Helen Fitzgerald was hired by Company founder Art Parker on November 6, 1923. She was a confident 20-year-old woman, who grew up on Cleveland’s West Side as the oldest of six children. After high school, she attended secretarial school and worked for a collection agency and a stenographer at the Starr Piano Company before taking the position at the Parker Appliance Company.
During her job interview, Art and his business partner, Carl Klamm, offered Helen the job on the spot, but also divulged the financial struggles the Company was experiencing resulting from their accident on the Lincoln Highway. They had lost all of the Company’s inventory over the side of a cliff while travelling to the Boston Automobile Show. Helen agreed to a deferred salary with the promise of a bonus if the company became profitable after three months.
As Helen examined the company’s books, she quickly discovered that they were very close to insolvency. In a desperate attempt to save the Company, Art mortgaged all their assets, including machinery, tools and inventory on March 25, 1924. Soon after, one of the Company’s largest creditors, filed a petition to put the Parker Appliance Company into bankruptcy.
Helen was called to testify during the bankruptcy hearing to help determine whether the company or Art owned the rights to the die-form coupler. The invention was highly valuable because it could form the foundation of any fluid power system, proving a means of sealing the components of the system tightly enough to prevent leakage. Helen defended Art’s claim that the majority of the directors had been present when Art and KIamm had signed the ownership agreement. The directors disputed her testimony and the bankruptcy judge later ruled that the rights to the die form coupler belonged to the company – not Art.
On October 31, 1924, Art formed a new corporation of the same name, the Parker Appliance Company. Realizing the creditors of his first company had not taken the step of patenting the technology for the die form coupler, Art filed a patent for a two-piece flared tube fitting using the same principles. To ensure he never lost the rights to another one of his inventions, he filed the patent in his own name on February 27, 1925. With Helen’s support, he would be attributed with 158 patents over many years to come.
The fledging aviation industry offered a new opportunity for Art’s leak-free fluid power systems, ultimately supporting Charles Lindbergh’s first transcontinental flight in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. Over the next 17 years, Art’s ever-increasing sales to aircraft manufacturers allowed him to reach economies of scale to enhance profitability, while becoming one of the industry’s lowest cost suppliers.
In the fall of 1926, Art asked Helen out on their first date to see Bob Hope’s vaudeville group at Playhouse Square in Cleveland. Their relationship evolved over the next year, with Art eventually asking Helen to marry him in December 1927.
Art had been planning to attend an industrial show in Pittsburgh the following week, so the couple decided to make the trip their honeymoon. After they arrived, Art sent his business partner, Klamm, a letter delivering the surprising news:
“If Glenn Martin’s check comes in… wire me fifty dollars at Wm. Penn. Hotel in Pittsburgh… Otherwise do not bother. You will probably be a little surprised, but I have taken possession of Miss Fitzgerald for good – we will be home after the first of the year.” Helen added, “Mr. Klamm, I’ll let you kiss the bride when we return.”
Art and Helen Parker's first child, Patrick, was born on October 16, 1929. Another son, Tom, was born in 1931. Daughter Joyce was born in 1933, and Cynthia in 1937, creating a vibrant, loving family.
As The Great Depression unfolded in the early 1930s, the Parker Appliance Company expanded its product offering to include copper tubing for high pressure steam conveyance and lubricants. Helen examined Art’s lubricant “recipes” and recorded the formulas with suggested improvements. In 1933, he obtained a patent on a lubricant called “Sealube,” and credited Helen for its success. Fortunately, the aircraft industry was one of the few that continued to expand amid terrible economic conditions.
Helen would be called upon to uphold her husband’s dream once again when he passed away suddenly on New Year’s Day 1945. To keep Parker running and against the advice of the board, Helen reinvested the proceeds from her husband’s $1 million life insurance policy back into the company. She hired new management, and together they made the visionary decision to diversify.
Helen submitted 26 new patents under Art Parker’s name after he passed away in an effort to continue his dream of inventing innovative, precise and reliable designs for the industrial world.
On August 17, 1965, Helen passed away at age 62. In the end, she was comforted to know that her son Patrick was poised to lead Parker Hannifin well into the future.
Learn more about Parker's full history on our website.
Watch this video narrated by Art Parker in 1934 with details of the history and day in the life of Parker Appliance. Note Helen Parker's appearance at 1:20 sec of the video.
Globally, Parker's Business Resource Group, Peer W and all team members are looking forward to expanding recognition of International Women's Day and all Parker leaders like Helen Parker. This year, between March 5 - 9 Parker facilities will observe International Women's Day (globally observed on Sunday March 8), by hosting Peer W recruitment events, speakers, training, picture booths and other supportive activities. The theme this year is Each for Equal, where an equal world is an enabled world. Please join Parker and Peer W in celebrating this day.
Article contributed by Erica Isabella, internal communications manager, Parker Hannifin.
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