle Metal Products – founded by B.J. Merkle, and his two brothers Elmer and Al) were devoted primarily to the production of defense materials.  Aerial bomb fuses and parts for the famous Norden “bomb sight” were among the defense items produced.

After the war, two very significant developments changed the course of the Company.  Automatic vending machines became widely accepted in the United States and these mechanical servants required several small motors to dispense ingredients and end products to customers. Volume production of gearmotors began in that period and gradually became the main product of the Company.  This first lineup was called the “Flexo-Action” line.  Photocopy machines, automatic ice makers for home refrigerators and even gambling equipment were soon major applications for gearmotors and sixty-five years later the Appliance, Business Equipment and Vending Industries are still high volume users of the small gearmotor. 

In 1966 Elmco Industries was founded to produce electrical components for Merkle-Korff.  In 1967 Mr. E.A. Merkle passed away and the Merkle-Korff management took over responsibility for operating the Merkle Metal Products Company.  In 1976 Mercury Industries was opened in Richland Center, WI and most manufacturing was transferred there.  In Dec of the same year, the headquarters and shop facility moved into a state of the art facility in Des Plaines, IL.  In 1978 the company’s name was changed to Merkle-Korff Industries. In 1996 the Simms family (descendants of Mr. Merkle) sold the company to Jordan Industries (Chicago, IL) where it eventually landed in their Kinetek business group.  In 1998 Jordan acquired the motor operations of Barber-Coleman and integrated that production into M-K.  In 2012 Jordan sold M-K to Nidec Corporation (Kyoto, Japan).

Merkle-Korff today 

Merkle-Korff today is headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, a nearby suburb of Chicago and operates three production facilities and a rapid prototyping operation.  The Company’s product line satisfies industry requirements for output torque up to 300 pound inches.  Dozens of different speed reducer (gearbox) configurations are offered with hundreds of gear ratios both spur and helical to meet customer speed and torque requirements. 

The Company enjoys long standing business relationships with many of America’s most prestigious producers of Major Home Appliances, Business Machines Vending Equipment, Commercial Appliances and Laboratory Equipment.  Some typical other applications of M-K motors include small pumps, medical equipment, photographic processing machines, peripheral computer equipment, metering devices, agricultural and industrial valves, industrial controls and machine tools.

The emphasis at Merkle-Korff is on high value products and professional service to its clients.  Experience has proven that superior application techniques and adequate design safety factors result in reduced field failures and provide extended service life. This design concept contributes significantly to the reduction of the life cycle cost and merits at least equal consideration with initial investment.  The company prides itself on its ability to meet delivery promises and treats adverse conditions and contingencies with an appropriate sense of urgency.  The maintenance of high production quality standards has resulted in several Outstanding Quality Supplier awards from major U.S. Customers.