Frictionless Metal Company Operated Smoothly for a While

Friday, January 13, 2012 - by Harmon Jolley
Advertisement for Frictionless Metal in 7/24/1906 Chattanooga News.  Click to enlarge.
Advertisement for Frictionless Metal in 7/24/1906 Chattanooga News. Click to enlarge.

Scrolling through the Public Library’s microfilms of old newspapers and city directories often inspires Memories articles. Such was the case when I recently came across the Frictionless Metal Company, a local business of the early 1900’s. The enterprise’s name was intriguing, both from a linguistic and physics perspective.

According to an article in the July 24, 1906 edition of the Chattanooga News, the Frictionless Metal Company began operations on April 7, 1887. It was located in a small one-story wood frame structure on what was then called Boyce Street. Today, it would have an address on the southern section of Chestnut Street.

In the era of continuing expansion of railroads and heavy industry, high-quality metals were needed in the moving parts of machinery. According to the Chattanooga News article, the founders of Frictionless Metal had obtained a secret formula and process for making frictionless metal.

Was the metal truly frictionless? I asked an engineering friend for his opinion. He said that this was probably just a marketing slogan. The metal might have been better described as friction-resistant.

Still, the products of Frictionless Metal sold well. The company sold less than 1,000 pounds of metal in its first year, but that quantity increased to 2,500,000 pounds in 1905. The company erected a large new building in the 1100 block of Chestnut Street, and opened a warehouse/shipping department at nearby Fort and Gillespie streets. Branch offices were in Chicago, Richmond, New York City, and Pittsburgh. A second factory was located in Montreal, Canada.

The president of Frictionless Metal was Charles Edward Buek. According to “A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, a book published in 1913 by William T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt, Mr. Buek was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1857, and was the son of a German immigrant who established an export business.

Charles Buek moved to Chattanooga in 1887, and became an agent for the Washington Life Insurance Company. He soon moved into other areas of business. In 1889, he bought the north Georgia mines of the Chattanooga Ore Company, and in 1891, was associated with the Frictionless Metal Company.

Mr. Buek continued his pursuits in the metals industry in 1901 by organizing the Lacey-Buck Iron Company of Birmingham, Alabama. The company had a furnace at nearby Trussville. Over the years, both Chattanooga and Birmingham had many ties to each other as a result of the iron and steel industry and associated products.

In 1898, the U.S. Patent Office issued patent 606,886 to Charles E. Buek of Richmond. The patented design was for a ectional feed-roll for gang-edgers, as used in machinery with rolling parts.

The year 1905 saw Charles Buek found the Chattanooga Iron and Coal Company, which had a furnace in Chattanooga. He also helped to organize the Citizens National Bank.

Frictionless Metal continued to be listed in the city directory until at least 1920, when Charles W. Bourne was listed as president. Mr. Bourne had been listed as a witness on the aforementioned patent of Mr. Buek's.

Charles Buek passed away in 1926. By then, Frictionless Metal had either ceased operations, or been acquired by another company.

If you have additional information on Frictionless Metal and its entrepreneurs, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Charles Edward Buek was president of Frictionless Metal, and involved in other metal and financial businesses.  Click to enlarge.
Charles Edward Buek was president of Frictionless Metal, and involved in other metal and financial businesses. Click to enlarge.

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