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Chicago Steel Tape: A History

June 26, 2012

Daniel M Wheeler was born in Massachusetts in 1846 and grew to be a civil engineer who designed various bridges and railroads. While working on a survey team he began to use women’s hoopskirt wire as a survey tape. This led to the creation of the Chicago Steel Tape Company in the later 1800’s, for the purposes of producing this reliable steel tape for surveying land.

In 1903 Levi Sawyer purchased CST, and later in 1941 his son Charles became the CST president with the sudden demise of his father. Charles Sawyer had a son in law named Dennis Nardini, Dennis worked for Mr. Sawyer for 6 years, but in 1969 at the young age of 26 years old, Dennis purchased the company CST from Mr. Sawyer’s estate. Once Nardini became head of the then, 26-man company, he began to add range poles, Chicago style leveling rods, and Babbitt chains to the company’s product portfolio. Nardini focused on building a talented team of employees to stand behind his company’s daily decisions. As he did so, pivotal, ground breaking products like the Magna Trak were born. CST continued to prosper and grow, making key company purchases like McHenry Systems, which was acquired because of its talent for producing prism glass technologies, as well as Watts Tool Products.

Key acquisitions, good leadership, and establishing a strong international presence as a world wide exporter, were all strong factors that helped them fuel their way to success. Today 30% of CST sales are from exporting their lines, and the company has seen growth of six-fold since the early nineties. The nineties brought international deals with European distributors in Germany, for the GPS back pack and antenna, as well as deals that included an ancillary equipment line. In 1995 they struck a deal with a manufacturer in China, which led them to begin manufacturing their labor-intensive line of optical and laser equipment overseas. In addition, CST was able to make an agreement with a company in India to manufacture leveling rods, tripods, and measuring wheels. All told these two deals helped Chicago Steel Tape secure a strong competitive advantage in the production of their high quality products.






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