Ward Body Works
Ward Body Works was founded by Conway, Arkansas, blacksmith David H. "Dave" Ward in 1933. Ward established the company after lowering the wooden roof of a school bus used by the Southside School District located several miles north of Conway. In 1936 Ward began manufacturing all-steel bus bodies, one of the first in the country to do so.
In 1964 the company began leasing an IBM 402 mainframe computer to handle its inventory control, financial records, and company payroll. An IBM 360 mainframe was leased to keep track of changes in state laws regarding school buses, schools bus configurations, and specifications.
Also in 1964 the company conducted the first bus rollover safety test, which has been described as the "first major test of school bus crashworthiness." The bus was rolled five and a quarter times to study joint strength, seat anchorages, and window retention.
In 1967 the company inaugurated a new belt-driven, moving assembly line.
In 1969 the company conducted a Rivet Survey to determine the number of rivets used in the manufacture of various buses. The great variety found in the results encouraged the first national standards for school bus joints.
In 1968 ownership of the Conway facility passed to David's son Charles. In the early 1970s the company began an innovative program of computer-aided manufacturing with an IBM 370 mainframe computer. By 1973 it was the largest school bus manufacturer on the planet, with a twenty-five percent market share. A second plant opened in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania failed in 1975. The company, then known as Ward School Bus Manufacturing, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1979.
With the assistance of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton the assets of the company were purchased by an investment group and reorganized into the American Transportation Corporation (AmTran). The Harmon brothers purchased a controlling stake in the company in 1983. A one-third share of the company was acquired by the multinational Navistar in 1991, with an option to purchase the rest by 1995. The company became a wholly-owned subsidiary in 1995. Navistar created the IC Corporation in 2002 to house its various bus manufacturing operations and established a headquarters in Warrenville, Illinois.
Buses continued to bear the "Ward" name until 1992, and then were labeled "AmTran" and now as "International" or "IC" made. A Tulsa IC bus manufacturing plant came on stream in 1999, and many members of the local IC workforce departed for Oklahoma. The 160-acre, 750,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Conway, Arkansas, continues to provide final assembly of school and prison buses. IC is one of the two largest manufacturers in the city, the other being Virco Manufacturing.
Charles Ward and the Origins of Acxiom
The information technology company Acxiom owes its origins to Ward Bus Company owner Charles Ward. Ward founded Demographics Inc. with his brother Stephen Ward in 1969 to meet the needs of the Young Leadership Council for the Democratic Party, of which he was a member, which wanted to create political mailing lists that were competitive with a data processing system set up by Winthrop Rockefeller and the Arkansas Republican Party. In 1970 the system was used in the successful gubernatorial election campaign of Dale Bumpers. Ward's leadership as Arkansas' Democratic National Committeeman, also helped in the failed draft movement to elect Wilbur D. Mills to the Presidency of the United States in 1972.
The company soon expanded to cover other data processing needs. One client was the bus company itself. The company originally occupied a 6,000 square foot building housing a computer and press. Ward divested himself of Demographics in 1975 in the midst of hard times. Charles D. Morgan, a manager of the company since 1972, became the new president and CEO. Revenue by the middle of the 1970s had increased to $1.2 million. The company entered the payroll processing business and handled billing for the local utility Conway Corp.
- Barry Beck, "Ward Industries, Inc.: A Historical Study," Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 16 (Winter 1974): 67-83.
- Harold B. Johnson, "A History of Dave Ward and His Company," M.S.E. thesis, Arkansas State Teachers College, 1960.
- Toby Manthey, "Maker of School Buses Lays Off 170 in Conway," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 27, 2009.