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  • William Horner

Digging Through the Archives: The Neil B. McGinnis Equipment Company

Neil B. McGinnis was not your typical mid-century construction and farm equipment dealer in Phoenix. In 1946, he forever changed how equipment companies presented themselves. His firm, the Neil B. McGinnis Equipment Company, had a state-of-the-art building constructed. The sophisticated design was called “one of the most pretentious machinery sales and repair buildings ever erected,” by The Arizona Republic.

The building’s incorporation of construction equipment in a sophisticated setting represented McGinnis, a unique entrepreneur who thrived in both blue-collar and country club circles. McGinnis was president of the Phoenix Country Club and friendly with professional golfing legends Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, but he also knew machinery. McGinnis owned a plane and flew it himself. His successful company supplied heavy equipment that contractors used to build the State’s highways from 1928-1966. How did this Texas native become such a Renaissance man?

The Neil B. McGinnis Co., 1401 S. Central location, 1943.

Neil McGinnis was born to Neil and Margaret Sheehan McGinnis in 1897 in El Paso. His father, an engineer for Southern Pacific Railroad, was transferred to Missouri and later to Phoenix in 1912. McGinnis graduated from Phoenix Union High School and briefly attended Occidental College before enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War I. The Armistice ended hostilities before McGinnis graduated from officer training school.

After the war, McGinnis worked for Standard Oil Company, with offices in the Luhrs Building, and the Rio Grande Oil Company, but he later found his calling as the Arizona sales representative for equipment companies.

In 1928, he formed the Neil B. McGinnis Equipment Company with a single employee and opened at 1401 South Central Avenue in Phoenix. Two years later, the firm featured the famed Allis Chalmers equipment line. They sold the brand until the late 1960s, becoming one of the longest-running distributors.

The Neil B. McGinnis Co. building, 500 S. Central, 2020.

The Allis Chalmers connection allowed the McGinnis company to compete with State Tractor Company, O.S. Stapley Company, Arizona Machinery Company, and Frank Ronstadt Company in Tucson for bids from the state highway commission. The Depression-era Public Works Administration (PWA) required private contractors to bid for road work while equipment suppliers bid to furnish equipment.

This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.4.


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