Providing thoughtful, value-driven refractory solutions to the
metals and industrial markets since 1957.
Our story begins in 1956 when Walter R. Sylvester accepted a position at J&L Steel (Aliquippa, PA Division) upon graduation from Westminster College. At the time, Walt had no idea that this decision would shape not only the rest of his career, but also, that of generations of his family. After spending several years learning the day-to-day operations of the steel industry, Walt was ready to take the next step in his career and joined the Wisconsin-based steel industry supplier Thiem Corporation. Beginning in sales, Walt was able to leverage his expertise in the industry to eventually become an Executive Vice President running the Universal Refractories division for Thiem.
Through an acquisition, Thiem converged with Koppers, Incorporated. By the early 1980’s Koppers, Inc. decided to divest itself from all steel-related divisions including Universal Refractories. It was in this moment that Walt saw an opportunity. Walt aligned himself with a financial partner and, risking his reputation and livelihood, was able to successfully acquire the division. This was the founding of Universal Refractories, Inc. in 1983. In 1993 the Sylvester family obtained sole ownership of the company and has retained it to this day. Universal Refractories, Inc. is pleased to take advantage of the many benefits provided by private ownership. Most notably, the company is able to work off of a long-term strategic focus, mitigating knee-jerk reactions to volatile markets. This unique structure has opened the doors to an engaged work culture that spans generations.
Since Walt’s untimely death in 1999, Universal Refractories, Inc. has continued to grow organically focusing on continuous improvement and providing unique performance-designed solutions for every customer.