The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
SEARCH:
Resources

« Back to "Archives" menu

<empty>

Records of Wedge Innovations,
1985-1996

Extent and Forms of Material: 13 cubic feet (28 boxes; 1 flat box; 1 oversized folder; includes 1⁄2” VHS tapes; oral history interview transcripts; and audio cassette tapes.)
Creator: Wedge Innovations
Abstract: The records of Wedge Innovations document the invention and development of a new hand tool, the SmartLevel, an electronic builder's level; also included are company management and policies.
Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. archivescenter@si.edu 202-633-3270
www.americanhistory.si.edu/archives
Collection Number: AC0534
Processing Note: Processed by Lisa Robinson, 1997; revised Alison L. Oswald, 2002; revised by Julie Pepera, 2006.
© 2007 by the Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

<empty>

Information for users of the collection

Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: The Smithsonian has nonexclusive license to use the oral history cassette recordings for museum purposes, including availability for research use. Copyright remains with the interviewee. The Smithsonian has nonexclusive license to use archival materials in the collection for museum purposes. Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce the materials for non-museum purposes must be obtained from the owner of the copyright.
Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], Records of Wedge Innovations, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX

<empty>

In-depth information about the collection

Administrative/biographical history
Scope and content
System of arrangement
Acquisition information
Related artifacts
Access points
Container listing

Administrative/biographical history

Andrew G. Butler (b. 1955), the founder of Wedge Innovations exhibited an interest in building construction and an entrepreneurial spirit early in life. From age 12 to 17 he built a boat that he then sailed alone from California to Tahiti, where he spent several years as an independent carpenter and building contractor. After returning to the United States, he earned a B.S. degree in electromechanical engineering from Stanford University (1983) and became a software specialist for Bechtel Construction. In 1985, he conceived of an idea for an electronic carpenter’s level that could read a range of angles. Butler formed Wedge Innovations in 1986. He worked in the basement of his home in order to develop and market this level, selling his boat to finance the venture. He hired Marilyn Crowell as his secretary and Robert Nagle and Dan Kellogg as engineers. This company developed the sensor technology and software necessary to build the company’s first product, the WedgeLevel. The heart of this tool was an electronic sensor circuit connected to a microprocessor capable of measuring the tool’s orientation. This sensor module fit into an ergonomically-designed teak rail with anodized aluminum edges jointly developed by Butler, engineering design consultant Kevin Reeder, and engineer Ronald Wisnia.

In 1987, Wedge moved to Santa Clara to begin manufacturing the WedgeLevel. The transition from a research and development concern to a manufacturing company proved difficult, due to manufacturing and financial difficulties. It was difficult to obtain a reliable yet inexpensive source of teak for the rails, designs for a plastic composite and aluminum rail were developed, while offshore manufacturing of the sensor components was established. Overarching all concerns was the persistent difficulty of obtaining sufficient investment capital. While managing his growing company, Butler also began planning for a line of hand tools that combined microelectronics and user-oriented, ergonomic design. In 1988, the company changed the name of its product to SmartLevel in order to emphasize the company’s proposed line of Smart Tools. That same year, the company adopted a new corporate logo, a stylized W with a red wedge, signaling its growing maturity. Promotion of the product also began through demonstrations of the prototype done by consultant building contractor, Rick Feffer.

In January 1989, the SmartLevel prototype was launched at the National Association of Home Builders Show in Atlanta, Georgia. The favorable publicity generated by this launch and by the company’s media campaign generated many orders. To supply these orders, Wedge moved to larger quarters in Sunnyvale on April 1, 1989. In June 1989, Wedge gained further publicity by donating several SmartLevels to a Habitat for Humanity project in Milwaukee, where former president Jimmy Carter used one. Although Wedge expected to ship the first SmartLevels in July 1989, there were considerable delays in manufacturing. In particular, there were stability and performance problems with the sensor, which engineer Ken Gunderson was brought in to remedy. The sensor module was re-engineered to be more rugged and the level was redesigned with a plastic composite and aluminum rail. The new level, known as the Pro SmartLevel, was intended for the professional construction market. The first SmartLevels were shipped on September 5, 1989.

In 1990, patents were granted to Andrew Butler, Donald G. Green, and Robert E. Nagle for an inclinometer sensor circuit and to Butler and Ronald Wisnia for a carpenter’s level design. That same year, Brian Bayley joined Wedge as Vice-president for Engineering, and Edwin “Win” Seipp joined as Project Manager - DIY SmartLevel. Seipp’s responsibility was to develop a low-cost, “do-it-yourself” version of the SmartLevel, which was eventually called the Series 200 SmartLevel. This level had an all-aluminum rail and a non-removable sensor.

In September 1990, the company moved to San Jose and by 1991 had over 60 employees. Although sales continued to grow and name recognition of the product was quite strong, Wedge had difficulty meeting the expectations of its investors. Butler entered into financial negotiations with the Macklanburg-Duncan Corporation, a large-scale manufacturer of hand tools, to seek investment in his company. These negotiations led in November 1992 to the acquisition of Wedge by Macklanburg-Duncan, which dissolved all but Wedge’s engineering section. Macklanburg-Duncan today manufactures a “SmartTool” level, while Butler co-owns D2M (Design To Market), a company that develops new product ideas for the market.

SmartLevel Chronology

1985 - Idea for electronic carpenter’s level formulated by Andy Butler

1986 - Wedge Innovations founded in the basement of Butler’s house; basic sensor design worked out; teak & aluminum WedgeLevel developed.

1987-1988 - Wedge moves to Santa Clara; intends to begin manufacturing and todevelop an entire line of “Smart Tools” but encounters financial and engineering difficulties; Wedge consults with independent design engineer, Kevin Reeder, on level design. Intensive redesign effort develops the SmartLevel, made of plastic and aluminum rail.

1989 - SmartLevel launched at National Association of Home Builders show in January. Good press coverage, but cannot meet orders. More publicity from Habitat for Humanity project when former President Jimmy Carter uses a SmartLevel. But stability and performance problems plague sensor. More redesign work results in more rugged Pro SmartLevel. The first SmartLevels shipped on September 5, 1989.

1990 - Yet more redesign work, both in-house and with Kevin Reeder, who also develops idea for “SmartTube” carrying case (not built). Patents granted to Andy Butler et al. for inclinometer sensor circuit and carpenter’s level design. Wedge hires Brian Bayley as vice-president for engineering to develop a low-cost model of the SmartLevel. The all-aluminum Series 200 SmartLevel is born. Wedge moves to larger facilities in San Jose.

1991 - Wedge sponsors a “New Product Development Conference,” where numerous designs for new hand tools are worked on. SmartLevel sales and name recognition grows but not quickly enough to meet overhead expenses of new facility or investors’ demands.

1992- Butler negotiates with Macklanburg-Duncan for a merger to save Wedge. In the midst of the negotiations, Butler is fired by his Board of Directors. Butler regains control of Wedge three months later, fires the replacement president, and sells Wedge outright to Macklanburg-Duncan, which dissolves all but the engineering functions of Wedge.


Scope and content

The SmartLevel story gives excellent insight into the life cycle of a small Silicon valley start-up in the 1980s. SmartLevel’s creator, Wedge Innovations, established a market for a new product, achieved national distribution, off-shore manufacturing, and product licensing, before going out of business due to pressure from profit-hungry venture capitalists.

The records of Wedge Innovations is a “tool biography” that documents the invention and development of a new hand tool, the SmartLevel, an electronic builder’s level first conceived in 1985 by Andrew Butler. The SmartLevel Collection is divided into seven series: Corporate Records, Engineering Records, Financial Records, Marketing Records, Operations Records, Product Development Records, and Corporate Culture, reflecting both the organizational structure of Wedge Innovations and the company’s working environment.

Series 1, Corporate Records, 1985-1993, address the overall management of Wedge Innovations and document its policies, especially through the company’s annual business plans, 1986-1992, and the monthly reports prepared for the Board of Directors’ meetings, 1989-1992. This series also details the workings of each department through weekly departmental reports. The staff meetings files, July-November 1989, February 1990-November 1992, are particularly useful for understanding the day-to-day operation of the company.

Series 2, Engineering Records, 1985-1993, document the design and development of the SmartLevel from its conception in 1985 as the WedgeLevel, through its production as the SmartLevel in 1989, and through its refinement into the Pro SmartLevel and the Series 200 SmartLevel in 1991. The design process is particularly well documented through Andrew Butler’s and Kevin Reeder’s design notebooks and through the detailed technical drawings done by Butler, Reeder, and Ronald Wisnia. Also well documented are the efforts made to solve the many problems associated with the development and quality control of the electronic sensor module that was the heart of the SmartLevel.

Series 3, Financial Records, 1985-1992, include Wedge’s summary financial statements from 1985 to 1992.

Series 4, Marketing Records, 1986-1992, document customer and dealer relations through marketing department correspondence, operational records, and advertising campaigns. This series is particularly rich in promotional material (1988-1992), such as advertisements, advertising copy, photographs, product promotion plans, and videotapes that demonstrate the varied features and uses of the products.

Series 5, Operations Records, 1990-1993, document the manufacturing process and the Company’s offshore operations.

Series 6, Product Development Records, 1986-1993, document the company’s intended development of an entire “Smart Tools” line.

Series 7, Corporate Culture, 1985-1996, contains employee photographs and oral history interviews with key Wedge personnel conducted in 1995 and 1996 by David Shayt, Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History. The interviews discuss the background of the participants, the company’s origins and history, product development, the Silicon Valley context, and the efforts of Wedge Innovations successor firm, SmartTool Technologies.


System of arrangement

Series 1: Corporate Records, 1985-1993
Series 2: Engineering Records, 1985-1993
Series 3: Financial Records, 1985-1992
Series 4: Marketing Records, 1986-1992
Series 5: Operations Records, 1990-1993
Series 6: Operations Records, 1990-1993
Series 7: Corporate Culture, 1985-1996


Acquisition information

The collection was donated by Andrew Butler, SmartLevel inventor and company founder, Brian Bayley, Vice-President for engineering at Wedge Innovations from 1989-1992, and Kevin Reeder, an independent industrial designer.

The oral history interviews were conducted in 1995 and 1996 by David Shayt, of the Division of Work and Industry and funded by the Lemelson Center, National Museum of American History.

Some material from David Shayt’s working files for the oral history project, which came originally from Ronald Wisnia and Ken Gunderson, engineers at Wedge Innovations, was interfiled with the Butler donation.


Related artifacts

Artifacts related to the SmartLevel Collection are housed in the Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History and include five SmartLevels (Accession #1991.0823; 1996.0284; 1996.0285; 1996.0288; and 1996.0289). They are an original teak WedgeLevel, a Pro SmartLevel, a Series 200 SmartLevel, a Bosch version of the SmartLevel, and a Macklanburg-Duncan SmartTool level. There are also four sensor modules (torpedo levels), two sensors, two carrying cases, one cap, one tee shirt, and one wooden puzzle with the inscription “The World Isn’t Just Level and Plumb.”


Access points

Subjects/Topical:
Advertising—Tools—1980-2000
Carpenters—1980-2000
Carpentry—Tools—1980-2000
Electronics—Tools and implements—1980-2000
Engineers—1980-2000
Inventors—1980-2000
Investors—1980-2000
Industrial design—1980-2000
Industrial designers—1980-2000
Level indicators—1980-2000
Leveling—1980-2000
Merchandise displays
Product demonstrations—1980-2000
Teak—Use of —1980-2000
Technological innovations—Hand tools—1980-2000
Tools—1980-2000—United States
Silicon Valley—1980-2000
Small business—Management—1980-2000
Venture capital—1980- Valley—1980-2000

Subjects/Names:
Bayley, Brian
Brymer, Bob
Butler, Andrew
Cheves, Dale
Crowell, Marilyn
Feffer, Rick
Gunderson, Ken
McFaul, Stuart
Macklanburg-Duncan
Reeder, Kevin
Scott, Bill
Siepp, Edwin
Wedge Innovations
Wisnia, Ronald
Wo, Po Chi

Form/Genre:
Advertisements—1980-2000
Audiotapes
Correspondence—1970-2000
Drawings—1980-2000
Financial records—1980-2000
Financial statements—1980-2000
Interviews—1980-2000
Notebooks—1980-2000
Oral histories—1990-2000
Photographs—1950-2000—Photoprints—Silver gelatin
Photographs—1980-2000—Photoprints—Silver gelatin
Videotapes


Container listing

Box Folder  
    SERIES 1: CORPORATE RECORDS, 1985-1993
1 1-3 Acquisition by Macklanburg-Duncan, 1990-1992
  4-11 Board of Directors' Meetings, February 1989-April 1990
2 1-10 Board of Directors' Meetings, May 1990-March 1991
3 1-7 Board of Directors' Meetings, April 1991-April 1992
  8-11 Business Plans, September 1986 - September 1988
4 1-9 Business Plans, December, 1989 - June 1992
  10 Bylaws, 1985
5 1 Charter, 1987
  2-3 Communications Program, 1991
  4 D2M [Design to Market], circa1993
  O/S Fldr. 1 Floor Plan Drawings, 1987
5 5 Incorporation, 1985-1991
  6 Industrial Relations, 1992
  7 Information Technology, 1992
  8-9 Investor Newsletters (Wedge Quarterly), 1987-1990
  10 Matsushita Visit, October 28, 1987
19 1 Matsushita Visit, October 28, 1987
5 11 Memos, 1991-1992
  12 Objectives, 1990-1991
19 2 Overhead Transparencies, circa 1990
5 13-18 Staff Meetings, July 1989 - March 1990
6 1-9 Staff Meetings, April - August 1990
7 1-10 Staff Meetings, September 1990 - June 1991
19 3 Staff Meetings, October 16, 1989 (Engineering report)
8 1-11 Staff Meetings, July 1991 - April 1992
9 1-7 Staff Meetings, May - December 1992
  8 Stock, 1988
    SERIES 2: ENGINEERING RECORDS, 1985-1993
  9-10 Design-Carrying Case, 1989
  O/S Fldr. 2 Design-Drawings, 1985-circa 1987
  O/S Fldr. 3 Design-Drawings, 1987-1990
20 4 Design-Drawings, 1987-circa 1989
  5 Design-Drawings, 1988-1992
  8 Design-Drawings, 1990 (Bosch version)
9 11 Design-Issues, 1986-1992
  12 Design-Notebooks (Andrew Butler), 1985 - March 1988
10 1 Design-Notebooks (Andrew Butler), May 1988 - 1990
  2-5 Design-Notebooks (Kevin Reeder), 1987-1988
  6 Design-Rail, 1987-1990
11 1 Design-Rail End, circa 1988
  2 Design-Rail Insert, 1989
  3 Design-Series 200 SmartLevel, 1989-1992
  4-5 Design-SmartLevel, 1988-1989
  6 Design-Module Tables, 1989-1990
  7 Design-Objectives, 1990-1992
  8 Design-Patents, 1990
19 7 Design-Patent - Inclinometer Circuit (Andrew G. Butler), 1990
11 9 Product-Comparisons, 1987-1990
  10 Product-Description, 1987
  11 Product-Reviews, 1992
20 1 Product-Reviews, 1992 (Bosch & Stabila versions)
  O/S Fldr. 4 Schedules, 1987
11 12 Schedules, 1988
19 4 Schedules, February 10, 1988
20 2 Schedules, July 11, 1988
11 13 Sensor Module-Accuracy Project 1991-1992
  14 Sensor Module-Aging 1986-1990
  15 Sensor Module-Assembly, 1991
  16 Sensor Module-Coating, 1991-1992
  17 Sensor Module-Cost, 1988-1992
  18 Sensor Module-Design, 1988-1992
  19 Sensor Module-Hysteresis Problem, 1992-1993
  20 Sensor Module-Miscellaneous Effects, 1991-1992
  21 Sensor Module-Mounting, 1991
  22 Sensor Module-Production, 1991-1993
  23 Sensor Module-Production, December 1992
  24 Sensor Module-Seal, 1989-1991
12 1 Sensor Module-Settling, 1990
  2 Sensor Module-Status Reports, 1987-1991
  3 Sensor Module-Team Assignments, 1991
  4 Sensor Module-Temperature Compensation, 1988-1992
20 3 Thermoplastic Materials Guide, undated
    SERIES 3: FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1985-1992
12 5 Objectives, 1990-1992
  6-11 Statements, 1985-1992
    SERIES 4: MARKETING RECORDS, 1986-1992
12 12 Advertisements, 1989-1992
  13 Advertisements, circa 1989-1992
19 6 Advertisements, 1990-1991
20 7 Advertisements, 1990-circa 1991
  O/S Fldr. 5 Advertisements, circa 1992 (Bosch version)
12 14 Advertising Campaign, 1989
  15 Advertising Copy, 1987
13 1 Advertising Copy, 1988
19 5 Advertising Displays, 1991-1992
13 2-10 Advertising Photographs, circa 1987-1991
18 1 Advertising Photographs, circa 1988
13 11-12 Brochures, circa 1989-1992
  13 Business Plans, 1991-1992
  14 Contacts, undated
14 1-2 Corporate Background, 1987-1991
  3 Corporate Communications Reports, 1989
  4 Corporate Logo Design, 1988-1990
  5-8 Correspondence, 1986-1992
  9 Dealer Communications, 1992
  10 Dealer Newsletters, 1991-1992
  11 Direct Marketing Survey, 1987-1988
  12 Endorsements, 1989-1990
  13 Forecast, March 1991
  14 Forms (blank), circa 1987-1989
  15 Habitat for Humanity Project--Correspondence, 1988-89
  16 Habitat for Humanity Project--Photographs, June 1989
21 RV 534.1 Habitat for Humanity - Milwaukee, circa 1989
1/2" VHS color circa 15 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates a SmartLevel to former President Jimmy Carter.
  RV 534.2

Habitat for Humanity - CBS This Morning, circa 1990
1/2" VHS color 4:59 minutes
Shows a brief glimpse of former President Jimmy Carter holding a SmartLevel at a Habitat for Humanity project in Mexico.

14 17 Labels, circa 1987-1988
  18-19 Magazine Articles, 1989
15 1-2 Mailings, 1989-1990
  3 Market Study, 1990
  4 Media Plan, 1991
18 2 Media Schedules, 1989
15 5 Miscellaneous, circa 1987-1990
  6 Newspaper Articles, 1987-1992
  7 Objectives, 1990-1992
  8 Owner's Manuals, circa 1989 - 1991
  9 Packaging, 1988
  10-13 Presentations, 1988 and 1991
15 14-15 Press Releases, 1989 and 1992
  16 Press Tour, September 1989
  17 Pro Bono Program, 1989-1990
20 6 Pro Bono Program, 1989-1990
15 18 Product-Announcements, circa 1989
  19 Product-Comparison, 1987
18 3 Product-Design, circa 1987
15 20 Product-Promotion, 1989-1992
  21 Public Relations-Ideas, undated
  22 Public Relations-Plan, 1989
15 23 Public Relations-Position, 1987
  24 Public Relations-Updates, 1991-1992
16 1 Reports, 1991
  2 Schedules, 1991
  3 SmartLevel Demonstration, November 1989
  4 Structural Engineering Project, December 1989
  5 Trade Magazine Articles, 1989-1992
  6 Trade Show-Handouts, circa 1989-1992
  7-8 Trade Shows-Photographs, 1989-1991
  9 Uses, 1989-1991
21 OV 534.3 Introducing the WedgeLevel, 1988
1/2" VHS color 12 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates features of the WedgeLevel and Andy Butler talks about Wedge Innovations.
  OV 534.4 Wedge SmartLevel Loop Dub, 1989
1/2" VHS color circa 1 hour (circa 8 minute segment repeated)
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the WedgeLevel.
  OV 534.5 SmartLevel Modules 1, 2 & 3, 1990
1/2" VHS
  RV 534.5a Sales Demonstration: Digital Inclinometer, circa 1990
1/2" VHS
  OV 534.6 Wedge Logo Loop, circa 1990
1⁄2” VHS color circa 75 minutes (circa 37 minute segment
repeated)
Rick Feffer demonstrates features of the SmartLevel; SmartLevel applications: roofing layout, home inspection, flooring installation, custom length level, machine shop (Andy Butler visits a custom car fabricator; Wedge logo appears between each segment.
  OV 534.7 SmartLevel Modules, 1, 2 & 3, 1990
1⁄2” VHS color circa 85 minutes (circa 9 minute segment repeated)
SmartLevel Digital Inclinometer, circa 1990
1⁄2” VHS color circa 8 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates features of the SmartLevel; dealer services from Wedge Innovations.
  RV 534.7a Sales Demonstration, (circa 1990 - circa 9 minutes)
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the SmartLevel; dealer services from Wedge Innovations.
  OV 534.8

Applications Loop I, c. 1990
1/2" VHS color 90 minutes (circa 7 minute segment repeated
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the SmartLevel; Wedge logo appears between segments.

21 OV 534.9 ACE Hardware Loop, circa 1990
1/2" VHS color 75 minutes (circa 7 minute segment repeated
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the SmartLevel; Ace Hardware logo appears between segments.
22 OV 534.10 Dealer Intro, circa 1991
1/2" VHS color 3:24 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates features of the Series 200 SmartLevel features; Bob Brymer discusses dealer services from Wedge Innovations.
  RV 534.10a SmartLevel Family Introduction -Trade Show Version, 1991
  OV 534.11 Dealer Training, circa 1991
1/2" VHS color 17 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels.
  RV 534.11a Dealer Training, circa 1991
1/2" VHS-PAL version color 17 minutes
Rick Feffer demonstrates features and applications of the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels.
  OV 534.12 Customer Intro, circa 1991
1/2" VHS color circa 1 hour (circa 7 minute segment repeated)
Rick Feffer demonstrates features of the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels.
  OV 534.13 SmartLevel - McEwan's Version, circa 1991
1/2" VHS color 15 seconds
Series 200 SmartLevel advertisement
  RV 534.14 C.S.N. Broadcast, 1992
1⁄2” VHS color 1 hour
Produced by the Cotter Satellite Network for Cotter & Co.
(TrueValue Hardware) 6 segments: C.S.N. Update (company
news); 3M NewStroke (new paint applicator); SmartLevel
Dealer Introduction 4:55 minutes (SmartLevel features);
SmartLevel Dealer Introduction 17 minutes (SmartLevel features; dealer services); NRHA Introduction to Selling
(instruction); NRHA Greeting the Customer (instruction)
    SERIES 5: OPERATIONS RECORDS, 1990-1993
16 10 International Distributor Agreement, 1990
  11 International Objectives, 1992
  12 International Products Overview, 1992
  13 International Sales Objectives, 1992-1993
  14 Objectives, 1990-1992
  15 Priorities, December 1991
  16 Production Objectives, 1992
  17 Reviews, 1991
    SERIES 6: PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT RECORDS,
1986-1993
  18-19 Future Products, 1987 and 1992
  20 Industrial Market Plan, April 14, 1992
16 21 Magazine Articles, 1986-1992
  22 Medical Uses, 1992
  23 Miscellaneous Uses, 1992
17 1 New Product Development Conference, 1991
  2 Protractor, 1992
  3 Review, 1988
  4 Sensor Market Plan, April 1992
  5 SmartDrill, 1987-1991
  6 SmartFinder, 1988-1990
  7 SmartSlant, 1991
  8 SmartSquare, 1992
  9 SmartTape, 1987-1990
  10 Trade Literature, 1986-1993
    SERIES 7: CORPORATE CULTURE, 1985-1996
17 11 Christmas Party, 1987
  12 Employee Photographs, circa 1985-1987
  13 Employee Photographs, circa 1985-1995
  14 Employee Photographs, circa 1989
  15 Employee Photographs, 1991
  16 Employee Photographs, circa 1995-1996
28 1 Photograph album, 1985
  2 Photographs of SmartLevel tool, undated
23   Oral History Interviews, 1995-1996
Audio cassette tapes, reference copies without time codes
    Oral History Interviews, 1995-1996
Audio cassette tapes, reference copies with time codes

24

25

26

RTC 534.1

OTC 534.1

MT 534.1

Interviewees: Ken Gunderson and Ronald Wisnia
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 19, 1995
Location: San Jose, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 1 hour

Ron Wisnia, a designer of semi-conductors and integrated circuits, described his work at a number of high-technology and start-up companies in the Silicon Valley. He also gave a geographic definition of the area and the sense of community felt by its inhabitants. Wisnia described the “Paharo Dunes” experience [Wedge’s New Product Development Conference in 1991], his woodworking experiences, the transition from Wedge to Macklanburg-Duncan, the SmartLevel manufacturing process (particularly the sensor module and the printed circuit boards), Wedge’s overseas manufacturing operations, Rick Shade’s work at Wedge, and his work for Koala Technologies. Ken Gunderson came to Wedge Innovations in August 1989 to resolve the stability and performance problems of the SmartLevel’s sensor. He described working for Macklanburg- Duncan’s SmartTools division, the transition from Wedge to Macklanburg-Duncan, other “Smart” tools, Wedge’s outreach to and help from the university community, and the SmartLevel manufacturing process (particularly its sensor and printed circuit boards).

24

25

26

RV 534.2

OTC 534.2

MT 534.2

Interviewee: Marilyn Crowell
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 20, 1995
Location: Palo Alto, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 1 hour

Marilyn Crowell was the executive secretary and office manager at Wedge Innovations for the entire life of the company. She was the first person hired by Andy Butler when he founded Wedge in the basement of his home (218 Cowper St., Palo Alto, CA) in 1985. Crowell experienced the growth of the company as it moved to Scott Road, and later 501 Mercury Road, in Sunnyvale, and lastly to San Jose. She left Wedge on January 31, 1993, having witnessed its sale to Macklanburg-Duncan in November 1992.

On this tape, Crowell discusses how she met Andy Butler when they both worked for Bechtel in San Francisco in 1983, how she came to work at Andy’s new company, Wedge Innovations, and what it was like to work there as the company grew. She also describes Butler’s efforts to secure venture capital and to finance the company with his own money. She relates many details about corporate culture, such as Butler’s personality and management style at length and how he motivated employees. She also discusses SmartLevel packaging design, which was done by Cindy Rogers (Wedge’s graphic designer) and Kevin Reeder (an engineering design consultant).

At the end of her interview, Crowell discusses the end of Wedge Innovations. Andy Butler first offered Wedge to Matsushita, who offered only $50,000 for the company. Crowell describes how Macklanburg-Duncan came on the scene and Butler’s decision to sell Wedge outright rather than see it broken up and all the employees unemployed. She also speculates on Butler’s feelings about the sale of Wedge.

24

25

26

RTC 534.3

OTC 534.3

MT 534.3

Interviewees: Andrew Butler, Stuart McFaul,
Marilyn Crowell and Ronald Wisnia
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 20, 1995
Location: Palo Alto, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 1 hour

This tape contains the remarks of Stuart McFaul and Andrew Butler, with occasional comments by Marilyn Crowell and Ronald Wisnia. McFaul was responsible for public relations at Wedge, while Butler founded the company [in 1985]. Butler related how he had been fired by the Board of Directors in June 1992, took back control of Wedge in August 1992, fired the replacement president, Richard Couch, and finally sold the company on November 16, 1992 [to Macklanburg-Duncan].

McFaul and Butler together described what they did before coming to Wedge Innovations, how their formal education influenced their work at Wedge, the company’s New Product Development Conference [in 1991], Smart tools technology, potential consumer markets for SmartLevel and brand name recognition.

Butler alone discussed his reasons for founding Wedge, the limitations of traditional construction tools, marketing the SmartLevel, hiring Ron Wisnia, the process of building Wedge, and the origin of the Wedge name.

McFaul alone discussed the issues involved in the promotion of SmartLevel, Wedge’s direct marketing survey, the cultivation of SmartLevel users, Butler’s efforts in the promotion of SmartLevel, and the design of the products and store displays.

24

25

26

RTC 534.4

OTC 534.4

MT 534.4

Interviewees: Andrew Butler, Marilyn Crowell and
Ronald Wisnia
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 20, 1995
Location: Palo Alto, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes

Side one is a continuation of the conversation with Andrew Butler begun on tape 3. Butler discusses how the marketing research for the SmartLevel influenced its design, the influence of venture capital on Wedge Innovations, the patent process, and financing a start-up company. He also discusses his childhood, sailing the Pacific Ocean, the influence of Stanford University, his work before Wedge Innovations, the typical life and work style of people in the Silicon Valley, and the nature of entrepreneurship.

Side two is an interview with Andrew Butler with occasional comments made by Marilyn Crowell, his former secretary, and Ronald Wisnia, a former engineer at Wedge Innovations. Since this interview takes place in a public place, there is some background noise that makes listening difficult. Butler discusses the move of Wedge Innovations to its San Jose facility and its ensuing costs, venture capitalists, his assessment of Wedge’s success and failure, his assessment of the consumer market for the SmartLevel, the proposed development of the “Smart Tool” line of products, the deal with Bosch, Rick Shade, and the decision to make the WedgeLevel rails from teak.

24

25

26

RTC 534.5

OTC 534.5

MT 534.5

Interviewees: Andrew Butler, Marilyn Crowell, Ronald
Wisnia and Bill Scott
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 20, 1995
Location: Palo Alto, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 1 hour

Andy Butler discusses the use of teak for WedgeLevel rails, the Paharo Dunes New Products Development Conference, the types of builders who attended, how the conference worked, what characterizes good design, criticisms of the SmartLevel, the core constituency for the SmartLevel, the use of software in company management, D2M [Design to Market], the lessons learned from Wedge Innovations and from marketing the SmartLevel, the difference between marketing and sales, the future market and design of digital inclinometers, Work Slate (first laptop computer), the use of digital technology in restaurant operations, the Silicon Valley lifestyle and work style, his own lifestyle and his significant other, Morocco, the early hires of Wedge Innovations (Marilyn Crowell, Rob Nagle, Dan Kellogg, Don Green, Ron Wisnia, and Stuart McFaul), paying Wedge bills with his own credit cards, the Silicon Valley “start-up phenomenon,” the nature of inventive inspiration, Jerome Lemelson, and how people react to failure in Silicon Valley.

Bill Scott is an industrial designer and friend of Andy Butler and was never employed at Wedge Innovations. He did, however, attend the New Products Development Conference, which he discusses briefly on this tape.

24

25

26

RTC 534.6

OTC 534.6

MT 534.6

Interviewees: Andrew Butler, Marilyn Crowell and
Edwin “Win” Siepp
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: Butler et al. interview: June 20, 1995
Siepp interview: June 21, 1995
Location: Butler et al. interview: Palo Alto, California
Siepp interview: Milpitas, California
Total Running Time: Butler et al. interview: Approximately 8
minutes
Siepp interview: Approximately 35
minutes

The first interview is a continuation of the one with Andy Butler on tape 5. Butler and Marilyn Crowell briefly comment on the development of the Wedge logo.

The second interview, which begins approximately 8 minutes into side one and is continued on side two, is with Win Siepp, who joined Wedge in 1989 as Product Manager. He discusses what he did before and after Wedge, his educational background, how he came to be hired by Wedge, key Wedge personnel in 1989, his areas of responsibility at Wedge, the differences between the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels, the marketing of the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels, the “materials function” at Wedge, the Home Depot project, Wedge’s market research efforts, the successes and failures of Wedge, the use of aluminum alloy, the evolution of the manufacturing process, problems of teak supply and rail manufacturing, Wedge as a typical example of a high-technology start-up company, the effect of investment on the life-span of Wedge, and the working conditions at Wedge.

24

25

26

RTC 534.7

OTC 534.7

MT 534.7

Interviewee: Rick Feffer
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 22, 1995
Location: Sunnyvale, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 1 hour

Rick Feffer discusses his educational and work background, his remodeling work before joining Wedge Innovations, how he came to work for Wedge and appear in the first advertising photographs and videos, the first WedgeLevel promotional video, the Home Builders Show in January 1989, why Macklanburg-Duncan bought Wedge Innovations, the importance of dealer training and product demonstration for selling SmartLevel, working for Wedge, the durability issue for the SmartLevel, the influence of product demonstration on the evolution of product design and quality control, promoting the SmartLevel, consulting for Macklanburg-Duncan, customer service, Zircon (his current employer), Macklanburg-Duncan’s change of SmartLevel design, origin of the Wedge name, the use of owner registration cards by Wedge for market research, brand name recognition of SmartLevel, the “failure” of Wedge Innovations, the influence of investors on Wedge, the New Products Development Conference, sales strategies, alternate uses/markets for SmartLevel, learning on the job, the Habitat for Humanity Project in Milwaukee and meeting Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter [1989], teak for WedgeLevel rails, stand-off clips for WedgeLevel, cherry wood rails, Stabila and Bosch versions of SmartLevel, offshore manufacturing of rails and quality control problems, working the “Christmas rush,” the lasting impact of SmartLevel on the hand tool industry, the SmartLevel carrying case, and the early store displays.

24

25

26

RTC 534.8

OTC 534.8

MT 534.8

Interviewees: Rick Feffer and Stuart McFaul
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 22, 1995
Location: Feffer interview: Sunnyvale, California
McFaul interview: Milpitas, California
Total Running Time: Feffer interview: Approximately 13
minutes
McFaul interview: Approximately 50
minutes

The Feffer interview begins on side one and is a continuation of the interview from tape RTC 534.7. Feffer discusses his age when he started consulting for Wedge, the Series 200 SmartLevel, the durability issue, sales of the Pro and Series 200 SmartLevels, the design of the Series 200 SmartLevel, the weight of the levels, women users of the levels, the purpose and varying uses of the carrying case, his involvement and commitment to Wedge Innovations, working for Wedge, Andy Butler’s leadership style, D2M, and his remodeling work today.

The McFaul interview starts on side one and continues on side two. On side one, McFaul discusses the differences and similarities of working for Wedge versus working for a larger company, the New Product Development Conference, knowledge he gained from working for Wedge (his “real life MBA”), the importance of using metaphor and storytelling in gaining public acceptance for the SmartLevel, the use of students to make promotional videos, the importance of promotional videos, public relations at Wedge, and the unexpected or playful nature of SmartLevel.

On side two, McFaul discusses the testing of SmartLevel and its ruggedness, demonstrating and marketing SmartLevel, the appeal of SmartLevel, the high-technology aspects of SmartLevel, measuring marketing success, marketing priorities, the acquisition of Wedge by Macklanburg-Duncan, worker morale at and loyalty to Wedge Innovations, his leaving Wedge and the end of Wedge, breaking into the “old-boy” network of hardware distribution channels, working for a start-up company, the effect of Silicon Valley on Wedge, creating new business processes at Wedge, the development of the Wedge “look” in products and advertisements, the use of teak for rails, and the future of the SmartLevel.

24

25

26

RTC 534.9

OTC 534.9

MT 534.9

Interviewees: Stuart McFaul and Dale Cheves
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: June 22, 1995
Location: McFaul interview: Milpitas, California
Cheves interview: San Jose, California
Total Running Time: McFaul interview: Approximately 10
minutes
Cheves interview: Approximately 9 minutes

This tape continues the interview with McFaul from tape RTC 534.8. McFaul discusses automation and computer use at Wedge, the user interface of the Macintosh, simplicity and approachability in technology, the impact of SmartLevel on the construction industry, the ruggedness of the SmartLevel, and Andy Butler’s character. The interview with Dale Cheves is also on side one, starting at approximately 10:00. Cheves was hired by Wedge in 1989 to supervise direct sales and customer service. He discusses the 1989 Christmas rush at Wedge, the push to get the product out each year, the 1989 Christmas card idea, direct sales versus dealer sales, his work before and after Wedge, his hiring by George Sun, his educational background, customer service at Wedge, and the 1-800-SMARTLEVEL phone line.

24

25

26

RTC 534.10

OTC 534.10

MT 534.10

Interviewee: Po Chi Wo
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: August 29, 1996
Location: San Francisco, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 64 minutes

Po Chi Wo is a venture capitalist who was a partner in Advent International (Boston) in 1990 when Advent invested in Wedge Innovations. As a result of this investment, Wo had visiting rights to the monthly Wedge Board of Directors meetings. In this interview he discusses Advent’s investment in Wedge. He begins on side one with his own educational background and upbringing, how he became a venture capitalist, his early investment efforts, and how he met Andy Butler in 1990.

Wo continues by discussing how Advent came to invest in Wedge, what was attractive and what was risky about the investment in the SmartLevel, how Advent tried to support Wedge’s operations in Asia, and the significance of Wedge’s Silicon Valley location. Wo also discusses the due diligence process, how venture capital works in general, the “shared risk strategy,” how venture capital firms help start-up companies, and how return on investment is calculated by venture capital firms.

On side two, Wo discusses the expectations of investors in start-up companies, the relationship of the Board of Directors to Wedge and their lack of support for Wedge, the “failure” of Wedge, their lack of management experience, the sale of Wedge, and the possible buyers for Wedge.

He also discusses Andy Butler’s creativity, Wedge’s efforts to promote its growth, marketing and sales of the SmartLevel, appealing to “early adopters” of new technology versus a broad base of consumers, the “FUD factor” (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) by consumers of new technologies, the lack of product stability of the SmartLevel, diversification of Wedge’s product line, international marketing of the SmartLevel, and the future of smart tools. He ends by describing what it means to be an inventor and how the inventor’s artistic drive pushes him or her to overcome his fear of failure.

24

25

26

RTC 534.11

OTC 534.11

MT 534.11

Interviewee: Rick Feffer
Interviewer: David Shayt, NMAH
Date: August 29, 1996
Location: Palo Alto, California
Total Running Time: Approximately 34 minutes

In this interview, Rick Feffer discusses Macklanburg-Duncan’s continuation of the SmartLevel, the future of construction tools and new tool technology, customer resistance to using the SmartLevel, the perception of the SmartLevel as a fragile tool and its durability, the choice of teak for SmartLevel rails, the wedge shape of the SmartLevel rail, the original stand-off clips, and the SmartLevel’s digital bubble.

He also discusses non-construction and machine shop uses for the SmartLevel, its use in Australia, and Andy Butler’s new product, a Robo-Laser level.

Feffer continues with the Wedge’s appearance at the Chicago Hardware Show [in 1991] and the resulting interest in the SmartLevel by Home Depot, training salespersons and setting up Home Depot stores for the SmartLevel, “guerilla marketing,” direct marketing versus retail sales, Home Depot sales of the SmartLevel, venture capital investment in Wedge, other companies interested in acquiring Wedge Innovations, the reason behind the Macklanburg-Duncan purchase of Wedge and the characteristics of Macklanburg-Duncan as a company.

 

<empty>

Last Update: 11 May 2007

:: Home :: About Us :: Centerpieces :: Events :: Resources :: Video & Audio ::
:: Press Room :: Blog :: Newsletter :: Site Map :: Facebook :: Flickr :: Twitter ::
Smithsonian