Friday, August 21, 2015

The bullied boy who became an industrial leader

In 1945, brothers Carl and Allen Dicke and Carl's son, Jim, began a small parts company that made temperature controls for coal-burning furnaces. Unfortunately, this was a dead-end technology, as people were switching to natural gas. In the 1950s, they added TV antennas. Over the years, their privately held Crown Equipment company adapted to changing times, becoming a leading manufacturer of industrial forklifts.

But the laudable perseverance of a 70-year-old company, it is no match for the personal perseverance of Jim's son (Carl's grandson) who would rise above physical abuse in grade school to become an industrial giant, artist, and avid art collector.

James F. Dicke II was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1945. He grew up in New Bremen, Ohio, where his father took over the family business at age 31 in 1952 when his father (Dicke's grandfather) died. Dicke had just begun school and was bullied, harassed and beaten by older farm boys at school. He kept this to himself, but at age 12 he begged his parents to send him to military school so he could escape the abuse.

Dicke excelled at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, graduating as a captain, its highest rank. He then attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he majored in business, graduating in 1968.

Looking back years later, Dicke said, “Persistence, when it can be summoned, is an amazing gift.”

But along with his business drive, Dicke had an artistic side. His mother was a docent at the Dayton Art Institute when she met Dicke's father. They met at the Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton. His father threw an eraser at her to attract her attention.

Dicke bought his first painting, a watercolor, when he was 10, using $5 he had saved. At 18, he tried painting. He began painting while at Culver in 1963 under the tutelage of the late Warner Williams, a bas-relief, realist artist.  Later, he studied with Nelson Shanks of Pennsylvania.

But duty called. In 1971, the now-married James F. Dicke II joined the family business, taking over when his father retired. The company already made forklifts and other material handling equipment with sales in Australia and the United States. As the head of Crown Equipment, Dicke was able to grow the company without outside investors. The company expanded, eventually having branches in Australia, Belgium, China, England, Germany, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Spain. Most customers used its equipment in warehouses.

In 1990, its RR series of trucks won the Design of the Decade award from the Industrial Designers Society of America, the first of many recognitions by that group. The award may not have been an Academy Award, but Crown Equipment helped revolutionize warehousing, which helps make businesses such as Amazon possible, which makes self-publishing books about Exceptional Americans easier. Capitalism breeds capitalism and happiness. The company grew to 15,000 employees and annual sales of $2.6 billion under his leadership.

Material success brought out the philanthropist in Dicke. Over the years, he gave $25 million to the Culver Educational Foundation, $20 million each to Ohio Northern University, and $20 million to Trinity University. He also used his wealth to promote the arts with donations to many museums, including the one his mother worked at.

Over time that $5 watercolor painting had more than 2,500 companions as Dicke's collection of art grew. In 2011, the Dickes displayed many of his paintings, drawings and sculptures at the Dayton Art Museum. He also continued painting, earning praise from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which noted, "In his art, Dicke draws inspiration from nature and his contemporary art collection, which includes emerging artists as well as established names such as John Currin and Philip Pearlstein."

Overcoming bullying as a child was tough because it crushed his self-esteem. But he overcame it. On December 11, 2014, he joined the Horatio Alger Association of Americans who overcame obstacles to succeed in business.

"My life has taught me many valuable lessons, all of which have called upon my personal persistence.  I am honored to be recognized by Horatio Alger Association for my perseverance as well as my professional achievements and philanthropy.  To be included among so many luminaries from the business, government and entertainment fields is quite humbling, and as a Member, I look forward to supporting the Association's mission. The Horatio Alger Association is a remarkable family," Dicke said at the annual banquet honoring new inductees.

My first collection of "Exceptional Americans" is available here. And the Kindle version is here.

Volume 2's publication will be on September 1, my 62nd birthday. It will be available here, and on Amazon and Kindle.


  1. My husband and I visited New Bremen, OH to see the Bicycle Museum. I believe Mr. Dicke's effort to bring the bicycle collection to New Bremen, and other investments in the town, should be noted.

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  3. Yes very interesting,I'm a crown equipment corporation employee,I was to bullyied at school.I'm not as successful as Jim but I love working for his company and God Bless his family.