April 21 2008 12:00 AM

Hunter Industries

For almost half a century Ed Hunter has had a major impact on the irrigation industry. He passed on in January of this year and we miss him. Driven to reach beyond his grasp through a thought process that cunningly foresaw the future, Edwin J. Hunter will live on through his creative force. His contributions will stand as a monument to his ingenuity. I spent some time with Ed Hunter in the late 1970s and '80s. He was a humble man, quiet and gentle and blessed with a mind beaming with brilliance. In 1937 Ed began his industrial career when he teamed up with his brother, to form a company known as Hunter-Douglas, to manufacture venetian blinds. In those days the blinds were made of wood. Ed, while still in his 20s, designed and patented the roll-form machinery used to make flexible aluminum blinds. The company is still in business today. "Thought I'd take a years' vacation after that job." Ed once related to me, "I had been working for the company for 16 years, 15 hours a day, seven days a week." That never happened. A neighbor had obtained a patent for a tensiometer which automatically controlled irrigation. Whenever he had a problem he kept going to Ed for help. Ed was quite frank about his limited knowledge of irrigation. "I didn't know anything about the irrigation business, and to complicate matters further, I didn't realize I was lacking in this knowledge. I soon took it on as a hobby," Ed told me. The hobby soon became a business when, in 1952 Ed formed a company called Moist-O-Matic. He began to market a six-station controller and valves which employed the use of the tensiometer which was eventually withdrawn. However, Ed was established in the irrigation business. In 1957, plastic sprinkler heads were unknown in the irrigation business. The first plastic sprinkler head manufactured by Moist-O-Matic made a stunning impact in the field. "By merely using a new material as a substitute to make the same product, the best you can come up with is a cheap substitute," explained Ed. "But, if you design a product around the inherent qualities and features of the material, you can develop a different and superior product." Ed then began work on a gear-driven sprinkler, and in 1960 he released a gear-driven pop-up sprinkler. In 1962, Ed sold the company to Toro, with the understanding that he would stay on for a period of three years. That relationship lasted 18 years. During that time, Ed pioneered plastic valves, valve-in-head golf course sprinklers and the stream rotor. In 1981, after 20 years with the company, Toro encouraged Hunter to retire. Ed felt he was at the height of his creative talents. He believed new markets existed for more sophisticated water-efficient gear drives and controllers. "I'm too young to retire and too old to switch careers," he quipped. Hunter Industries, the brainchild of Ed Hunter built a new innovative assembly production line in a brand new facility to introduce a new line of sprinklers. The irrigation world waited for him to open his doors. When they did open, it was like a flood. The rest is history. Hunter Industries, it seems overnight, took its place as one of the leaders in the irrigation industry. Ed Hunter was truly a pioneer in the industry. His contributions to the landscape irrigation industry were precursors of a technical and marketing revolution. His innovative products made automatic landscape irrigation more affordable and efficient, and an important part of the 20th century American landscape. It will be a long time before another Ed Hunter passes this way again. His legacy and his name will live on for generations to come. To me,Ed Hunter was much more, he was a warm, caring human being. I shall remember him with reverence.