Hall of Fame
Alexander Rankin embodies the vision, creativity, and skills that set Illinois-educated engineers apart. He designed the automated machines that produce precision constant-force and constant-torque springs and founded his own company to facilitate worldwide distribution.
When he graduated in 1957, he set a goal of owning his own business in 10 years. In the following decade, he worked with Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., Powers Regulator Co., and Ametek, augmenting his engineering design and manufacturing expertise with marketing and sales skills.
In 1967, with one 23-year-old spring coiling machine that he had modified to make constant-force springs, one customer, and one order, Rankin started Vulcan Spring and Manufacturing Co., in his basement. Six months later, he moved Vulcan into a small factory and expanded with three additional machines. He designed his own machines and beat the competition in spring manufacturing systems through innovation and hard work. Today, Vulcan occupies a modern 55,000 square foot building.
The first commercial application of a Vulcan spring was to drive the speech mechanism of the "Talking G.I. Joe" doll. Today, the company manufactures custom-made parts for customers around the world. Vulcan's products are used in satellites, appliances, locomotives, surgical tools, buildings, and many other applications.
When his son took over the business, Rankin remained involved as chairman. About 10 years ago, he took on a new challenge as cofounder and Chairman of the FirstService Bank, which saw rapid and successful growth and is now a part of a large regional bank.
Rankin's entrepreneurial spirit has always been balanced by a strong sense of commitment to improving the spring industry. Active in the Spring Manufacturers Institute, he served as chairman of the Technology Committee for 12 years and as president for 2 years. He received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rankin supports many community projects and was a Deacon in the Hilltown Baptist Church. Over the years, he provided strong support to the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. He served on the department's Alumni Board and was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the department and the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the college.
In 1998, he endowed the James W. Bayne Professorship, honoring his machine design professor. Rankin credited the success of his initial and subsequent spring manufacturing machines to the machine design instruction he received in Professor Bayne's class and remembered his former professor as one whose optimism, enthusiasm, and caring made a difference in the lives of students. Following his example, Rankin has taken a special interest in supporting young entrepreneurs and special projects. Additionally, in 2003 Rankin established the Alexander Rankin Professorship in honor of the men after whom he was named: his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather.
BS, Mechanical Engineering, 1957