William W. Grainger

William W. Grainger
William W. Grainger
Pioneer of entrepreneurship and innovation as Founder and Chief Executive of W. W. Grainger, Inc.

Honored Posthumously

William W. “Bill” Grainger founded a wholesale electric motor sales and distribution business in Chicago in 1927. The following year, the business was incorporated as W. W. Grainger, Inc.  Sales in the early days were generated primarily through mail order via postcards and a catalog. The MotorBook, as the catalog was originally called, was the basis for today’s Grainger catalog.

To improve customer service, the company opened a branch in Philadelphia in 1933, and then three additional branches the following year. By 1937, the business had sales offices around the country and annual sales of $1 million. Grainger became a public company in 1967. Today, grainger stock is sold under the GWW symbol on the New York and Chicago stock exchanges.

As sales passed $100 million in 1968, Bill Grainger retired and was succeeded as company chief by his son David. An innovative company, Grainger was the first in the industry to implement optical character recognition equipment.  The company also installed a national satellite-based digital communication network, introduced the first comprehensive electronic MRO catalog on CD-rom, and launched a website for online ordering. Today, Grainger’s product line includes more than 900,000 products and repair parts, and the 600-branch network spans the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, China, and Panama.

Bill Grainger’s philanthropic vision is reflected in the Grainger Foundation Inc. on this campus, the foundation made possible the Grainger Engineering Library Information Center, the Grainger Awards Program, and the Grainger Lecture Series. The Grainger Chair in Electrical Engineering was the first endowed academic position to be established in the College of Engineering. It is held by Professor Peter W. Sauer, a researcher in electrical power systems and co-director of the Advanced Power Applications Laboratory, also funded by The Grainger Foundation Inc.


BS, Electrical Engineering, 1919