Pratley's founder, George Montague Pratley, or "Monty", was born in Johannesburg on September 19, 1917 and was educated at King Edward School and Wits University. After his father's death, he used a small inheritance to study at Rugby College of Technology and Arts in England.
When war was declared in 1939, he intended to join the British Army, but because he was employed by the British company Thomson Houston, known for the Whittle Jet Engine, an industry vital to the war effort, that company would not let him leave. He was finally discharged in 1942 and joined the 7th Armored Division in time to take part in the Normandy landings on D-Day.
After the war ended, he returned to South Africa in 1946 and was employed for two years at the Durban Deep Gold Mine on the Ridge before setting up his own business.
Pratley Manufacturing and Engineering Company was founded in 1948 in a rented garage in Hillbrow - the main purpose of the company was to employ both large and very small mines. With capital of £349, G.M. Pratley purchased several pieces of new and used equipment and, with the help of Sam Matlebe, his first employee, repaired mine pumps and made fittings and valves for the mining industry. Donald Cock joined Pratley shortly after Sam as the first journeyman. He worked with Monty in the gold mines and stayed with Pratley for 42 years.
Pratley's first retail outlet was in Roodepoort, F.C. Holton's commercial premises and consisted of a workshop with an attached two-bedroom flat that had a kitchen, lounge and bathroom. The bedrooms, with one window overlooking the workshop, served as offices. The workshop had very humble beginnings and consisted of a small lathe, a very small mill, a reasonably sized shaping machine, two boring machines and a medium sized saw.
In the early years, Monty's mother Olive and his wife Marguerite also played important roles in the company, especially in accounting and administration.
The machines in the first workshop were adequate, but very often just too small for the "business" part of the work, so "head scratching" along with a lot of initiative was the order of the day. Some of the mining jobs were quite complicated and were often rejected by other engineering companies, but with great effort and optimism, the company managed to keep its customers happy. It wasn't long before Monty made a name for himself by producing quality products. A perfectionist and an innovative genius, Monty never duplicated a single item without redesigning or improving it. Spare parts are produced for all local stone crushing plants and for many other industrial plants. The company even refurbished the bottling machines for soft drinks.
In addition to its employment business, the company imported refurbished 'Fordson' tractors from the UK for sale to local farmers. Pratley Engineering also had an agency for tungsten carbide tip lapping and honing tools, emery tools and Pratley hand cleaner. Other items made included precision pump screws; anti-theft switches; Rubber toys (racing cars, tractors and limousines) and a rubber bath stopper with a special design.
The huge "Drop Hammer" was built in 1952 to produce "Crosby Clamps" for securing electrical wires. To make the U-bolts for the Crosby clamps, other special purpose machines had to be designed and built - cutting, straightening and bending machines.
Repairing mine water pumps became a difficult but lucrative business, and is probably responsible for much of the company's early success. So, in 1955, Monty used the capital and some money borrowed from his mother to buy a building plot in Factoria, Luipaardsvlei, on which the factory and headquarters were built and are now located. The first buildings in the new premises consisted of 2 identical red brick workshops, along with 1 office, 1 toilet and 2 cloakrooms. Soon, larger workshops were filled with new equipment, which brought the company more and more success.
Pratley Headquarters and Manufacturing Facility - Krugersdorp, South Africa
The refurbishment of the pump continued into the 1960s, but the design and manufacture of a first-class cable gland in 1959/1960, revolutionary in many ways, made the company a force to be reckoned with. This development was made possible by one of the other products being produced at the time: the Remote Controlled Explosive Unit, which threatened the existence of the delay fuze industry. The patent for the blasting device was bought by a company wanting to protect its interests, it was withdrawn from the market, and the proceeds from the sale allowed Monty not only to pay off his mother's loan, but also to mass-produce his patented adjustable cable glands.
To achieve self-sufficiency, a well-equipped laboratory and printing house were set up at the Krugersdorp factory. The rubber compounds were milled on site and 3 different designs of fire resistant cable glands and 5 sizes of cast iron cable boxes were produced. These junction boxes were used by the municipality of Krugersdorp - for mains power - as well as by many other municipalities, mines and general industry.
Around 1959/1960. an aluminum foundry was designed, built and launched. This foundry is specifically designed to produce aluminum alloy cable boxes, roof boxes - to facilitate the conversion of old houses - and underground lighting boxes, which are placed on long lengths of cable, wound on a cable drum or "coil", taken underground and then if necessary, rolled from the drum and connected together as a finished lighting system. Pratley's aluminum alloy foundation boxes played a significant role in keeping the cost of low-cost enclosures to a minimum by providing an inexpensive way to connect incoming mesh cable to internal wiring.
A number of other products were developed but never proved successful. These include: hydraulic lift trucks for garages; Latco hot water valve regulators; battery and electric mowers; well pumps and door closers.
Monty was instrumental in initiating and formulating the appropriate specification for flame retardant grommets used in the South African environment and was a member of the grommet committee. With the help of other Pratley Engineering employees, Mr. GM Pratley also assisted in preparing, advising and recommending the compilation of what became SABS 1213:1984 - a specification for mechanical cable glands suitable for reinforced and non-armored cables.
Donald Cock became a world expert in the design of cable transits, and Sam Matlebe - the company's first employee - proved how unique he is. As the company grew and hired more employees, both black and white employees turned to him for advice on business and personal issues – at a time when apartheid was at its height. Sam had the gift of calming any unstable situation. Monty's mother, Olive, played an important role in the company, doing accounting, and his wife, Marguerite, distinguished herself by managing the administration and processing of many patents. This was at a time when she had two small children to raise and the family was living in difficult conditions in some outbuildings in Krugersdorp.
Pratley Putty – then known as Pratley Plastic Putty – was developed at Pratley Laboratory in the early 1960s and eventually put Pratley's name on the world map. The product was developed as an insulator and also as an adhesive to fix the brass terminals that were in the cast iron junction boxes. Over time, many other uses for putty were discovered, allowing it to penetrate both consumer and industrial and mining markets. The molded putty was turned into a more tacky adhesive paste, and these products soon began to be manufactured under license in America and New Zealand.
An article appeared in a Johannesburg newspaper outlining the early history of epoxy resins:
...the age of nuts and bolts and ordinary adhesives is rapidly giving way to the cosmic age of epoxy adhesives. Krugersdorp led the world in this scientific advancement. Epoxy resins make conventional protection and repair methods seem primitive and inadequate. Their limitless versatility to permanently bond, repair, fill and remove scale has been hailed as a fantastic breakthrough.” Pratley Putty was the first of its kind in the world and was notable for being used in one of the American space modules to land on the moon. Pratley Putty is also used to repair the Golden Gate Bridge that spans San Francisco Bay, and in South Africa the adhesive was used to repair holes in two sunken ships that harden under water. Both ships were lifted and eventually put to the open sea when more.
The Pratley Putty was the first of its kind in the world and had the distinction of being used in one of the American lunar landing modules. Pratley Putty was also used to repair the Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay, and in South Africa, holes in two sunken ships were repaired with glue that hardens underwater. Both ships were lifted and eventually re-entered the open sea.
Mr. GM Pratley made many decisions that improved the credibility of his company, one of which was to adopt a constructive marketing strategy from the start and appoint Mr. "Mac" Cohen as the company's first director of marketing.
In 1972, the Ezee-fit range of junction boxes was an immediate success, with thousands installed in SASOL oilfields.
In 1974, a perlite processing factory was built in Chamdor. This was necessary because Monty had been prospecting for perlite in Zululand for many years and had drilled hundreds of holes with Pratley rigs. The pearlite factory, which is a multi-million dollar investment, also included railroad tracks.
The staff grew from the original 3 to over 300 by 1974. Pratley Engineering helped many immigrants to come to South Africa between 1967 and 1975 (many from a company called 'Marconi's' in England) by employing them and arranging accommodation nearby factories. For this purpose, two houses were purchased, which were a stepping stone to getting your own place.
Beautifully equipped laboratories ensure that the highest level of technology in the field of adhesives is not only maintained, but improved in many aspects with several world firsts such as Pratley Putty and Pratley Wondafix.
Most of Pratley's sales and marketing materials, as well as instructional leaflets for many Pratley products, were (and still are) produced in-house in the printing department. The various rubber compounds required to produce the hundreds of sizes of ferrules and watertight jackets for cable glands and boxes were (and still are) milled in-house and then molded. Plastic injection molding machines have produced thousands of plastic cable glands, washers, gaskets and locknuts. In May 1983, the Pratley Group was deeply saddened by the untimely death of its popular and respected founder and managing director. His son Kim, who joined the company in 1979 after graduating from Wits University as a mechanical engineer, took over the company. KGM Pratley was well trained by his father for this position and since 1983 he has been managing the affairs of the company with great commitment and efficiency. He was married to Valerie and they had two sons, Andrew and Charles.
In 1985, Kim Pratley introduced another world first - Pratley Wondafix: a unique adhesive that exhibits both excellent adhesive strength and exceptional flexibility. This time he stood under the Wondafix-raised bulldozer, confident that the vehicle would not fall on him.
Pratley CEO Kim Pratley addresses the media while standing under a 13-tonne bulldozer
hangs in the air thanks to Pratley Wondafix glue.
Until 1988, a product that the group no longer sells - Tik-Tak - was ground and packaged in-house.
All epoxy products are formulated, mixed and packaged in a polymer factory before being shipped from well organized stores.
Well-equipped laboratories, with the help of sophisticated spectrophotometers and computers, were able to identify almost every known mineral and break down most of the recipes used in the field of adhesives. The research and development of new products, both chemical and mechanical, has become a regular activity of Pratley.
Tuflon inlets are injected into the mold for light work.
Drawing and design work was carried out in the drawing office, which also served as a well-equipped tool shop and production facilities.
In the early 1990s, this second-generation family business was more successful than ever before. In 1993, the world's fastest-binding adhesive, Pratley Wham, was launched. Most people who witnessed the product launch will never forget the demonstration where a crane lifted the Volkswagen Beetle using a hook attached to a panel glued to the roof of the vehicle about five seconds earlier. This product was eventually taken off the market because it simply ran too fast for most people!
At the Pratley Wham launch, CEO Kim Pratley successfully lifts a VW Beetle into the air in 5 seconds
after applying Pratley Wham to the joint.
In the late 1990s and into the new century, the Pratley Group grew from strength to strength. In 2005, Andrew, son of Kim Pratley, joined the company after graduating from IT studies. After graduating in industrial engineering in 2009, he was joined by his youngest son Charles.
Many of the group's achievements are largely due to the founder of the company, Mr. G.M. Pratley: industrialist-founder, man of vision, optimist, mentor to all who served him, he did not leave anyone indifferent to his philosophy.
“One of my father's most unique qualities was his complete faith in his ability to succeed. Failure was not in his vocabulary. I think part of his success can be attributed to the fact that he was completely interested in reality. facts must be taken into account - everything else, except the entrepreneurial spirit, has been discarded. Certainly much of his success was due to his ability to draw a very clear line between good and evil, moral and immoral behavior, good and bad, good and bad. In short, there was no gray area in his thought process. I am convinced that it has simplified his life and allowed him to focus on his goals. His ethics were unquestioned at all times. He was a tough businessman, but also had an impeccable reputation for ethical business. He abhorred bribery, corruption and underhanded dealings.
In later years, it resisted attempts by large companies to buy it out, as well as the temptation to go public. This would make him extremely rich, but it would deprive him of independence and freedom to pursue innovative ideas. All new technologies were exciting for him and he was always eager to implement them.
“His hands-on management style that paid attention to detail, the development of an intense company culture, the decision to equip the research laboratory to the highest technical standards to become self-sufficient in terms of production capacity and ancillary business areas, and last but not least, his relentless pursuit of to innovative products with the highest performance, have contributed to the characteristics of our current business strategy.”
In January 2021, Pratley was once again deeply saddened by the untimely death of its esteemed CEO, Kim Pratley. Pratley is now skillfully led and managed by the late Kim Pratley's sons, Andrew and Charles Pratley, whom their father taught well. They both worked at Pratley from 2005 and 2009 respectively.