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Zebra began as a garage operation in 1994 making a better mousetrap, in this case a disk-type mechanical pump for oils, and selling it door-to-door. Almost immediately, management realized that this particular market was being ignored, and this presented an opportunity for growth.

This neglect came in different forms. First, there were few products that were specialized for the needs of metalworkers. Second, even if there were a product solution offered, it was only offered by one company. So a customer looking for two different solutions at the same time was forced to work with two different companies. Third, and more fundamental, there was a basic lack of fundamental science applied to understanding the problems within the machining environment. Most companies approached the problems as being simple mechanical issues, but further investigation showed that a larger share was due to chemistry, and an even larger component was due to biology.

By 1995, Zebra had leaped forward by inventing two new technologies, a simple and affordable disk skimmer with a miniaturized API (link this to api.org) separator incorporated into the product, and a compact mechanical skimming device that used a tube and operated horizontally. Later in the year Zebra had added products such as aeration, chemical buffering, and test and measurement equipment to its product lines. Zebra also created the now industry standard definition of 'reach' – allowing any customer to compare unknown products from a variety of vendors armed only with the information they could gather from their own machines.

In 1996, Zebra had taken the leap and became a supplier to large catalog houses such as J&L, MSC and Grainger. Growth at this time became exponential and Zebra moved into larger facilities in Solon, Ohio.

In 1998 Zebra moved yet again into even larger facilities, and had distribution world wide, with Japan and Canada being its largest international customers. At this time, Zebra's reputation for researching and developing innovative machine filtration technologies was well known, and projects were conducted for the likes of Blaser, Ebbco, Mazak and Mayfran. More significantly, Zebra research began teasing away at some of the underlying assumptions many in the industry had been making for decades regarding machine sump contamination and the skin sensitivity of personnel. As a result, Zebra research came to the following conclusions. A wide variety of microbial purification devices, powered by ultraviolet light, magnets, or some copper compound variant, are all highly suspect. Controlled experiments in Zebra labs and in the field all pointed to other more substantial contributors (such as the pump itself) instead of these other spurious sources. As a result, Zebra instituted its first industry position statement – educating its market that these devices are patently unproven, and that proper health, safety, and maintenance procedures should rely upon time-tested basic procedures alone.

2001 Zebra moved into still larger facilities and began forming a management staff. However, after the tragedy of 11 September, business fell precipitously and key personnel were let go. At this point a competitor hired them and did its best to duplicate the Zebra Metalworking product line. After a year the employee was let go from the competitor.
Zebra began working on a variety of other products in response to the shrinking metalworking marketplace, and began researching technologies that would be applicable to the consumer market. As a result, a winter swimming pool circulator, a christmas tree watering device, and other products came to light. At this point Zebra realized that its true mission lay in the creative use of technology in all areas of the world where fluids were concerned.

Most recently, in 2009, Zebra has perfected a formula that will allow its core customers, the metalworker, to aggressively wash their hands while also keeping them healthy. This formulation has been introduced under the brand of “Uncle Earl's Machinist Soap” and has already met with widespread commendation. The use of Uncle Earl is by no means misleading, for it was with the help of a kind old “Uncle” Earl that many of the industry's innovations were made. Earl is indeed a real person, and this brand is an homage to the integrity and perseverance that his character, and the character of other machinists, bring to our industry.

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