Third is our series of famous Bluffton High School alumni
Call it small-town ingenuity. Bluffton’s favorite entrepreneurial son became a 20th century household name here.
Ray Leon “R. L.” Triplett
Bluffton High School graduate of 1902
Founded Bluffton's Triplett Corporation
Born: Nov. 13, 1883
Died: Oct. 25, 1977
R.L. Triplett, founded an industry, which became a leader in its field. And, his business model spurred the local economy crediting him with creating more jobs than any other person in our village history. For nearly eight decades the Triplett company was Bluffton’s largest single industrial operation and employer.
As a family-owned business from 1904 until 1983, the Triplett Electrical Instrument Co., was affectionally referred to locally as “the meter works.” Under its later ownership, the company eventually closed.
As a 19-year-old two years out of high school, Triplett took an idea, launching a company in a second floor back room of a Main Street building. There he created a “hot wire” meter, housed in a nickel pocket watch case. Triplett developed his own engineering prior to entering the manufacturing phase of the business, which was one of the first-ever products of its kind.
R. L. "Ray" Triplett
In 1905 Triplett moved the business into a small frame plant across from today’s Harmon Field on East College Avenue. He continued to grow the company and served as its president for 51 years.
During the company’s existence, many employees represented two and sometimes three generations of the same families, living not only in Bluffton, but also in Pandora, Columbus Grove, Mt. Cory, Rawson, Beaverdam and Jenera. When “the meter works” shut down for summer vacation, Bluffton’s pace slowed.
Here is his story
The son of Bluffton residents, Will and Mabel Spooner Triplett, R.L.’s father was Bluffton’s pioneer photographer. His career spanned one-half century from the 1880s to the early 1930s.
Upon R.L.’s graduation from Bluffton’s three-year high school he worked briefly in Chicago with the Jewell Instrument Co. Believing he could create a better product than Jewell, he returned to Bluffton shortly after his mother’s death, making that decision Bluffton’s gain.
Indicative of what was to come, while still in high school, Triplett demonstrated his leadership ability as he became quarterback of Bluffton High School’s first-ever football team in 1901. Later he coached several school and community football teams.
Initially, his business produced pocket meters made for dry battery testing. Those meters became the first of their type in that developing technology.
Quarterback of Bluffton HS's
first football team - 1901
The business soon expanded covering applications for testing in the automotive field. And, eventually it added countless lines of meter-reading related products.
In 1911 Triplett merged with the Diller Manufacturing Co., a continuation of a sanitary cream separator manufacturing company, founded earlier in Bluffton by Peter Diller.
Following the merger, the manufacture of meters played an ever-increasing role in the total volume of business. During this period the instrument division of the company was known as Readrite Meter Works.
By the early 1920s the company employed 300 persons. In that decade the building on College Avenue experienced several enlargements. A 1928 addition practically doubled the size of the original building.
1900 BHS student body - Triplett is in
second row from the top, center
In 1932, the company had a major expansion, adding production of precision measuring instruments and a new building erected in 1935 on Harmon Road facing Riley Creek and today’s Steinmetz Soccer Field.
In 1941, the Triplett company took over the Diller company, which was then manufacturing only Readrite meters.
A few years later the Readrite line closed, leaving the company with the manufacture of precision indicating instruments and test equipment for radio and television servicing.
By the mid-1940s it employed over 700 persons, working three shifts. During World War II Triplett was one of the few companies capable of producing fine electrical measuring instruments and radio and radar testing equipment.
Its meters and testers were in Army and Navy radars, planes, tanks, aircraft guns, X-Ray machines and in communication equipment throughout Europe, Africa, China, the East Indies and South Pacific.
In the mid-1950s the company added a laboratory building doubling the floor space of its 1935 structure.
1937 Triplett leadership team
During this decade Triplett promoted itself as “Dustlesstown, Ohio.” It gained national publicity by advertising Bluffton as a place where precision instruments were made in a clean, dust-free atmosphere.
Also, throughout the company’s history it prided itself with hiring local persons on the factory floor and in leadership positions. A 1937 photograph of its 12 key staff members included only two persons who grew up outside the community.
Privately owned until 1983, the company was eventually sold. No longer in operation, today the 1935 building on Harmon Road is owned by another Bluffton company, Diamond Manufacturing.
R.L. and the Triplett family’s community involvement covered a wide reach. His wife, Etta Lantz Triplett, was the founder of the Bluffton College home economics department.
Following R.L.’s retirement the company continued under the leadership of his two sons, Ropp and Morris, and nephew, Norman, each Bluffton High School graduates.
1935 Triplett expansion on Harmon Road
As a result, the Triplett company and family became benefactors to many Bluffton institutions. Among these include Bluffton Hospital, Bluffton Presbyterian Church, Bluffton Child Development Center, Bluffton Family YMCA, Bluffton University, Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs, Triplett Bike Path and Bluffton Public Library. Today this community involvement continues through the work of the R.L. and Etta L. Triplett Memorial Foundation.
Also in this series:
Bluffton High School students in the 1899-1900 school year.
Front from left, E.C. Akerman, principal, Gussie Fisher Ludwig, Louise Ruhl, Grace Mohler Begg, Bessie Flora, _____Bessire, Tillman Van Gunten, Orlando Van Gunten.
Second row from left, Lulu Steiner Kohn, Zoe Bentley, Edith Amstutz, Kate Mitchel Goble, Edith McPeak.
Third row from left, Jessie Herr Basinger, Lillie Zeller _____, Myrtle Manges, Florence Kohli.
Fourth row from left, Nellie Goble, Guy Hawk, Earl Mohler, Pearl Watkins, Frank Mack.
Fifth row from left, Wilhelm Amstutz, Milt Mitchell, Harley Goble, James Allison, Ray Triplett, Charles Candler, Linda Andrews Swank, Alma Thrapp.
Top row from left, Robert Mitchell, Arthur Worthington, Earl Miller, Alvin Whisler, Elmer Romey, Edgar Eaton, Harley Mann, Harley Lugibill.
The first football team to represent Bluffton High School was this team of 1901. R.L. Triplett was the team's quarterback.
Member, front from left, Earl Mohler, R.L. Triplett and Joe Owens.
Middle row, from left, Sam Romey, Victor Green, William Plattner and Frank Mack.
Back row from left, Harvey Frazier, Menno Tripplehorn, Cliff Wetherill, Lou Smith (coach), Milt Mitchell, Fred Zehrbach and Guy Hawk.
The 1935 Triplett company expansion on Harmon Road.
Inside of Plant 2 on College Avenue.
This photo shows “key people” in the company in 1937. Only two of these persons came from outside the Bluffton area.
From left, Jack Remde, A.E. Lichtenwalter, R.L. Triplett, Cliff Elliott, Dick Burkholder and Floyd “Fred” Wenger.
Back from left, Gene Basinger, George Klay, Norm Triplett, Arden Baker, Lendon Basinger and Dick Schumaker.