Staying Power

Lisle's loyalty to their industry partners and hometown community has produced a rare connection to both.


Anywhere repair service is being done, wherever there's an opportunity, that's where our interests lie," states Fred Lisle.

This statement not only sums up his company's current vision, but also its history. Since the Lisle Corporation's inception over 100 years ago, it has manufactured and sold everything from hog oilers and cream separators to O2 sensor removers and circuit testers. The common theme - products that make things easier and help save time.

In the process, the company has developed a special bond throughout the marketplace. This ranges from the distribution franchises and warehouses to the individual mobile dealers and technicians that have spurred new ideas for specialty tools. And throughout the company's history has always been a special connection to the Clarinda, Iowa community.

The company's origins go back to 1903 in Stanberry, Missouri, where its original offering was horse-powered water well drilling equipment. Shortly after the company was started, its buildings burned to the ground. The nearby Clarinda community offered the owner a fire-proof building if operations were moved to their town. It was an offer that simply couldn't be refused. After the move, the company began offering agricultural tools and equipment, such as the infamous hog oiler, along with lawn mowers and washing machines.

Following its arrival in Clarinda, the business was bought by C.A. Lisle, a local newspaper and car dealership owner. The dealership would be the genesis of what Lisle is known for today – specialty tools, as the service department discovered a need for some very specific tools in order to properly repair the Fords that kept coming through their doors. This resulted in the manufacturing of Lisle's first three tools; a ridge reamer, a rod aligner and a cylinder hone.

From there, the company's innovative drive led to the production and distribution of magnetic drain plugs. They sold hundreds of thousands to the military during World War II.

Following the war's end, Lisle's tool business continued to grow. By the early 1950s they had sold off the plug business, as well as the other non-automotive ventures. Helping to fuel the company's new, more focused direction was the purchase of a creeper manufacturer – Jeepers Creepers. A growing product line even led to the use of vans and station wagons as Lisle hit to the street to attract mobile dealer and glass front retail business. This would be the beginning of Lisle's connection and commitment to distribution.

The rest, as they say, is history. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003, with Iowa's governor and several state and local politicians in attendance for the open-house celebration. Change is also a constant at Lisle, as in addition to unveiling a host of new products, the company recently announced a series of personnel changes.

John Lisle will be stepping down from the president role to serve as chairman of the board. Filling his spot will be Bill Lisle, with Fred Lisle moving from national accounts manager to vice president of sales. Jon Bielfeldt will transition from the marketing department to fill the role of national accounts manager.

Where Do They Come Up With This Stuff?
"The great thing about specialty tools is that there really are no boundaries in designing or manufacturing them. We've placed an emphasis on ‘new' now more than ever, and developing these types of tools keeps us open to the changing needs of today's vehicles," states Bill Lisle. "It keeps our offerings fresh and also provides the distributor with an answer when end-users ask about what's new."

A driving force behind these product developments is Lisle's Idea Program. Started in the early 1970s, the program brings in about 600 submissions each year from distributor customers and end-users. Each week, the company's management group reviews the most recent collection of ideas to discuss their validity.

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