Fansteel has a long and storied history, going back to the start of the 20th century in Chicago. In 1907, Carl Pfanstiehl, a native of Highland Park, along with a friend, James M. Troxel, started the Pfanstiehl Electrical Laboratory, which made coils for x-ray equipment, automobiles, and other products. During the 1910s, the company pioneered the development of tungsten electrical contacts, as well as the industrial use of tantalum, a new metal.
In 1918, the company's name was changed to Fansteel Products Co. Inc.; 17 years later, it would become the Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. During the 1920s, sales of radio battery chargers drove annual revenues past $5 million. In 1937, a sit-down strike by workers at the company's plant in North Chicago ended when police fired tear gas into the facility. During World War II, increased civilian and military demand for electrical contacts led to expansion at Fansteel: by the middle of the war, annual sales were up to $18 million, about seven times higher than they had been in 1940. After the war, the company expanded to other locations but still employed over 1,000 people in the Chicago area. It remained a medium-sized company that supplied specialty components for the aerospace industry and other users of exotic metallic goods.
During the second half of the 20th century, Fansteel continued to experience modest growth- with occasional highs and lows- growing to a $150 million company by the end of the 1990s. The decade following, through 2008, involved significant levels of distress and reorganizations, including a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the mid-2000s.
In 2008, the current controlling shareholders acquired 70% of the Company, replaced the incumbent board of directors, moved the company headquarters to Creston, Iowa to be closer to its largest operation, and upgraded senior management. The Company was taken private in 2009 via a reverse stock split.
Today, Fansteel continues to play a critical role in the aerospace and defense supply chain, as well as other industries including energy, industrials and automotive.