Electric Motor & Supply can actually trace its beginnings to J. E. Force Electric which began as an electric motor repair shop at 2318 Ninth Avenue in Altoona early in 1923. This shop was owned and operated by John E. Force, the father of Ralph E. Force founder of EMS, and is where Ralph learned to repair electric motors. Ralph returned to work at J. E. Force Electric after a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War 2. On 28 May 1956 Ralph and his wife Helen started their own business, Electric Motor Service, utilizing 30,000 square-feet of space in a building at 601 7th Avenue. The business grew at a steady pace so that on 19 October 1967 Ralph and Helen incorporated as Electric Motor & Supply.
Additional growth soon necessitated expansion and, with the help of then Altoona Enterprises, EMS acquired the former PA Shoe factory in 1976. Operations were gradually re-located to this 55,000 square–foot facility at 1000 50th Street, with the move being completed by the end of 1977. Continued growth precipitated the construction of an 11,500 square-foot addition to the existing facility, greatly increasing the size and volume of repair capacity. This was accomplished in 1982, again with the help of Altoona Enterprises, now known as ABCD Corporation. The 1980's saw unprecedented growth for EMS. During this time the Company added satellite operations in Fairmont WV, Glen Burnie MD, Hagerstown MD, and Lancaster PA, along with Force Industrial in Altoona. Employment reached an all-time high of 91 people between all locations.
Unfortunately, the simultaneous collapse of the coal and steel industries in the early 1990's, coupled with the exodus of many other manufacturing facilities out of the Northeast Region during that period, seriously affected EMS. The Company shed all of its satellite operations, and had to greatly reduce employment, but survived this very difficult time. Slow growth resumed by 1998, and remained at a steady pace.
Ownership of EMS changed hands in March 2004 when then General Manager Pat Illig and his wife Sandra acquired the Company, again with the help of ABCD Corporation. The facility was improved with the construction of a new pitched metal roof over the former flat roof and the addition of 4,000 of shop space, all completed before the end of 2004. In 2005 EMS expanded again by acquiring a small controls and automation company. This was done to take advantage of a growing customer segment with little competition, and has become the best performing part of the Company. Growth continued throughout the Company to the point where, in June of 2008, employment at EMS was up to 53 people and two shifts.
Business is a series of cycles, and the economic downturn in late 2008 has resulted in a paring of the workforce to 35 people on one shift, but EMS has survived, and a slight increase in business is now evident. In spite of this setback, optimism runs high at EMS. EMS has developed a highly advanced electric drive system for large urban vehicles such as city buses. This advanced drive system, known as ElectriDyne, has tremendous potential for EMS and the entire region, as wide-range application of this system could greatly reduce fuel needs and pollution. The prototype vehicle, a 1936 streetcar, is already operating in Savannah, GA. This vehicle is self-powered by the ElectriDyne System and requires no overhead wire for power. It transports up to 76 people at speeds up to 28MPH and uses less than one gallon of bio-diesel fuel per hour. The drive system has been tremendously successful and reliable, with little or no maintenance needed. The next step is to secure funding to install this system on a city bus.
Overall, EMS is a legacy company with all of its history in Blair County that has grown and prospered for over 50 years. EMS has survived several challenges and setbacks over that time, but continues to be a successful and vibrant business by combining traditional motor repair with the latest that technology has to offer. Not willing to let market or circumstance drive its business, EMS continues to be firmly rooted in the past, but focused on the future.