The story of JCB whose distinctive yellow machines are found on almost every building site in the land, goes back to 1945. This was when Joseph Cyril Bamford CBE (1916-2001) was sacked by his father’s brother for being too entrepreneurial. As Brian Spencer soon discovered on a visit to the Story of JCB exhibition at the company’s factory set in the Rocester countryside, that sacking led to the development of an international business still owned and run by the Bamford family.
As a young man Mr JCB as he is fondly remembered, began work at the family firm. They originally started out in business in the late 1830s when Mr JCB’s great-grandfather Henry Bamford completed an apprenticeship and started trading as a blacksmith in Uttoxeter. In 1871 Henry helped his son Samuel establish the Leighton Ironworks Company in Uttoxeter which later became Henry Bamford and Sons, agricultural machinery makers. For years they specialised in machines such as turnip shredders to make cattle feed, or muck spreaders and other everyday items of agricultural necessities. Realising that times were changing even in the farming world, young JC Bamford regularly came up with ways of improving the firm. Unfortunately his ideas were too radical and this led to him being taken aside by his father’s brother and quietly told to go elsewhere.
Being sacked in 1945 could not have come at a better time for someone prepared to take advantage of his inbred vision and an inventive mind. With the country just coming out of six years of war, farmers were under pressure to increase yields in order to feed a population ready to throw off the shackles of austerity. Mechanised improvements were welcomed, but they would be held back by the lack of both steel shortages and the need to convert factories back into peacetime mode.
Not to be deterred, Joseph Cyril Bamford rented a lock-up garage in the quiet market town of Uttoxeter. Helped by two dedicated employees and with a second-hand welding set, he converted ex-army trailers into something farmers could hitch on to the petrol driven tractors that were appearing everywhere. Starting with two-wheels and then four, followed by hydraulically assisted tippers, these trailers were the start of a global business which has sold more than one million machines since it began. While Mr JCB’s company has gone from strength to strength, the original Bamford agricultural equipment manufacturer no longer exists.
Right from the start, JCB’s plan was to build a company that was way ahead of its competitors and be the best. Very much a hands on employer, in 1949 JC Bamford designed and built the first Major Loader, a machine based on the Fordson tractor. It featured hydraulic arms to which shovels, muck forks, bulldozer blades and other attachments could be fitted, making it ideal for both agricultural and construction work. Four years later came JCB’s most famous innovation, a machine that changed the world.
During a business trip to Norway, Mr Bamford saw a lightweight excavator on a trailer hitched behind a tractor. This gave him the idea of fitting hydraulic rams directly to the back of a tractor, a layout that would give almost a circular reach. By incorporating the prototype on to a Major Loader, the first backhoe loader was born. Its design became the first of a family of backhoe loaders, a concept that has continued with modifications and improvements up until the present day. Variations of this design all in their distinctive JCB-yellow livery and the standard logo on their sides, can be seen digging trenches around the world.
In 1978, the decision was made to turn JCB into a truly global player. With an injection of the equivalent of two years’ pre-tax profits, it began the most far reaching research and development programme ever carried out in the industry. In 1980, the first 3CX backhoe loader rolled off the production line, a machine that continues to define backhoe loaders worldwide. This was rapidly followed in 1991 by the Fastrac, a fully suspended, four-wheel drive farm vehicle which would be equally at home on the road as well as operating as a conventional agricultural tractor in the field.
Another innovation also came about when JCB faced by hold-ups with the supply of Fordson diesel engines, the company’s then main source of power. This was during the time when the UK motor manufacturing industry was beset by strikes. Rather than being tied to this uncontrollable and yet major part of its production, the company decided to make its own engines. The result of this far sighted decision was the Dieselmax, JCB’s 4.4 & 4.8 litre environmentally efficient four cylinder diesel engines, with an output of 84 and 173 bhp respectively. The ultimate accolade for these engines was when two slightly modified Dieselmax 444s were used to power the car that broke the world speed record for diesel-powered cars. This was run at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA at an average speed of 350.092mph (563.418kph).
In 1975 Joseph Cyril Bamford CBE, Mr JCB, handed over the running of the firm to his son Anthony who was born on the same day his father founded the company – October 23rd 1945. Mr JCB’s son, later Lord Bamford, as he is now known has taken the company forwards, becoming a global leader in its field. Collecting many awards for export achievements and design, JCB’s major expansion has been into India which Lord Bamford recognised as a potential growth market almost two decades before anyone else. Setting up locally based manufacturing facilities, it has led to India becoming JCB’s largest single market.
Continuing his father’s legacy for innovation, Lord Bamford has transformed the company into the world-class business of today, with 22 manufacturing facilities on four continents. In all there are over 300 models covering mini excavators, skid loaders, and mid-range machines such as the iconic backhoe loader range and the industry-leading Loadall telescopic handler.
All of JCB’s global interests are controlled from the attractively landscaped premises next to the B5030 opposite the small rural Staffordshire town of Rocester. What grew from a tiny lock-up garage can now be found in a town that was once a housed remote Roman garrison, but where time has hardly stood still.
‘THE STORY OF JCB’ Exhibition
Very much a place for ‘dads and lads’, the exhibition traces the development of JCB’s company and fills most of the first floor of the administrative block to the west of the landscaped lawns and lake frontage of JCB’s world headquarters in Rocester. The exhibition fills what was once in pre-computer days, the design office of JCB. Then, as now, open plan, the history of JCB can be traced through farm machinery and JCB’s wooden garage, to a collection of both early and later models of the company’s range of mechanised muscle. Mr JCB’s original office, open plan along with the rest of the floor, is left as it was when he could watch over both the production line and design team. Now used for VIP meetings the room was left almost as it was on the day he retired in 1975 – a long way from the tiny lock-up garage in Uttoxeter.
The state of the art visitor centre cost £5 million and gives visitors a glimpse of the history of JCB, from the turnip chopping agricultural machinery of the 19th century Bamford Company, to JCB’s Uttoxeter garage, through to the huge backhoe earth movers of today. Every machine had to be crane-lifted through prepared gaps in the roof, but one was so big and heavy it can only be shown in skeleton form. Also in pride of place is the record breaking diesel engined DIESELMAX car which still holds the land- speed record of 350.092mph (563.418kph).
With a shop selling JCB memorabilia alongside Brittains model backhoes and the like, ‘The Story of JCB’, makes an enjoyable insight into both the history of JCB and the almost bewildering range of earth moving equipment made more or less on our doorstep.
THE STORY OF JCB Exhibition is open for visits for individuals or groups, providing they are booked in advance off the JCB website –
www.jcb.com Shop open to employees and visitors only.
THE STORY OF JCB Exhibition and company world headquarters are situated off the B5030, Ashbourne/Uttoxeter road at Rocester.