William W. (Bill) Grainger founded a wholesale electric motor sales and distribution business in Chicago in 1927. He established the company to provide an efficient solution for customers to access a consistent supply of electric motors. The business was incorporated as W. W. Grainger, Inc. in 1928. Sales in the early days were generated primarily through mail order via post cards and a catalog. The MotorBook, as the catalog was originally called, was the basis for today's Grainger catalog.

To improve customer service, Bill Grainger opened a branch in Philadelphia in 1933 and then three additional branches the following year. By 1936, there were 15 branches in operation. It was evident that local branch service would be an integral part of the company's future growth.

In 1967, Grainger became a public company, and its stock was traded in the over-the-counter market. Today, Grainger stock is sold under the GWW symbol on the New York and Chicago stock exchanges.

To remain the leader in the industry, Grainger seized technology opportunities early. In 1976, Grainger became the first in the industry to implement optical character recognition equipment. Grainger continued to advance its systems throughout the 1980s by installing a national satellite-based digital communication network. In 1991, Grainger introduced the first comprehensive electronic MRO catalog on CD-ROM. Grainger launched the corporate Web site in 1995 and began taking orders online in 1996. Today, more than 27 percent of the company's annual revenue is generated through electronic channels, representing $2.2 billion in sales in 2011.

Over the last 85 years, Grainger's product line has expanded to more than 1 million products and repair parts. The Grainger branch network has grown steadily over the years, and today there are more than 711 Grainger branches, making W.W. Grainger, Inc. North America's leading broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products, with expanding global operations.

The 4,000-page Grainger catalog is published annually and is available online at Grainger.com, the company's award-winning Web site.

Grainger Timeline

  • September 1927
    Company founded in Chicago, Ill.; generates sales through an eight-page catalog - the Motorbook
  • November 1933
    Opens first branch in Philadelphia, Pa.
  • December 1942
    Expands to 24 branches and 24 territory sales reps
  • December 1952
    Celebrates 25th year with 46 branches, 54 territory sales reps and 104 pages in the Motorbook
  • March 1967
    Becomes a publicly traded company
  • December 1972
    Expands to 123 branches in 40 states with 218 territory sales reps
  • July 1975
    Lists on New York Stock Exchange
  • September 1981
    Reaches 1,000-page milestone for Motorbook; introduces an automated storage and retrieval system for central distribution center
  • February 1983
    Decentralizes distribution with opening of regional distribution center in Kansas City, Mo.
  • December 1984
    Breaks $1 billion annual sales mark for the first time
  • April 1992
    Acquires Lab Safety Supply, a premier direct marketing company
  • June 1995
    Launches first Web site
  • December 1996
    Acquires the industrial distribution business of Acklands Limited
  • August 2001
    Opens first of nine highly automated distribution centers
  • March 2002
    Celebrates 75 years of serving customers
  • April 2003
    Grainger's Lab Safety Supply subsidiary acquires direct marketer Gempler's.
  • October 2003
    Announces a multi-year branch expansion program to increase its market presence in the United States.
  • March 2004
    Logistics network project reaches completion with opening of capstone distribution center in New Jersey.
  • July 2005
    Grainger celebrates 10 years serving customers through its Web site.
  • August 2005
    Donates over $1 million in cash and emergency supplies to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
  • January 2006
    Implements SAP, an Enterprise Resource Planning System to connect the company's broad product line, multiple channels and strong logistics network.
  • July 2006
    Partners with the American Red Cross to sponsor Ready When the Time Comes, a corporate volunteer training program which facilitates the training of corporate employees to become Red Cross volunteers during times of disaster.
  • March 2007
    Celebrates 80 years of serving customers.
  • March 2008
    Jim Ryan appointed Chief Executive Officer.
  • June 2009
    Grainger acquires Asia Pacific Brands of India
  • February 2010
    Acklands-Grainger Inc. Acquires Ranson Industrial and Safety Supplies Inc.
  • August 2011
    Grainger Completes Acquisition of Fabory Group.
  • February 2012
    Acklands-Grainger Inc. names new President Eric Nowlin.
  • April 2012
    Grainger Enters Brazil Through the Acquisition of Anfreixo.