Courtesy of W.F. Norman
By Jim Winnerman
The W.F. Norman Corporation in Nevada in southwestern Missouri is likely one of the most unusual success stories in America. The small firm produces architectural sheet metal, such as tin ceilings and elaborately designed cornices, and sells from the exact same catalogs it published in 1908. Even the plant equipment was purchased used when the firm began in 1898. Ornamental panels are made by operators who pull down on thick ropes to lift heavy embossed forms, which are then repeatedly dropped onto flat panels of sheet metal about as thick as a soda can. With the continual thud of the dropping forms, a visit to the factory feels like a visit to the Industrial Revolution. Stamped sheet metal ornamentation for building interiors and exteriors was in fashion from 1880 until the 1930s, when the firm switched to other pressed tin products. Around 1980, architectural ornamentation returned to popularity in both new buildings and renovations of older structures, and the firm was ready to fulfill the demand. Company owners had never disposed of any machinery or embossed plates that were put back into service, and old catalogs were reprinted. Today, W. F. Norman’s products can be seen in such diverse locations as Disneyland, the Smithsonian Institution, state capitols, and other elegant buildings throughout the world.