Male, born 1850-06, died 1936-05-23

Associated with the firm network

Austin Company, Building Contractors

Professional History


According the firm's own web site, the company had 17 branch offices outside Cleveland by 1931. (See The Austin, "The Austin Company History," accessed 04/01/2018.) Significant for West Coast architectural history, The Austin Company established two branch offices in CA, where it could oversee early projects building sound studios for the Hollywood film industry. After the Second World War, Austin became a leading builder of television studios; it has claimed to have been responsible for the erection of 50 of the first 75 television studios built in the US between 1945 and 1955. (See The Austin, "The Austin Company History," accessed 04/01/2018.)

Principal, Samuel Austin, Building Contractor, Cleveland, OH, 1878-1899.

Partner, Samuel Austin and Son, Building Contractors and Engineers, Cleveland, OH, 1899-1916. His son, Wilbert J. Austin (1876-1940), a college-educated engineer, joined the office in 1899. The Austins were some of the first, if not the first, to operate a construction business that also offered engineering services to corporate clients. This combination of services would become commonplace by the mid-twentieth century.

Frequently innovative, the firm pioneered the concept of the standardized factory. Its web site stated: "In 1914, Wilbert J. Austin conceived the idea of standardized factory design. Very much akin to Henry Ford’s strategy with Model T cars, this new standardized design proved to be more efficient, safer and cost effective. Unlike the basic black Model T however, Austin developed 10 different styles of industrial buildings, all customizable to meet client needs. This approach provided clients with flexibility in selecting and customizing a building to fulfill their unique requirements, and it also allowed for an efficiency in the design and building process that was unheard of at that time." (See The Austin, "The Austin Company History," accessed 04/01/2018.) This was the right idea at the right time, and fueled the firm's very rapid growth during World War I and the 1920s.

The Los Angeles Timestrumpeted the news in 1921 that The Austin Company was moving its Pacific Coast Headquarters from San Francisco to Los Angeles. A prime reason for the company's shift from Northern to Southern CA was the lack of strong unionism in Los Angeles. John Harnish, Pacific Coast Manager for The Austin Company wrote: “‘The Austin Company, working under conditions of Los Angeles climate, Los Angeles free labor through the open shop, Los Angeles building laws, antiquated and unsuited to the demands of so great a city as some declare, but administered and enforced without interference of walking delegates and business agents of restrictive unions; working under these conditions and the accessibility of material either by local production or adequate transportation, the plant of the Rich Steel Products Company was completed and ready for occupancy in seventy-five days from the time it was begun. Contrasted with this record is another factory building contracted by the same Austin Company for another industry, for erection in the Bay district and begun before the work on the Rich plan was started and not as large nor as difficult as the Rich plant. Working under bay district conditions of closed shop, obstructive labor unions and collusive officials, some of who are now under indictment; bay district conditions or obstructive pooling among the construction contractors with ‘rings’ of interference with individual rights, this contract has just been completed after working on it a full year, whereas, there was no natural reason why it should not have been finished in less time than the Rich plant.’” (See “Finds Los Angeles Best for Factory Building,” Los Angeles Times, 01/23/1921, p. V1.) This emphasis on hyper-productivity was seen as particularly important in the early 1920s when building shortages slowed construction output to frustratingly low levels. There was also strong reaction against labor unions and other "Bolsheviks" just after World War I, during the years of the Red Scare. Kinks in the supply chain were worked out by the mid-1920s, ushering in a colossal building boom across the US.

Another Austin milestone was the early adoption of new electric arc-welding technologies. The firm wrote: "In 1928, Austin – at its own expense – designed and constructed the Upper Carnegie Building. This was the world’s first all-welded steel frame commercial building, utilizing arc welding technology developed by Lincoln Electric Company. Austin’s focus on innovation and research further solidified the Company’s position as a design-build leader."(See The Austin, "The Austin Company History," accessed 04/01/2018.)

President, The Austin Company, Cleveland, OH, 1916-c. 1930; the company was renamed "The Austin Company" in 1916.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, by 1936, Austin's firm had built more than 5,000 factories in the US and around the world. Samuel and Wilbert signed a notable $60 million contract with Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union in 1929, to build a entire manufacturing city, the plants incorporating the latest American ideas of assembly-line design. The automobile production facility here would be able to produce 150,000 cars per year. The commission was completed in a year and a half. Samuel Austin and his son Wilbert looked abroad to increase their sales; weeks after the Armistice ending World War I, Wilbert made hasty plans to promote Austin Plan Standard Factory Buildings and other steel products in ravaged France and Belgium.



Born in England, Samuel Austin became a carpenter, and decided to migrate to the US in the days after the Chicago Fire of 1871. AUstin never settled in that city, but instead remained where business opportunities presented themselves in Cleveland, OH. According to a 1918 US Passport Application for his son Wilbert J. Austin, Samuel came to the US in 1872 on a ship from Liverpool, UK, and was naturalized c. 1875. He worked for another building contractor erecting houses in Cleveland for about six years, before opening his own business in 1878. His first large commission outside the city of Cleveland came for the Western Mineral Wool Company of Cleveland for a new plant in Chicago. He followed this success with a job to build Cleveland's first electric lamp factory; this commission led to a seried of factories for the National Electric Lamp Association (NELA), a forerunner of the huge conglomerate General Electric (GE). Over the years, The Austin Company would build many notable faciliities for NELA, including a 1911 contract to build NELA Park, one of the first corporate research centers, in East Cleveland.

By 1918, Samuel Austin had moved to Willoughby, OH. By at least the 1920s, Austin also had a winter residence in Florida. He died at his Willoughby home with his son at his side.


Samuel Austin married his wife, Sarah Grim (born 07/1851 in England), c. 1874.


According to the US Census of 1900, Samuel and Sarah had had eight children, five of whom were alive at the turn of the century: Ida M. (born 05/1875 in OH), Wilbert J. Austin (1876-1940), Lillian E. (born 04/1883 in OH), "Floucie L." (may have been misspelled, born 06/1885 in OH) and Ethel M. (born 04/1887 in OH).

Associated Locations

  • Willoughby, OH (Architect's Death)
    Willoughby, OH

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PCAD id: 6482