by Dave Shuh
The history of windshield repair is filled with entrepreneurs and individuals who overcame great many hurdles to become successful. While this history mainly deals with the companies that manufacture the tools required to produce a repair, it is not meant to downgrade the activities of service technicians who actually did the repairs. Without the great efforts of individual pioneering retailers the industry would not have prospered and grown. People like Lucille Massey (Houston), Bill Batley (Seattle), Bruce Quande (Missoula, Mo.) and Cindy Rowe Taylor (Harrisburg, Pa.) were responsible for talking to consumers and doing repairs. Also, this brief history deals only with work that was started in the United States. Many of these companies later spread around the world, forming other companies and associations. Without the efforts of all these people windshield repair would not be where it is today.
Automobile glass repair or what is generally called windshield repair is a recent innovation when compared to the history of the automobile. The technology needed to repair glass relates to the introduction of multiple layers of glass (laminated safety glass) in windshields. Laminated glass allows the windshield to remain basically intact, and for a repair to be done by removing the air in the damaged area and replacing it with a resin. Although laminated glass in automobiles dates back to the 1930s, real improvements came in the 1960s with the improved plastic inner layer of polyvinyl butyral (PVB). Prior to the early 1970s when the first windshield repair process was invented, the only improvement that could be done was purely cosmetic. Typically, an oil-based fluid was poured into the area to fill the damage and to “hide” the break. It has been said that some used car dealers did this to try to sell a vehicle without installing a new windshield. It should go without saying that this was not a permanent repair.
The first company to produce a repair system was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) Company in St. Paul, Minn. The 3M Company first introduced a system they called “Scotch Weld” in 1971. This system employed ultra sound vibrations to clean the break and a syringe to inject a resin, or adhesive into the damage. The equipment successfully repaired “bullseye” type damage, but unfortunately was very large (filling the bed of a pick-up truck) and was very expensive to build and thus to lease to others. It is said that 3M did a good job of introducing the concept of windshield repair to insurance companies, but decided to pursue other products when the repair equipment failed to attain the volume that they required.
In 1972, Origin Inc., a research company founded by Dr. Frank Warner in Jackson Hole, Wyo., developed a process for repairing stone damaged windshields. Dr. Warner had personally experienced stones breaking his windshield, and had directed work on a solution to repair the glass, rather than replace the entire windshield. A key member of Dr. Warner’s company, was Bill Wiele, a chemical engineer who developed adhesive resins that would be clear and optically match the windshield glass. Dr. Warner decided to license his invention to a former associate, Gerry Keinath. Keinath had recently started a small company, Novus Inc. to market innovative products. Novus was responsible for much of the early pioneering work with insurance companies and fleet operators to convince them of the merits of repairing windshields. During the early days of Novus, the efforts were concentrated towards selling equipment to glass replacement shops and automotive dealers. While a significant amount of equipment was sold, not many repairs were being done. At the same time, Keinath noticed that there was a small and growing group of individuals who were offering the service of windshield repair using the Novus equipment. He decided to concentrate on working with “repair only” specialists. He began by licensing the process to these individuals, and later in the mid 1980s moved into full-fledged franchising of the business.
In the mid 1970s, as Novus was establishing its “repair-only” specialists, another company began by selling a “vacuum” windshield repair system within the glass replacement market. Mort Gallub in suburban Philadelphia founded Glass Medic. Gallub owned one of the largest auto reconditioning operations on the East Coast and found that replacing windshields meant his profit margins on used vehicles became very slim. He had heard of the early progress of repair, and experimented with various systems. Mort hired a research engineer to improve on the system and eventually developed a “vacuum pump” process that he used within his reconditioning business. Gallub hired Bill Matles, a young glass replacement specialist to market the product. In the 1980s Glass Medic became the largest selling product within the glass replacement industry.
As the 1970s came to a close, the word of windshield repair began to spread, a number of other companies began operations. Many began by first doing repairs, and then by producing their own equipment. Tony and Gerry Jacino started Clear Star in New York, Hap Alexander founded Glas-Weld Systems in Oregon and John Surdich started Kemxert in Pennsylvania.
In the early 1980s two companies that were very big in auto glass replacement produced and sold repair equipment. Harmon Glass in Minneapolis manufactured a system they called the “Harmonizer,” and Auto Glass Specialists under Bob Birkhauser formed a division called AEGIS which produced and sold their equipment. In 1984, Walt and Darlene Deines formed Delta Kits in Oregon. Their son, Brent Deines, now runs Delta Kits.
In 1981, Gene Curwick started doing windshield repair in Minneapolis and in 1985, he started marketing his own resins and tools. In the mid to late 1980s more companies started producing equipment. Dan Wanstrath produced equipment that was automated and formed Glass Technology in Colorado. Tom Sloan, Steve Ameter, and Steve Beck formed Liquid Resins International in Illinois with specialization as an independent supply house with multiple resins. Joyce Newsome started Tri Glass in Washington State. Ken Einiger, concentrating on sales to people wanting to start their own businesses, founded Glass Mechanix in Florida. Rich Campfield started Ultra Bond in California by specializing in equipment to repair long cracks. Rich later moved his company to Colorado.
In the 1990s windshield repair continued to grow with more companies entering the business, and some changing ownership. While we can’t list all of the new companies and changes, here are a few of the more prominent ones. Keith Surdich left Kemxert and formed his own company Poly-Lite W/R Supplies in Pennsylvania. Dave Casey founded Super Glass Windshield Repair with Bill Costello and became one of two companies offering windshield repair as a franchised product and Bill Penrod formed US Windshield Repair in Orange, Calif. In the very early 1990s Glass Medic was sold to its largest international customer, Belron International, the largest glass replacement retailer in the world. The North American rights were sold to Dave Schuh, a former manager of Novus. Dave operated the company until the late 1990s when Belron purchased it back. It is now operating as Glass Medic America under the leadership of Paul Syfko. Also in the 1990s, the Keinath family sold Novus to Trans Canada Glass International (TCGI).
By the year 2000, significant changes occurred in repair-versus-replacement marketing. Although repair had been done by independent replacement dealers, and to a limited amount by some of the larger U.S. retailers, many replacement dealers, and most large retailers did not devote a major effort toward repair. While repair was being done by leading replacement companies in Europe, such as Belron’s Carglass and Autoglass divisions, it was not done to the same extent in the U.S. In 1998 the marketing of windshield repair changed dramatically when Safelite Auto Glass, the largest glass replacement retailer in the U.S., decided to embrace windshield repair by forming a unit specializing in repair. Safelite’s Repair Medic program was developed under the leadership of Paul Gross. The Repair Medic operation spread to major markets in the United States offering repair directly from Safelite. In early 2002 another of the large U.S. auto glass replacement dealers, Harmon Auto Glass, founded its own repair only division under the name RepairOne to concentrate on windshield repair.
While companies concentrating on “repairs only service” continue to do the largest number of repairs, windshield repair has also proven itself as a viable alternative product offered by most retail service companies in auto glass. And the predictions are that repair will continue to grow as insurance companies and consumers understand the cost and product benefits. Today windshield repair is an accepted product, not only in the United States, but also within almost every country around the world.