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About Us

Roughneck History

Roughneck Concrete Drilling & Sawing Company is a family-owned business that traces its roots to 1956.

It all began in a garage.

  Roughneck's founder, Ed Johnson, in 1957
  Roughneck's founder,
Ed Johnson, in 1957.
  Roughneck's founding location, the garage on Fletcher Street, Chicago, IL
  Roughneck's founding location on Fletcher Street in Chicago

1956: Ed Johnson, a lineman for Illinois Bell Telephone Company, is installing phone lines into downtown Chicago buildings. Concrete-cutting technology is very crude in those days, and Ed sees an opportunity when he is introduced to diamond-tipped concrete cutting tools.

He starts a concrete-cutting business in his garage on Fletcher Street on the north side of Chicago and names it Concrete Coring Company. His sister, Lois Rathmann, becomes the company’s secretary. His closest friend, Joe Cerese, becomes vice president.

When Johnson first begins the business, his idea is to sell drill bits. However, because he is using diamond drill bits rather than steel, the cost is much higher, so his clients tell him to just do the job rather than sell them the drill bits. This is how Roughneck begins as a service organization.

Because Johnson started Roughneck in the industry's infancy, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the concrete drilling and sawing industry. When diamond blades are introduced, Johnson renames the company Concrete Drilling & Sawing Co.

"For the first 20 years, there was no competition in the area," Johnson once said. "People came and went, many falling by the wayside. One of the best things about being a pioneer was that nobody knew when you made a mistake!"

1959: Johnson moves to a location on Berwyn Avenue and runs the company out of his neighbors’ garages as well as his own.

1968: Roughneck builds its first stand-alone building, at 5366 N. Elston. The company rents out extra space to Tenneco (http://www.tenneco.com), which goes on to become a Fortune 500 global manufacturing company.

Roughneck's founder, Ed Johnson, in 1997 1969: The company starts using the Roughneck trademark.

1988: The business moves from the Elston Avenue address to its current location in Morton Grove. Ed Johnson renames the company Roughneck Concrete Drilling and Sawing.

1989: Vice President Joe Cerese suddenly passes away.

1990: Karen Johnson, Ed’s daughter, joins Roughneck Concrete as its operations manager and eventually assumes the role of vice president.

1994: After much contemplation, Ed Johnson decides to spend more time at his home, '’Roughneck Ranch,'’ and names Karen Johnson the new president.

1995: Roughneck Concrete becomes certified as a woman-owned business.

1998: The U.S. Small Business Administration names Roughneck president Karen Johnson Small Businessperson of the Year.

1999: Roughneck Founder, Edward Carl Johnson (1925-1999) passes away on April 3rd.

2000: Women's Business Development Center names Karen Johnson its Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year.

2006: Roughneck Concrete celebrates 50 years in business.

Why 'Roughneck'?

Ed Johnson chose the word "roughneck" as part of the company’s name because the term "roughneck" was traditionally used to refer to a laborer, especially a worker on an oil rig.

In the North American oilfields, a roughneck is one of several roles in the hierarchy on an oil rig. A roughneck's duties could include anything involved with the connecting and "tripping" of pipe down the well bore, and he is the man when it comes to general work around the rig. A roughneck is part of the crew.

The British oil industry used the term to describe people who worked on the drill floor of a drilling rig, actually handling the specialized equipment for drilling, pressure control, etc.

Roughneck 50th Anniversary Celebration
The Roughneck Team