We’ve all heard how doing well in school and possession of a hard work ethic will get one ahead in life. If you ever doubted it, then the tale of the Remy Brothers will restore your belief. Theirs is the classic American business success story and should serve as an inspiration to those who receive their education in Osborne County schools, past, present and future.
Benjamin Milton Remy and his wife, Marion (Irwin) Remy, were Indiana natives who after their marriage settled in Columbus, Indiana. There they became the proud parents of two sons: Benjamin Perry Remy, better known as Perry, who was born March 15, 1876; and Frank Irwin Remy, who was born September 6, 1880. Shortly after Frank’s birth the family thought to try their fortune in the West and so gathered their belongings and moved to Downs, Kansas. Downs was then a village founded by the Central Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad two years before, and Mr. Remy found work with various businessmen and the railroad. He also served for a time as police judge. When they came of age the sons entered the local school, and the family prospered.
In 1888 Mr. Remy was elected Osborne County Probate Judge and the family moved to the county seat of Osborne. The boys resumed their education there and the family became respected members of the community. Mr. Remy served a single two-year term before stepping down; his health broke soon after and he was unable to work. After five years of financial hardship the family decided to move back to Columbus, Indiana, and then onto Peru, Indiana. Perry Remy had been attending Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he majored in electrical engineering and had established a small electroplating business with F. L. Clifford since 1892, but he was obliged to quit school and go to work in a ceramic factory in Peru to help the family out. Fourteen-year old Frank also worked in a factory and went to night school to complete his education. The boys quickly saw that this precarious life was not helping their family and resolved to leave Peru for a better location.
The Remy family left Peru in late spring of 1895. With little money they arrived in Anderson, Indiana, and decided the city had all the advantages they desired. Perry had continued his electrical studies and noted that the business of wiring residential and commercial buildings might be an area to make money in.
“Upon arriving in Anderson, the boys, with typical youthful brashness, proceeded immediately to hang out their shingle as wiring contractors. They proved surprisingly proficient in spite of their lack of years and proceeded to get all of the business they could handle. The younger brother enrolled in the Anderson public schools and joined his older brother in the business activity each evening.” — Linfield Myers, in his book As I Recall . . . . (1973).
The Remys’ road to success was assured when they developed a high tension magneto that proved to be one of the major selling points of the 1905 Buick. Their business began to boom and they built a new plant in Anderson. The company supplied parts to early automobile manufacturers such as Columbia, Winton, Sterns, Hayes, Apperson, and Severns-Duryea. People in Osborne County took great interest in the career of these two young men. Letters back to friends in Osborne and Downs describing the growing business were published in the local papers. Even a 1906 car accident involving Frank Remy made headlines.
On August 5, 1907, Frank Remy married Nellie Forkner in Anderson. The Remy Electrical Company remained prosperous and the Remy family grew comfortable in their role as one of the leading families in Anderson. Then the ignition market changed to battery ignitions and the Remys rushed to invent their own ignition system in order to compete. This, coupled with an offer to buy their company, convinced the brothers that it was time to get out of the automotive business. On January 25, 1911, the sale of the Remy Electric Company was finalized for one million dollars. Perry Remy was thirty-four years old; his brother Frank, thirty.
“. . . The details of the agreement are not given out, but it is said that in addition to the purchase price of a million dollars the Remy boys also get a royalty on all magnetos made under their most recent patent, which makes the magneto to also furnish electric lights for the headlights and other lights about an automobile. The sale of the plant makes both the Remy boys practically millionaires. They are probably the two youngest self made millionaires in Indiana and possibly in the west . . . The sale price of their plant and business is only about half their fortune. Their combined accumulations last year went beyond $500,000, and their combined fortune outside the plant and business had reached close to a million dollars.
The firm’s tremendous success has been built up on the genius of B. P. Remy, whose achievement in the electrical field entitle him to one of the first places among inventors. It has also been helped vastly by the business sagacity and enterprise of Frank Remy. Perry invented and designed the magneto with all its improvements, and in addition designed and directed one of the most efficient factory organizations ever gotten together. In this second as well as in the first line named he has few equals and no superior in the country. Frank had complete charge of the office and sales end and his contribution to the firm’s success was perhaps quite as considerable. The business organization he built up in a brief time and its efficiency has been rarely equaled . . . .” — Osborne County Farmer, February 9, 1911.
The brothers then took a two-year vacation to Europe, where they also studied potential markets for an idea they wished to launch once they returned to America. In 1913 they opened a new factory in Anderson for the manufacture of farm tractors. While Perry occasionally made other inventions the brothers never again entered the business field with the zest they showed in their youth and both soon retired altogether.
Perry Remy made his home in Indianapolis, Indiana, and worked with the various disciplines within the Masonic Lodge. He died of a heart attack on February 27, 1934, at Manning, South Carolina, and was buried in the West Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson. In 1941 a gift in his memory was made to Purdue University of a small electric generator he had built while a student there in the 1890s. Frank Remy left the tractor business in 1924 and concentrated his efforts into improving the Wawasee Lake Golf Course at Syracuse, Indiana, which he founded in 1912. He owned homes both on the lake and in Indianapolis, and was a member of the Columbia Club and the Masonic Lodge. He attended the Methodist Church and presented annually the Remy Brassard Cup at the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Frank was divorced in 1933 and later married Louise Mauzy. He sold the golf course in 1950 and entered full retirement, passing away April 1, 1962, at Warsaw, Indiana. He was also buried in Anderson’s West Maplewood Cemetery.
The Remy Electric Company later became a division of the United Automobile Company, which was in turn purchased by the newly-organized General Motors Corporation. Under the new corporation the Remy Electric Company was merged with Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, known popularly as Delco, to form the Delco-Remy Division, a name that became famous world-wide in the electrical field.
“While growth and advancement of Delco-Remy Division to its position of world leadership has resulted from the efforts of many persons, in a sense the industry stands as a tribute to Frank and Perry Remy. Their lives represent a symbol of success and inspiration to everyone desiring to live in the freedom and enterprise as it is known in the United States.” — Anderson News Bulletin, April 3, 1962.
Delco Remy became its own business entity in 1994, when a group of private investors led by former Chrysler President Harold K. Sperlich and Delco Remy Executive Thomas J. Snyder bought portions of the General Motors heavy duty and automotive divisions. In 2004 the company changed its name to Remy International, Inc. Remy is currently the leading global manufacturer and remanufacturer of automotive parts, including starters, alternators and hybrid motors. The company has thousands of employees worldwide with global facilities in eleven countries on four continents.