Catalog Number
Pintle Hooks Tow Hooks
Date of Origin
Holland Hitch?
11 X 8.5 in.
18 page catalog, white, black and gray cover.
The following historical information concerning Holland Hitch comes from Robert Swierenga's three volume history of Holland, MI "From Dutch Colony To Dynamic City", pages 947-952. "In 1910 three Dutch immigrants in Corsica, South Dakota— Henry Ketel, Albert Hulsebos, and Gerrit Den Besten—developed a hitch for horse-drawn farm plows that would disengage when the plow struck a solid object, such as a rock or stump, and thus prevent injuries to man and beast, let alone to the plow itself.9 The partners formed the Safety Release Clevis Co. to manufacture the popular hitches. The company thrived at first, but as farmers increasingly switched from horses to tractors, the partners realized that they needed to be nearer to the manufacturing hub for farm tractors and motor trucks, so they relocated to Michigan in 1920 and the next year adopted the company name Holland Hitch. Their initial location was the old Seif Brewery at 149-57 West Tenth Street at Maple Avenue. Tractors were taking over heavy farm work, and farmers needed all kinds of hitches, pulleys, and clevises to connect tractors and their power takeoffs with other machinery. By 1927 the company was debt free and paid a dividend of 14 percent. Den Besten was the key cog in the company; he invented and patented many of the hitches. Holland Hitch received its fifth patent in the early 1930s. As the trucking industry developed, the company gradually shifted production from agricultural equipment to heavy duty transport: fifth wheels, kingpins, pintle hooks, and coupling gear— all critical technology to prevent the all-too-frequent uncoupling of tractor-trailers. Ketel invented a pintle hook for heavy-duty equipment. Holland Hitch went bankrupt during the Great Depression in 1935, but Ketel teamed up with Henry A. Geerds, a leading player in the local business community, to buy the firm’s assets and nurse it back to health. Ketel ran the company, and Geerds raised investment capital by recruiting other local investors to join the board of directors, notably exmayor Henry Geerlings, John Y. Huizenga, Gerrit Vugteveen, and Gerrit Visser. By the end of 1935 the company had grown from three to ten employees, and orders from farm implement dealers were increasing. Ketel and Geerds saved the company, which had third-generation executives until 2011.11 As the Franklin Roosevelt administration boosted defense spending with war clouds gathering in Europe, Holland Hitch expected a flood of contracts from General Motors for pintle hooks to couple army trucks and field artillery. But no contracts were forthcoming until Geerds, a colonel in the Michigan National Guard, won GM’s favor after he brought the Holland guard unit to Flint in 1937 on the governor’s orders to keep the peace in the UAW Sit-Down strike. Holland Hitch won its first army contract in 1940 for 1,600 hooks. The firm at the time employed eighty-six and had sales of $1 million. So vital were these devices that the government in 1943 allocated “vital building materials” to the company for a new $40,000 plant at Eighteenth Street and Ottawa Avenue. Personnel manager William Vande Water succeeded in the difficult task of hiring enough workers to meet production deadlines. By war’s end the firm had shipped one million hooks to the military.12 In 1946 Geerds took over as director and restructured the management team.13 The postwar years were rocky on the labor front, because workers everywhere tried to catch up after Congress lifted wartime wage controls. To increase their clout, 105 Holland Hitch workers voted to affiliate as Local 284 of the United Auto Workers-CIO International Union. But company officials would not recognize the UAW, claiming that the contract with the plant Local took precedence. The company faced two strikes in 1946: one in May that lasted only one day and one in October that continued for 105 days. This was one of several strikes in Holland at that time. Col. Geerds, a decorated veteran turned industrialist, refused to meet with the strikers for more than two months, right through the Christmas holiday. His persistence wore down the strikers, who finally gave in. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Holland industries again shifted from civilian to military production. Holland Hitch in 1951 won two contracts worth $14,500 for hooks and pintles. It was the first of several large military contracts.14 Holland Hitch became the world’s leading manufacturer of fifth wheels for tractor-trailers, notably the world’s first sliding fifth wheel, and the Holland-Apgar wheel, which was designed to reduce rollover and jackknife accidents. William Beebe, Geerds’ son-in-law, who started as a production engineer, became president in 1976, having risen through the ranks after returning from World War Two with a “heroic conduct” medal. He was tested in 1978 when the 350-member UAW Local 284 under president Jim Holtgeerts again threw up picket lines at the two local plants. To diversify its operations and serve markets from coast to coast, Beebe led the family company into global markets. In 1983, when he retired as president and became chairman of the board, Holland Hitch had twenty-two manufacturing plants and distribution companies worldwide, including South Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Arkansas, Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Beebe’s son-in-law, Richard Muzzy Jr., succeeded him as president and kept control in family hands.15 The year 1985 was a banner year for Holland Hitch and a fitting way to celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary. Muzzy moved the corporate headquarters from Eighteenth Street to the former Thermotron Corp. plant at 468 Cleveland Avenue (later changed to 467 Ottawa Avenue) at Twentieth Street. The building, originally the Westside Christian School, first had a $350,000 renovation and expansion. The next year the company bought the former Hekman Rusk Bakery to the north on Ottawa Avenue at Eighteenth Street to house its research and development departments. Also in 1986 the company invested $2.5 million to triple its forwarding plant at 1122 Industrial Drive in the Southside Industrial Park, to take the pressure off the Eighteenth Street plant. Holland Hitch that year had employees at its Holland facilities, and it was rated the number one manufacturer of truck fifth wheels and coupling devices in the world. In 1990 the company expanded and renovated its oldest plant on the southwest corner of Eighteenth Street and Ottawa Avenue. As long as the heavy-duty trucking industry continued to expand, Holland Hitch went along for the ride.16 By 1993 the company had four divisions—Holland Hitch, Holland Hitch Canada, Holland Hitch International, and the Binkley Company. The latter was a 1991 acquisition of a Missouri manufacturer of trailer supports (known as “landing gear” in the trucking industry), among other products. Holland Hitch in 1993 employed 1,200 worldwide, 250 in Holland. In 1997 Muzzy, still on a “global odyssey,” acquired the Delphos Axle Division of the bankrupt Fruehauf Trailer Corp., deemed the “best in the industry,” and added this to its product line. In 1999 Holland Hitch acquired Muskegon-based Neway Anchorlok International, adding air suspensions, brake chambers, and air control valves to the product offerings. Also in 1999 the Holland Group, a formerly passive holding company, became an active operating company as the parent to the four divisions, plus Holland Neway. Sam Martin, son-in-law of Geerds’ son-in-law, Tom Thomas, joined the company in 1974 as a metallurgical engineer and rose though the ranks of management to become president in 2004.17 The company reached its zenith in 2000 with three thousand employees in twenty-two facilities. Then truck and trailer production plummeted, putting tremendous financial pressure on the expanded Holland Group. In response, the company closed three facilities in the United States, cut its workforce by a third, and consolidated the three United States divisions into one unit, named Holland USA, with headquarters in Muskegon. Holland Group, the parent company, maintained its headquarters in Holland. Slowly the economy and demand for heavy trucks improved, and by 2004 the company was again financially sound. In 2006 the Holland Group and all its subsidiaries were sold to Pamplona Capital of the United Kingdom and merged with another of its holdings, SAF, to form SAF-Holland S. A., based in Luxembourg. Sam Martin continued as president and chief operating officer of USbased operations until retiring in 2011. The global recession of 2008 caused another significant decline in truck sales, and the company, faced with excess manufacturing capacity in West Michigan, closed the assembly plant on Industrial Avenue. Michigan-based manufacturing has continued at the Eighteenth Street and Muskegon facilities. SAF-Holland S. A., under president Jack Gisinger, has continued to maintain its world leadership position in the manufacture of heavyduty components and systems for trucks, trailers, motor homes, and buses.".
Gift of
SAF Holland