F&M MAFCO has been in business since 1945 and was founded by Bob McKenna Sr. and his father-in-law, A.I. Friedmann. Following is the story of how the company was started in the words of the original 'M' of F&M, Bob McKenna Sr.
Bandages, Balloons, and Soap by, Bob McKenna Sr.
In September 1945, I was discharged from the Army Air Corps. My wife Mary and I moved in with her parents, mom and dad (Al) Friedmann. We lived on the western side of Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon after, the Department of War Assets announced veterans could buy surplus from the government on 'veteran's privileges', which meant they would sell items to you on a fixed price. I wanted to get a car this way, but few were available, so I went downtown each week to 7th and Race Streets to try to get one. On one visit, a man told me he had bought some briefcases and sold them to Shillito's (a local department store) for 5 times what he had paid for them. This sounded interesting, and I talked to Dad about it. We agreed that this might be a way to make some extra money.
The next day, we went down to War Assets, buying waterproof matches, flight suits, and 1,000 huck towels (the kind the barber put on your face). It took us a month to sell all the towels, which we bought at .15¢ each.
Next we bought 1,000 balloons for .30¢ each. They were balloons like you would be familiar with today. A balloon in 1946 was a rare item because rubber had been vital to the war effort. We sold them for .50¢ each. Then we bought 3,000 more balloons at 15¢ a piece. Unknown to us, this lot was different from the first. They blew up 8 foot wide, had a 2' inch diameter neck and required a vacuum cleaner to inflate them. We sold the balloons for $1.50 each, a tremendous amount of money then. When they popped the men would complain and wanted their money back. Sales slowed considerably, and we still had 2,000 to sell. I went down to War Assets, explaining that the balloons were not the same as before, and the worker told me that everything was classified according to wide ranging government specifications, so as long as an item fell within the parameters it could be sold on a buyer beware basis. He told me he knew of a guy who bought balloons all over the country and would see what he could do to help.
A few weeks later, a big car pulled up in the driveway at home, where we worked out of. Mr. Peters, a 'carnival man' from Washington DC, got out and told us he knew we paid .30¢ for some balloons and would give us .35¢. We were thrilled and took the money. He gave us his card and told us to call if we ever got more.
Sometime later, I went to a government sale in Lexington, Kentucky to buy things we could sell to hardware stores. Balloons would also be available. The day before the sale was a 'free-for-all'. You had to write down all the lot numbers on paper, turn it in and hope that there were supplies left for you. I saw Mr. Peters, who said he would buy my 10,000 balloon allotment for 18¢ each, which would give me a $300 profit. I made the deal, but needed $1500 to buy the balloons from the government, and I only had $500 in cash. The cashier said we'll take a company check, and gave me a blank check. The first thing that came to me was 'Star Sales'. I wrote the check out for $1000, made payable to The Government of the United States, from a company that didn't exist on an account at the 5/3 Bank which we didn't have. I quickly drove home in my recently purchased '38 Chevrolet, so at 9:00 AM I would be at 5/3 Bank. The $1800 that Mr. Peters had paid me went into an account under the name of Star Sales. -That was the beginning of what we now call F&M MAFCO.
One month later, we were still buying and selling miscellaneous items, struggling, as we really didn't know what we were doing. In one of the many trips to War Assets I heard a worker on the phone telling someone there was Colgate Laundry Soap for sale and to hurry down to get some. We knew how to sell laundry soap because everybody wanted it, as it was in very short supply. Going to the Veteran's Privilege manager, John Sheehan, a good old Irishman, I mentioned that we had priority authorization to buy hardware but couldn't buy soap because the government classified that as medical supplies. Sheehan told us he couldn't give us the soap. I didn't cry big tears, but pleaded for his help, explaining we had one son and another on the way. He replied, 'How can I refuse a pleading Irishman?' He granted me a $5000 priority to buy laundry soap, and I went back to the desk out front to get some.
Unfortunately, the worker who had been whispering on the phone told me that he had none available. Not being daunted, I went downstairs to the Medical Supply manager, who told me that he couldn't give me any help. In the midst of conversation, just like out of a movie, there was a knock on the door. A fellow stepped in and said, 'Oh, aren't you Bobby McKenna from Overlook Avenue?' At the time, I was 26 years old, and had not lived on Overlook since I was six in 1926. How or why he remembered me, I don't know. I still do not know who he was, but he must have been rather high up in authority because he told the Medical Supply Manager and the fellow behind the desk (who admitted he was saving the soap for his friends) to give me 500 cases and the rest to everyone else. The next day, a friend of mine called from the Louisville, Kentucky public warehouse, where the Colgate laundry soap was stored, and said there was an additional 300 cases of soap available. We ended up with 800 cases of laundry soap, which was a beautiful thing because, as I said, it was in short supply and we could sell it for a good profit.
A few months later, Mom and Dad were going to dinner with the Hoaglands. Fred Hoagland was an erector for the Babcock and Wilcox Company. We conducted small talk in the living room, and he told us about what B&W was doing and how they could be doing more, if only they had the tools. I inquired about what type of tools they were looking for, and he said, 'Why don't you come down to the Kentucky Utilities project in Tyrone, KY. I'll be glad to show you.' The next week we drove down and Fred showed us that they were using air tools, electric tools, and so on. I remembered, in Louisville where we bought the balloons, there were 12 inch adjustable wrenches, which were much needed in those days. Calling a friend of mind in Indianapolis, who had bought them, he sold me 100 wrenches at $1.00 each. B&W's district supervisor, Bill Hixon, (who Fred had introduced me to) bought them all for $1.50 each.
Bill Hixon introduced me to Dave Oberle of the Oberle Jorde Company, who also took 100 wrenches, which gave us customer number two in the boiler erection business. From there, we had two customers who were looking for the tools that had been shown to us on the job.
It worked out real well. Time wore on and I stayed close to B&W. Bill Hixon would write field purchase orders and we started to do quite a bit of business with them. B&W was a very large company and money didn't flow as fast as it should. Dad would get quite concerned that it was 30 days and we were not paid, but we knew you couldn't push these people too much. Bill Hixon said to go up to Barberton, Ohio, and speak to a Jimmy Quinn. Jimmy and I had a long discussion. He showed me specific items they needed that were in short supply. This was a big help in being able to develop F&M because when we found something all I had to do was call Jimmy and explain what it was and we would make a profit on it. Sometimes he would even tell me 'that's too cheap, we ought to charge more' and we would. B&W started sending us purchase orders from the main office, which meant we were paid faster. We also continued to get business from Oberle Jorde, and it all came together.
Credit was a problem in the early days, and everything had to be in cash, up front. We bought Billings and Spencer ball pein hammers. A truck would pull in the driveway at home, and we would unload it. One time they delivered an order that wasn't COD. I immediately sent a check in anyway because we couldn't afford to lose them. I called the factory and they said they set us up on account. For many years our only credit reference was the Billings and Spencer Hammer Company.
Our first location was in dad's garage on Overlook, where we were from 1945 to 1948. Eventually the garage wouldn't hold it all so we rented two garage bays from Leisgangs for $15 per month on Race Road, which later was to become the MAFCO building. In 1950 we went to 1820 Race Street. One of the many strange items we had to move from Race Road was 30,000 Plaster of Paris bandages. In 1952 Abe Friedmann came home from serving with the Army in Germany, and joined us full time. Around late 1953 we went to 3200 Warsaw, across from the police station, in the basement. From there we went to Crookshank in 1955, and rented an office and 1-1/2 buildings, we thought we were quite an operation. We were there from 1956 to 1963. After that was Race Road again, only this time we had the whole lot, from 1963 to 1980, and then we came to Harrison.
It is kind of impossible to believe that all this happened from such meager beginnings. It was for many years a day to day operation, so that every Friday we tried to have enough money to take home, put food on table and hopefully take care of all the necessity of life. God was very good to us and I am very thankful for the business and the wonderful group of people we have. It is such a pleasure to think back of this and how it all started. It was a very simple and lean beginning. Thank you.