The sun casts a golden glow over the small town of Randolph, just south of Boston. Inside a factory building, the voice of Peter W., the president and CEO of Randolph Engineering, echoes through the hallways with a single phrase: “Onwards and upwards.” Those three words have become a mantra for the eyewear brand, reflecting its core values and vision.
For the past 50 years, Randolph Engineering has been driven by the idea that no matter how steep the road, they are always moving forward, striving to be better. That uncompromising spirit was instilled by its founders, Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, two Polish immigrants who took a chance to follow their dreams. Their dream, to build a company that was engineered on the values of passion and quality.
Their commitment to excellence was not just a means to an end, but a way of life. As Peter W., the son of Jan Waszkiewicz, explained,
“My father was a stickler for quality, never sacrificing it for margin. He would always say, ‘It takes years to build your reputation but only months to tear it down.’”
It is those values and mindset that laid the foundation for what Randolph Engineering is today: a company that has taken risks, been scrappy, led with entrepreneurship and stayed committed to its heritage and culture. A company that has made eyewear for the U.S. military, for celebrities, and for millions of customers around the world. A company that has truly become an American icon.
As Randolph Engineering celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we invite you to join us on a journey through time. We will recount the challenges we faced, the milestones we achieved and the valuable lessons we learned along the way. We will also share our vision for the future, as we continue to uphold our commitment to quality and domestic manufacturing.
Humble Beginnings: How Two Polish Immigrants Found Each Other
They had nothing but a dollar and a dream. Two young men from Poland, Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, each with their own story of hardship and hope, would eventually cross paths in South Boston.
Jan Waszkiewicz had escaped from Poland when it was invaded in 1939 and became a navigator for the British Air Force. After World War II, he immigrated to the United States with his wife, son and $50 and some kitchen utensils. He settled in Boston, where he used his skills as a machinist to work his way up in the optical industry. He became a head toolmaker at Star Tool & Die and later at Marine Optical.
Stanley Zaleski had lived on a small farm with his mother, older brother and sister in Poland. He was separated for 10 years from his father and older brother who had moved to the U.S. It was not until 1957, in the midst of the Cold War, that he was able to reunite with them in a tearful scene at Logan Airport in Boston. He joined his family in their new home and looked for opportunities to make a living.
Their friendship was an unlikely pairing, a chance meeting that would lead to the birth of a new era of entrepreneurship. It all began in South Boston, at Star Tool & Dye, where Jan was working as a head toolmaker. One day, Stan walked in looking for a job and the two quickly bonded over their shared Polish roots. They had an immediate connection. In the word's of Mary Zaleski, Stan's Wife
“They were like an old married couple,” “Yeah, they could understand each other without talking.”
Pursuit of the American Dream: How Jan and Stan Built Randolph Engineering from Scratch
They were so in sync with each other that their dream of starting their own business felt tangible. After Jan moved to Marine Optical, Stan was drafted into the Vietnam War, but when he returned, Jan made sure to hire him, and the two began to learn the optical trade.
But even as they worked day and night at Marine Optical, Jan and Stan were still determined to achieve their dream of creating their own business.
After hours, they would retreat to their basements, welding and forging away as they engineered the tools and machines, they needed to make their dream a reality. The smell of burning metal and the sound of clanging tools filled the air as the two worked diligently through the night to bring their vision to life.
They were from different generations, different life stories and different perspectives, but they shared a common goal: to create something bigger than themselves. That goal would come to fruition with the founding of Randolph Engineering in 1973.
Randolph Engineering was on its way to becoming an American icon.
The Early Years: Randolph Engineering Makes Its Mark
The company started out small, making parts for other optical companies. But soon, Jan and Stan realized that they could make their own eyewear products, using their expertise and craftsmanship.
From the outset, the company was focused on precision and innovation.
But the company’s trajectory was forever changed when they had the opportunity to secure a contract with the U.S. military to manufacture the HGU4/P Aviator. This aviator, built to the strict guidelines of MIL-S-25948J standards, was one of the most demanding and complex manufacturing specs around - a true test of their resolve.
Despite industry naysayers and a mountain of technical and quality control requirements, the Randolph team pushed the limits of their capabilities. They ramped up production lines and worked through endless nights, and eventually emerged triumphant.
This groundbreaking partnership with the U.S. military proved to be the catalyst for the company’s success, catapulting them to the forefront of quality-driven products and synonymizing their name with top-class made-in-the-USA craftsmanship.
The Mil Spec Aviator was not just another pair of sunglasses. It was a product that combined durability, functionality and style. It was a product that met the highest standards of performance and quality. It was a product that made history. It was a product that embodied Randolph Engineering’s values and vision.
From Military to Mainstream:
When Jan Randolph retired in 1990, his son, Richard, took the helm of the company and set it on a new course. With the introduction of the Randolph Aviator, a product that combined meticulous attention to detail and innovative design, the company gained global recognition and notoriety. Richard knew that to reach the heights of commercial appeal, their brand needed to make a crossover from military to mainstream.
Enter Sean Tucker, an aerobatic pilot who performs breathtaking stunts in the sky. He became a partner and an ambassador for Randolph Engineering in 1995, wearing their sunglasses during his air shows. As Sean put it, “Millions on millions of people attend air shows every year across North America. It’s the Top Gun, Fourth of July and Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one.” With millions of eyes on Randolph Engineering’s logo on Tucker’s plane, the brand took off, and Sean benefited too: “They trusted me with their brand, and I got to dance. All over North America.”
Dance he did! With the aid of Sean Tucker’s tailwinds, Randolph Engineering exploded through the 90s and into the new millennium. The Randolph Aviator had a meteoric rise, quickly becoming a hit among celebrities, influencers and fashionistas. It was featured in movies, magazines and fashion runways. Presidents, pilots and astronauts have worn it. It was admired by millions of people around the world. It became is the ultimate symbol of Americana style.
But Randolph Engineering did not stop there. The company continued to grow and diversify. It expanded its product line to include other styles of sunglasses, such as the Concorde, the P3 and the Amelia. It also ventured into other markets, such as optical frames, prescription lenses and accessories. It branched out into storytelling, energizing its products through the lens of cultural icons and brands, such as Alpha Industries, Todd Snyder and Junya Watanabe. Through the lens of others, Randolph continued to spread its vision and values through the world.
Today, Randolph Engineering is more than just a sunglasses company. It is a lifestyle brand that represents American values, heritage, and culture. It is a brand that celebrates craftsmanship, innovation, and quality. It is a brand that inspires confidence, adventure, and freedom.
Randolph In The Here & Now
As we celebrate 50 years of operation in 2023, we cannot help but look back and reflect on our journey. From that fateful day when Jan and Stan joined forces to our humble beginnings on the aviation runway to gracing the fashion runways of Milan and Japan, we have climbed mountains and reached our dreams. But we know the journey is never truly over, and we are always striving to reach new heights.
We have so much more in store for the future. But as we look forward, we recommit to you our dedication to quality and craftsmanship. That has always been at the forefront of everything we do, and that won’t change as we continue to evolve and grow.
So, join us in celebrating this monumental year. As we navigate the unknown and face new challenges, we will continue to chant our mantra of “onwards and upwards.” Here’s to the next 50 years, and all the mountains we have yet to climb.