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This former factory complex was built beginning in 1941 by the National Twist Drill & Tool Company of Detroit to house a satellite manufacturing operation. During World War II, military demand for National Twist Drill's products was so high that the company quickly expanded its new facility in Avon Township (now known as Rochester Hills) and eventually transferred its entire operation there. National Twist Drill was the Rochester area's largest industrial enterprise by far and was one of the community's largest employers in its heyday. The company represented a part of the "Arsenal of Democracy" effort to win World War II. The Art Deco office buildings are unique architectural features within the community.

National Twist Drill & Tool Company, west elevation, 2020

National Twist Drill & Tool Company, west elevation, 2020

National Twist Drill and Tool Company was incorporated in Detroit, Michigan in 1903. William H. McGregor served as president of the company until 1926, when his nephew, Howard L. McGregor, Sr., took over as chief executive of the firm. National Twist Drill specialized in rotating metal cutting tools of the type that were in increasing demand in the growing automobile industry at the time. In 1939, McGregor purchased the former Barwise farm at the corner of Tienken and Rochester roads in Avon Township as a location for a suburban expansion of the company. Construction of the new plant was begun in 1940 and the first phase of the building was occupied in 1941. The nationally-recognized Austin Company of Cleveland, Ohio, built the plant and was responsible for the design of the factory spaces. Architect Richard H. Marr designed the Art Deco-style office building that fronts Rochester Road.

The Rochester Clarion announced on its front page on August 23, 1940: "Mr. Howard McGregor announced at a special meeting of the Village Council, held on August 21st, 1904, that the National Twist Drill Tool Co. would erect a modern rigid steel factor building 160 x 80 feet, on the Barwise Farm, 800 feet back from the Rochester road. This plant will be used for experimental purposes. The plans call for oil heat and for considerable landscaping of the property. Mr. McGregor announces that he will employ between 10 and 15 young men from Rochester."

Only a handful of employees worked at the plant when it first opened in 1941, but after Pearl Harbor was attacked and American industry transitioned to a war footing, National Twist Drill was working around the clock to fulfill defense contracts for cutting tools particularly in need by the Navy. At its wartime peak, the company's workforce at the Avon Township facility had grown to nearly 1,500. The company earned an Army-Navy "E" award for meeting wartime production goals, and the plant's protection force was federalized during the war because of its importance to the war effort. Armed guards patrolled the grounds and a manned watchtower was erected on top of the building. The Rochester Clarion announced on July 30, 1942: "Announcement was made this week by Superintendent Howard McGregor, Jr., of the National Twist Drill and Tool Co. that plant police were now members of the regular army military police following their induction last week. McGregor explained that the plant police now have authority to enforce the law anywhere in the United States or its possessions, and the plant is under Federal protection for the duration of the war."

National Twist Drill grew to be the largest employer in Avon Township in the post-World War II era, a distinction it held into the 1970s. The company was sold to Lear-Siegler, Inc. in 1968, and the workforce was downsized as the factory's work was moved to southern states where labor costs were lower. In November 1982 the plant's closure was announced; at that time, less than 300 employees remained. National Twist Drill's Avon Township plant closed on January 1, 1983. The buildings are currently used as a corporate park, housing office, warehouse and light industrial perations.

Architect Richard Henderson Marr was a native of Detroit and earned his degree in architecture from Harvard University. He then returned to Detroit to begin his practice, and later established the firm of Marr & Marr with his son, Carl. The National Twist Drill building was one of the later works of his career; Marr died in 1946.

City of Rochester Hills, Michigan. Historic District Study Committee. Preliminary Historic District Study Committee Report, National Twist Drill & Tool Company, Rochester, Hills, Michigan, Adopted September 13, 2012.

"Barwise Farm Purchased by H. MacGregor," Rochester Clarion, October 27, 1939, p.1.

"Factory to be Built Here," Rochester Clarion, August 23, 1940, p.1.

"First Unit at Twist Drill Ready June 1: Hurry to Roof Over South Unit to Provide Housing for Machines," Rochester Clarion, May 28, 1941, p.1.

"Twist Drill Addition is Finished," Rochester Clarion, July 17, 1941, p.1.

"Nat'l Twist Drill Announces $40,000 Plant Addition Here," Rochester Clarion, November 13, 1941, p.1.

"National Twist Drill is on 24 Hour and Seven-Day Week Schedule," Rochester Clarion, December 18, 1941, p.1.

"Twist Drill Under Federal Protection," Rochester Clarion, July 30, 1942.

"Richard Henderson Marr [obituary], Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1946, p.7.

"Howard L. McGregor [obituary]," Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1959, p.8.

Bork, Robert H. Jr. "Rochester Tool Plant to Relocate," Detroit Free Press, November 10, 1982, p.3A.

Shepard, Linda. "Twist Drill Historic Status Studied," Rochester Post, August 29, 2012.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Gerald S. Larsen