Hickory Springs celebrates half-century in foam

Hickory Springs Mfg. Co., a components supplier based in Hickory, N.C., is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a producer of flexible polyurethane foam.

Bob Bush Sr., the retired vice president of sales who died in January, led the company’s flexible foam initiative. His efforts are on record as part of an oral history project completed during the company’s 60th anniversary in 2004.

When latex was king in the 1950s, Hickory Springs began “importing” molded slabs “from up North.” But, at the same time, Bush was looking for a “plastic foam” alternative.

He sought the assistance of a chemical company and the support of Hickory Springs founder Parks Underdown to fund product research at Duke University, but that wasn’t successful. Later, when urethane foams were commercialized, Hickory Springs began purchasing them from other companies, but Bush continued to pursue development of a foam line. By 1960, he had found a regional chemical supplier—Allied Chemical in Charlotte, N.C.,—and foam chemist Ken Fontaine. Hickory Springs was in the polyurethane foam business.

“We were able to sell it, but we were selling it at a loss,” Bush recalled in the oral history. “… It took us several years to figure out exactly which way to go to keep from losing money. But we did. Once we understood the business, we had the contacts to move the merchandise.”

Hickory Springs now has foam plants in six states. The company is planning several events to celebrate its foam business, including an Earth Day ceremony in April.

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