1919, after the conclusion of World War I, Walter J. Hanna, who
was still two years underage, was accepted as an enlistee in the
Alabama National Guard by fabricating his birth date. He was picked
as the best-drilled soldier in the Alabama Guard, and was promoted
to second lieutenant before he was 21 years old. In 1921, he won
the Southern Amateur junior lightweight boxing championship, weighing
in at 128 pounds. He also set a state record for the offhand rapid-fire
marksmanship, hitting 98 out of 100 with the rifle. He won many
marksmanship trophies, and moved up to captain in the Guard. He
earned the nickname “Crack” for being an expert marksman.
was “the soldier’s soldier,” because, as he said,
I never asked a soldier to do anything I couldn’t do and didn’t
do.” At Camp Blanding, Florida, he was put in charge of marksmanship
and bayonet training. He laid out a 100-yard obstacle course for
bayonet training. At 39 years old, he broke the world’s record,
running the course in 28 seconds.
War II marked a critical period in the military career of Crack
Hanna. He was made a lieutenant colonel and put in charge of training
for a regiment in the 31st Division. The division headed for the
South Pacific, and he became a regimental commander, a bird colonel.
He planned and executed a successful invasion of Morotal, an island
in the Netherlands East Indies. Japanese bombers came over one night,
and while he was running for the shelter a bomb went off nearby
and slammed him up against the logs. His neck was broken, some teeth
knocked out, and three vertebrae were broken. Later, at Mindinao
in the Philippines, his regimental combat team marched across the
island in the rainy season. It was one of the worst experiences
of his life, he remembers, “I lost 44 pounds from 184 to 140.
It was hot, and I got tired of digging a trench and laying in that
water. And if you stuck your head up, you got it shot off. And at
night, it was cold. I was never so hot, so hungry or so cold.”
By the termination of the war he held the rank of brigadier general,
an assistant division commander, a tribute to his capability as
a battlefront leader in the Southwest Pacific.
returned to active duty in the Korean War as an assistant division
commander. A heated disagreement with the division commander over
what Hanna regarded as inadequate training methods led to the opportunity
of his assuming responsibility as Alabama adjutant general under
Governor Gordon Persons and his involvement in some of the most
dramatic law enforcement episodes in Alabama history—the Phenix
City was a lawless place during the 1950’s, rife with prostitution,
corruption and gambling. Local law enforcement was in on it, according
to the book. The Tragic and Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama by Margaret
City exploded into the national consciousness, however, in June
1954. That’s when someone there murdered Attorney General-elect
Albert Patterson just before he appeared before a grand jury hearing
allegations of voter fraud in Russell County.
Gordon Persons declared martial law and tapped Maj. General Walter
“Crack” Hanna, head of the Alabama National Guard, to
clean up Phenix City. As commanding officer of the Guard, General
Hanna was, in effect, commanding officer of the town of Phenix City
for more than six months. Crack Hanna and his men gathered enough
evidence to shut down Russell County’s criminal organization
and put the masterminds in jail. During the clean-up Guardsmen ran
the courthouse and the city hall, finally turning the city back
over to civilians in 1955.
Hanna retired from the Alabama National Guard in 1963. His awards
include Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Combat Infantryman’s
Badge, Bronze Star, and many more. General Hanna died in 1988.
to World War II, General Hanna created a sales agency called Hanna
& Co. When he returned to Birmingham after the war, he launched
a business manufacturing highway signs and signs cautioning safety
in plants and industrial operations. The business flourished and
soon it became the largest manufacturer of traffic and safety signs
in the south.
Hanna saw new opportunities in the steel-processing field. In 1954,
a new business was launched under Hanna’s leadership, a plant
and warehouse specializing in carbon sheet steel and strip products
processed to the buyer’s requirements. On Monday, May 20,
1963, General and Mrs. Hanna walked to a speaker’s platform
on a red carpet of steel for the ground breaking ceremony for the
present location of Hanna’s Fairfield plant. The City of Fairfield
had established a 43-acre industrial park, of which 7 acres belonged
to Hanna Steel. The park was bounded on the west by four railroad
lines; on the east by the then proposed Interstate 59; and on the
north by the Wylam overpass, a direct route from Birmingham to Birmingport
and deep water transportation routes. The new 100,000 sq. ft. structure
was open for business October 1, 1963. The company had grown to
six times its original size since its’ founding a decade before.
Only two years later a 25,000 sq. ft. addition was built.
Hanna was always deeply involved in all aspects of life at Hanna
Steel Corporation, from helping an individual employee with a personal
problem to major management decisions.
Hanna bought his first batch of Hanna Steel stock from his father
in 1962 with an $80,000 loan he got from what is now SouthTrust
thereafter, Pete began making his mark, taking responsibility for
much of the growing company’s operational and personnel matters.
But Pete had big dreams.
the past, the Company was regarded as a second-class, minimum wage
place, Pete remembered. “It was my dream for my employees
to have the best car and the best house on their street. Period.”
the early 1970s he pushed his father to bring Hanna’s transportation
in-house. To this day, Hanna owns its own truck line.
the 1970s oil crisis sent dozens of counterparts scrambling into
the oil pipeline business. Hanna stayed put, however, and found
the construction tube market left virtually bereft of competition.
The Company seized the opportunity and began its tubing operations.
In 1983, the world’s first “wide” (54”)
induction curing coil-coating line to produce pre-coated steel for
prefabricated buildings was installed at the Fairfield plant. In
1984, the General had an announcement to make.
retiring and selling the company,” he said, “I’ve
got a buyer and the price is $18 million.”
the chance to meet the offer, Pete once again scrambled to SouthTrust
Bank. With his previous equity in the company, he could buy the
General out for about $10 million. He did, and in 1984, Pete Hanna
could look at his father’s company and call it his own.
1991, Hanna opened a 144,000 sq. ft. Tuscaloosa tubing facility
which it expanded in 1995 to 460,000 sq. ft. Today, the 500,000
sq. ft. site is the Alabama home for Hanna’s southeast tubing
company expanded again in 1999, opening a new 250,000 square-foot
plant in Pekin, Illinois. The coil coating operation has a line
capacity of 300,000 tons and the ability to coat coils from 24 inches
to 62 inches wide and steel gauges ranging from .020 to .189. The
company also has two tube mills located at the facility giving it
better access to key Mid-western markets.
Hanna Steel Corporation is still a privately held company with corporate
headquarters in Fairfield, Alabama. It operates coil-coating facilities
located in Fairfield, Alabama, and Pekin, Illinois. Hanna’s
southeastern tubing operations are based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
and its Midwestern tubing facilities are in Pekin, Illinois. Hanna
Truck Line, known as HTL, rounds out the Hanna group providing consistent
deliveries to our customers.