The History of S & S
Words: John “Gunner” Gunnell
Photos: S & S
George Smith, Sr., on a Harley in the early postwar years.
The S & S story starts in Blue Island, Ill., right after World War II when George J. Smith returned to his home there and began tinkering with the engine on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Smith had a knack for making motorcycles run faster. It wasn’t long before he had a reputation for customizing and “hopping up” bikes like no one else could. He was “The Man” in Southwest Chicago. As demand for his services increased, he dreamed of opening his own business.
Smith’s friend Stanley Stankos ran an auto trim business that reupholstered cars. Stankos let George use his machine shop. In 1958, the duo teamed up to start a motorcycle shop, using both their initials in the trade name. Stankos felt the business was really a hobby and sold his half to George J. Smith in 1959. Since his wife Marjorie--also a motorcycle enthusiast--had became his business partner, the S & S name now stood for Smith & Smith.
It was Marjorie who had the idea to buy a mailing list of all the Harley-Davidson dealers and send them literature about the lightweight solid-lifter pushrods that George was making. They allowed replacing the factory-type hydraulic valve lifters with solid valve lifters for a big performance improvement. There were 1,300 factory dealers and the orders streamed in.
With his pushrods selling well, George began to manufacture a stroker flywheel that increased horsepower of the Harley V-Twin engine. He took out a second mortgage to buy a new lathe he needed to make the stroker flywheel. To get the machine into his basement shop, he had to take it apart and pass the parts through a window, before reassembling them in the basement.
In the early 1950s, George J. Smith began racing at Bonneville. The speedway there became a test bed for S & S products. Racing successes helped build the company’s reputation. Smith also experimented with dual carburetion to make his bike go faster. George J. designed dual-carb heads that helped deal with fuel-delivery problems in high-performance motors. In 1967, S & S came out with a new carburetor that solved the problem in a simpler and cheaper way.
In 1969, George J. moved the company to Viola, Wis. and hired his first employee, machinist Floyd Baker. In 1970, George’s son George B. left a Chicago printing company to work at S & S. He found it difficult to work with his dad, but later become S & S president. Another son, Ken, joined S & S in 1971.
George J. created the Super B carburetor in 1975 and then developed big-bore cylinders for “Shovelhead” engines in 1979. A year later, he died after a sudden heart attack. Marjorie put George B. in charge. It was a learning experience, but after some lean years early in the ‘80s, new products like the Super EG carburetor and some innovative engine parts got things rolling again.
In 1992, Marjorie Smith passed away. The following year, Sam Scaletta took over as the first person to run the company outside the family. As president, Scaletta worked with Kenneth Smith and other family members to increase profits. Kenneth Smith retired in 1991 and Brett Smith became president in 1993.
In 2004, S & S set up its modern corporate headquarters in La Crosse and opened a new training and certification facility. The X-Wedge motor was introduced in 2005 and in 2007 the S & S emissions lab opened. Today, the company supplies components or engines to several large custom bike builders.