Ducommun is still going after 166 years

Ducommun, which began as a Gold Rush supplier, is now a fixture in the aerospace industry

Ducommun Inc. has a special place in the business history of California. It began by outfitting prospectors with hardware and sundries during the Gold Rush, more than a century and a half ago. Now, it makes electronic assemblies for the U.S. Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile.

Ducommun was founded in 1849, a year before California became a state. At the time, Los Angeles was a frontier town, population 1,600.

The company's name comes from founder Charles Louis Ducommun, a half-blind smallpox survivor and watchmaker who walked to L.A. from Arkansas. Ducommun brought a mule and as much as it could carry. The trip took nine months, according to a company history.

In the early days of the California aerospace industry, Ducommun provided aluminum to fledgling firms such as Lockheed Corp., founded in 1912, and Douglas Aircraft Co., founded in 1921.

Its tubular steel was on Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and the company was a supplier during World War II of stainless steel, carbon steel and alloys for bombers and fighters.

Ducommun went public after the war, in 1946.

Today, Ducommun maintains a structural systems group for aerospace products, including aircraft skins, spoilers and helicopter blades.

Its electronic systems group makes circuit boards and electro-mechanical systems for aerospace, military and industrial uses. It also makes "interconnect systems," such as cable assemblies and wiring harnesses.

Ducommun's advanced systems group makes "human machine interface" products, including switches, keyboards and integrated display systems for military aircraft and space vehicles. Among the group's other products are motion control devices designed to survive in extreme environments such as outer space, for satellites, and deep underground, for oil production.

Ducommun has production facilities in California and 10 other states.

The latest

In February, Ducommun announced it received $7.3 million in contracts from Raytheon Co. to continue producing electronic assemblies for the Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile through 2016.

The company also was awarded its first direct contract from Airbus for titanium components and assemblies for the Airbus A350 XWB wide-body aircraft.

In September, Ducommun said growth in its commercial aerospace business helped boost third-quarter revenue to $188.2 million from $181.3 million a year earlier. Net income fell to $2.6 million from $4.6 million, primarily because of higher taxes, compensation and benefits expenses.

Accomplishments

At 166 years and counting, Ducommun claims the mantle of California's oldest company.

Its products have been used on U.S. space shuttles and the International Space Station, among many others.

In 1981, Ducommun was included in the Register of Historic California Businesses compiled by the California Historical Society.

Challenges

Ducommun's $332.7 million in long-term debt at the end of 2013, much of it from the 2011 acquisition of electronics manufacturer LaBarge Inc., is higher than many of its competitors and "could limit our financing options," the company said.

Major aircraft or spacecraft disasters could hurt companies like Ducommun during long and exhaustive searches for the causes.

Economic downturns and any economic problems affecting the aviation industry can also affect its business. Ducommun also competes with many other companies to win contracts.

Analysts

Six analysts regularly follow the company. Two consider it a strong buy, two say buy, and two have a hold rating on the stock.

ronald.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonWLATimes

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