The Smell of Summer Time Metal

Late in the summer of 1998, the Anaheim Angels were tied with the Texas Rangers to win the American League West Division pennant. Their star pitcher, Chuck Finley, at the age of 35, had an ERA just over 3.00, and Jim Edmonds hit twenty-five homeruns. Meanwhile in the league, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were chasing Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs, and ended up destroying it, each hitting 66 and 70 respectively.

This was also the summer Steve Morrissey, founder of Metal Bowtie Co, turned fourteen years old. That year his grandfather, who was at the time an Assemblyman from California’s 69th State Assembly District, took him to Santa Ana for the ground-breaking ceremony at the Discovery Science Center. His grandfather, a long-time contributor to the sciences and advocate of STEM education, took Steve there to show his support, and to see Vice-President Al Gore speak. The event left a lasting impression on Steve. So much so, in fact, that when I asked him what he remembered most from that exciting summer, he didn’t mention the Angels, when they lost a devastating three games in a row — at home — to the Rangers, which ostensibly lost them the season. He didn’t talk about Sosa or McGwire or the season finale of Seinfeld.

“The first thing that comes to mind,” he said, “is my grandfather saying to me that day that science was our nation’s future. He said that if we were going to compete in the global economy, we needed a country of educated scientists and technologists. I’ll never forget that.”

“The other thing I remember,” he said, “was the smell of metal from my family’s machine shop, Superior Jig. I would’ve loved to have seen more Angel games when I was fourteen, but I was working at my dad’s shop all the time. I didn’t understand it back then, but it was my place to contribute to the family and learn what I could, so I spent that summer sweeping floors and cleaning machines. And that smell — we obviously used facemasks, but there’s only so much it can do. No matter how many times you took a shower after a day of work, you couldn’t get that machine shop smell off of you.”

“What does a room of hot metal smell like?”

“It’s a mixture of coolant and cutting metal,” he said. “And it actually doesn’t smell bad at all. I loved that smell. It’s that smell that only a machine shop can have. It always reminds me of my dad and grandfather though.”

Steve’s grandfather, Jim Morrissey, moved to Southern California from Tucson and founded Jig Grinding service in 1960 when he was thirty years old. At the time, the baby boom was under way, General Dwight Eisenhower was president, Disneyland just opened in Anaheim, and the California economy was prospering. There was a sense of tremendous pride to be an American builder, and Jim’s business thrived. He had six children, his third child being Steve’s dad John, whom he groomed to take over the family business.

John took over Jig Grinding in 1992 when his father retired. And since then, he’s added toolmaking, jig and fixture making, custom gages, jig boring, CNC machining, multi-axis machining, wire and conventional EDM, and related assemblies. Jig Grinding became Superior Jig, and they began building small and large structures for NASA, the Defense Department, and also private companies. Steve’s family’s metal has traveled all over the world and beyond, from their parts in the F-15 jets, to satellite or telescope parts and the arm for NASA’s Rover on Mars.

It might sound like a sentimental overstatement, but probably not considering how much metal debris he has inhaled throughout his life, but Steve literally (and figuratively) has metal in his blood. So it’s no surprise that when he followed his father and grandfather’s entrepreneurial footsteps that metal followed right along with him.

“So why bow ties?” I asked him.

“It might sound nerdy, but I was always a huge Bill Nye the Science Guy fan,” he said. “One day it just hit me: I’d like to make Bill Nye a metal bow tie. So I did. My wife and I sketched rough drawings and within thirty days we had our first prototype. We sold our first bow tie two weeks later.”

With Metal Bow Tie Co, Steve is not only continuing his grandfather and father’s legacy of business, but also a commitment to STEM education.

“I’m going to name every bow tie after a famous or even not-so-famous scientist, mathematician, or tech and engineering professional. We’re going to give back to help youth and to bring awareness to the STEM deficiencies we have in this country.”

“You ever get that bow tie to Bill Nye?” I asked him.

“Not yet,” he said. “But it’s the first thing on my list.”