A. ROBERT THOMAS HENRY (1920 – 1998)
Inducted: November 12th, 2013
Tom Henry was born in Chatham, Ontario in 1920, son of Donald and Katie Henry. The family farm, was located about a mile from Eberts in Chatham Township. His family included Tom’s two brothers, Bill and Alex and one sister, Agnes. His father milked cows, raised beef cattle, and grew field crops. Everyone contributed and developed strong work ethic.
World War II came and Tom left O.A.C. to serve in the R.C.A.F. as a radar officer. After the war, Tom returned to attend O.A.C. at Guelph and graduated in 1947 with a BSc in soil science.
His first job was working as a salesman from 1947-55 for C.I.L. Fertilizer in Chatham. C.I.L. sent Tom to San Leandro, California, to investigate the emergence of soluble concentrated liquid fertilizer as the new frontier in fertilizer in 1955. Upon his return, Henry and Fred Ledlow, a fellow O.A.C. graduate, were convinced this concept would work in Ontario. C.I.L. did not. They did not want to invest in it.
Tom and Fred left C.I.L. and in 1956, formed Rainbow Chemicals in Tilbury. They sold their vision to two farmer investors, Tom Pogue and Art Reid.
The hard work that followed consisted of Fred Ledlow specializing in customer attraction and sales. Tom Henry was in charge of infrastructure, storage, equipment manufacturing, and developing prototype equipment. As a former employee, Charlie Dries, would explain, “Tom started from zero! He had an unstoppable belief that success would come. We worked very hard to make it happen.”
The old guard said it would not work. Tom requested to become a member of the Eastern Canada Fertilizer Manufacturers’ Association in 1956. There was some reluctance to accept Tom at this time, but somehow, he was supported by people who respected what he was attempting to prove. Tom had won them over.
Design Workers from California were contracted to build the chemical processing area. Tom and his crew built storage tanks and devised nurse tank equipment. Meetings were held with John Blue Pump, corn planter manufacturers like John Deere, International Harvester, and others.
Prototype designs were tested, scrapped, and redesigned to meet farmers’ expectations. Sourcing of raw materials was a major concern. The key to success included Henry Ford’s giant project, the River Rouge Foundry near Detroit. The Ford Motor Company agreed to supply a soluble diammonium phosphate (21-53-0). Rainbow Chemicals would produce three distinct fertilizer grades and followed with two plant starter analyses. The latter would be used for transplanted seedlings such as tomatoes and peppers. Pop-up starters for corn enhanced yields and many farmers bought into the idea.
Farmers became committed customers enticed by the famous slogan “nothing heavier to lift than a hose”. Ease of handling (no more heavy bags), reasonable prices, and excellent service from new locations in Harrow, Maidstone, Watford, and Grande Pointe brought broad acceptance.
Rainbow Chemicals supplied transfer pumps to customers and offered their expertise to enhance tractors of the day with Pump-trols which assisted lifting of heavier hydraulic loads for applicators. Rainbow Chemicals eventually prototyped the first Ontario built high flotation applicators called No-Trak. In total, 20 machines were built.
Tom Henry saw the need for, and promoted the idea, of a fertilizer industry association to deal with common goals and problems such as transportation costs. In 1959, the Plant Food Council of Ontario, was formed. In 1975, its name was changed to The Fertilizer Institute of Ontario.
In 1961, Tom became a director of the P.F.C.O. He served as President in 1963-64. Simultaneously, Henry served as a director of the Canadian Fertilizer Institute serving as President in 1968-69.
In his role as industry spokesman, Henry would leave several important leadership examples. He emphasized that Ontario dealers:
- had to be honest and fair with farm customers
- dealers should sell their product on its merits with fair prices
- dealers should give science-based advice and exaggerate less to give greater credibility to the industry
should be clear that there was a market for both liquid and dry formulations as opposed to one and not the other
- dealers should use the power of media especially Radio Station CFCO as a major platform in explaining and diffusing unrest over pricing discrepancies when a discount house in Maumee, Ohio was a competitor in the Ontario market.
The legacy Tom Henry left included:
- support for new innovations through research
- examination of the benefits of transition to new methods to be on the leading edge
promotion of science-based concepts to farmers
- to know what the competitors are working on
- to challenge industry standards for a better result. Rainbow Chemicals was the first to supply 50 lb. bags versus traditional 80 lb. bags – a standard that remains today.
Rainbow Chemicals was bought by Cyanamid of Canada in 1965, then was purchased by Cargill Ltd. in 1989. Tom Henry and Fred Ledlow remained in management until 1970.
In 1967, Tom Henry formed Kentown John Deere at Tilbury with his
Rainbow associates Fred Ledlow and Carl Atkinson, seeing the future needs of farmers as well as a good business opportunity.
Tom is survived by his wife, Kathryn (Low), two daughters, Janet (Phil King) and Frances (Dave Postowoj), a son Donald (Lori), a brother, Alex and sister Agnes (Revington), as well as four grandchildren, Brittany and Mathew Helsby, and Evan and Leah Henry.