Our CompanyA legacy of continuing innovation
A Brief History
The R.A. Townsend Company has a rich heritage spanning nearly a century and several generations. We’re delighted to share a glimpse of that story with you here.
As an enterprising young adult, Russell A. Townsend Sr. purchased a truck and began to haul fish from Presque Isle into Alpena in the early 1920s. Since the fishing business in northern Michigan was seasonal, he hauled coal from the rail yard to homes and businesses throughout the Alpena area during the winter months.
In 1925, the R.A. Townsend Coal Company was formed. The company’s first location was at the corner of 9th and Ripley in Alpena. The building was ideal as the local railway ran immediately adjacent to this location.
A Growing Company
Bulk coal delivery to the area by boat became more effective than by rail, so R.A. Townsend Sr. purchased property along the Thunder Bay River near Alpena’s Second Avenue Bridge.
The company continued to expand its coal delivery service. Their fleet of trucks can be seen in the picture. The 1921 Model T shown in the picture was owned and operated by John Kelly who worked for the company. The Model T was eventually sold to the company, has been restored to its original condition and can still be seen in Alpena today.
In 1947 at the age of 18, Russell A. Townsend Jr. assumed the leadership role at the R.A. Townsend Coal Company after his father, R.A. Townsend Sr., suffered a disabling heart attack.
As the decade came to a close, the company began providing heating contracting services to customers in addition to supplying coal.
A New Partner
In May of 1955, R.A. Townsend Jr.’s brother-in-law, Bernard Lamp Jr., joined the firm as a partner.
By the mid-1950s, the partners realized that the heating industry was changing. They began to shift their focus from retail coal sales and heating contracting services to wholesale distribution of heating supplies.
A New Focus
In 1962, the R.A. Townsend Company was officially incorporated.
Natural gas became available in Alpena early in the decade and the result was a significant decline in the sale of coal in the area. In 1967, the coal business was disbanded altogether, plumbing products were added to their HVAC distribution offering and the company concentrated their efforts entirely on the wholesale plumbing and heating supply business. Their service territory also expanded to serving contractors throughout northeastern Michigan and the eastern Upper Peninsula.
A New Generation
In 1970, the company moved to its current location at 1100 North Bagley Street in Alpena and continued to expand its product offering and territory.
Russel Townsend Jr’s oldest son, Tom, joined the firm in a leadership role in 1977 after completing his air conditioning and refrigeration degree from Ferris State University and gaining experience as a field technician with the McQuay Corporation out of Minnesota. Tom continues his role with the company today as President.
A New Generation
In 1995, R.A. Townsend Jr.’s son, Jim, joined the firm after acquiring a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, his professional engineering license and 15 years of experience in mechanical HVAC and plumbing engineering design. Jim continues his role with the company today as Vice President.
In 2006, the Company opened its 5,000 square-foot Premier Plumbing Showroom in Saginaw, Michigan.