An American Success Story To The Core

The New Year started with a touch of irony. After returning from a visit to BASF Construction Chemicals, which kicked off a year-long Master Builders


The New Year started with a touch of irony. After returning from a visit to BASF Construction Chemicals, which kicked off a year-long Master Builders brand centennial celebration (page 14), word came from Spancrete Group, Waukesha, Wis., on the Jan. 13 passing of company founder Henry Nagy Û five months short of his 101st birthday.

Long before turning 100, Mr. Nagy became a giant in concrete business and engineering. His name is synonymous with architectural and structural precast throughout the Midwest, and hollow core plank and machinery worldwide. Henry’s pioneering contribution to the concrete products industry is legend, Spancrete Group officials affirm. He was an innovator and entrepreneur, making friends and influencing lives on many levels around the world.

My lone meeting with Mr. Nagy was at a Munich hotel during the 1998 Bauma, where he talked about current projects back home. Upon reading the January/February 2005 PCI Journal’s History of Spancrete, it occurred to me how Spancrete’s founder, nearing the age of 90, could just as easily have reflected on concrete business dealings in Germany more than 60 years before.

Born June 23, 1908, in Milwaukee, Mr. Nagy entered construction materials as a 19-year-old driver for Jaeger Sand & Gravel. He landed the position after returning to the U.S. from his family’s homeland, Hungary, which by the late 1920s began to feel pressure from the Nazi Party’s emergence in Germany. Marriage to Mary Jaeger and deferred draft for later call up in the U.S. Army positioned Mr. Nagy to make his mark in manufactured concrete early in the post-war era. He founded a block business, West Allis Concrete Products, in 1946, expanding it through acquisition of producers to whom he had delivered sand & gravel. Mindful of hollow core plank prospects in the U.S., he acquired slipform machinery technology in 1953 from a German innovator he had met in 1934.

The machinery and production process, refined by Mr. Nagy and his late son Robert, carried the Spancrete brand, as did producers who purchased the equipment and rights to the proprietary prestressed floor plank and wall panels in markets beyond Wisconsin. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Spancrete Group President and CEO John Nagy has continued development of the equipment and manufactured-concrete businesses, which have a payroll of 500-plus and encompass Spancrete Machinery Corp. in Waukesha; Spancrete Industries, Inc. precast/prestressed operations in Waukesha, Green Bay and Valders, Wis.; Spancrete of Illinois in Crystal Lake; American Concrete Pipe in Milwaukee and Green Bay; and, Florida Precast Industries in Sebring.

The Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute named Henry Nagy a Titan of the industry in 2004, coinciding with the group’s golden anniversary and recognition of individuals central to the first five decades of North American precast/prestressed. To that and other honors for Mr. Nagy, let’s add One for the Ages.