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Townsend, Ray

Published onNov 08, 2021
Townsend, Ray

(May 27, 1913 — April 2, 2011)

Quick Facts

Founder of Townsend Engineering in 1946, one of the world largest producer of meat processing machines in the world.

Source: “Inventor Had Relish for Hot Dog Making” By Stephen Miller, Wall Street Journal. April 11, 2011 12:01 am ET

Inventor and businessman, Ray Townsend was born and raised in Des Moines. He attended Iowa State College (now University) and graduated in 1935 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Following college he went to work for his father R.F. Townsend at the Star Machine Shop. While doing some custom fabrication for various meat packers, he observed how the skinning process was done by hand and began tinkering with a machine that would pull the skin from the carcass. The machine draws the skin under the blade that cuts directly beneath the hide.

Townsend received a patent for this device which started Townsend Engineering in 1946, one of the world largest producer of meat processing machines in the world. In just two years the machine was used in 600 packing plants the world. During a World War II interlude, Townsend worked as an engineer at the Ankeny Ordinance Plant. There he designed and manufactured a device that could remotely pull bullets from fifty caliber and thirty caliber dud cartridges. This was a boon to the safety of munitions workers who previously had to perform the task by hand.

Townsend obtained more than 100 U.S. patents on his meat packing equipment and had more than 300 in various countries around the world. One of his early patents was a bacon rind skinner which could process 300 slabs an hour. One of his notable patents was given in 1964 for the Frank-A-Matic. This machine was capable of producing 30,000 linked sausages or hot dogs per hour. An example of an early Frank-A-Matic is in the permanent collection of the Iowa Historical Museum in Des Moines.

Ray Townsend had a passion for travel and big game hunting. He also had a reputation for great treatment of his employees. He was one of the first employers to offer a four day, ten-hour work week. The shifts were split to maintain production five days a week.

Townsend was one of the first three inventors inducted into the Iowa Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1978. He was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 1989. He was recognized in 2005 by the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with the Henry A. Wallace Award for an alumnus who has achieved notable professional achievements nationally or internationally. 

Selected Sources

Obituary, The Des Moines Register Monday, April 4, 2011.

“American Meat Institute to Honor Ray Townsend” The Des Moines Register Sunday, August 17, 1947.

“Make Hot-Dog Machines Here,” The Des Moines Register Sunday, January 9, 1972.

“Hall of Fame for Inventors Inducts 3” The Des Moines Register Wednesday, June 7, 1978.

“Townsend still a frank talker after 50 years of inventing,” The Des Moines Register Thursday, July 20, 1995.

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