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Rental Industry Pioneer John Doran Dies at 90

Rental industry veteran and EDCO founder John Doran died Nov. 8 in Prince Frederick, Md.

One of the legendary early pioneers of the equipment rental industry John Doran died Nov. 8 at the age of 90. Doran was the founder of one of the industry’s largest and most successful rental companies, Rental Tools & Equipment, as well as manufacturer and supplier EDCO.

Doran was born in Newark, N.J. After World War II he graduated from Georgetown University. In 1951 he founded Rental Tools & Equipment Co., based in Bladensburg, Md. The company became one of the leading rental companies in the U.S. and grew to 26 branch locations from Philadelphia to Houston and reached the top 10 of the RER 100. Doran was a pioneer member of the American Rental Association and served on numerous committees promoting the rental industry.

Doran actually began renting equipment while in college. He had numerous tools and grew tired of people borrowing them and having to ask for them to be returned, so he began renting them to raise some spending money. He formed Rental Tools & Equipment in 1950, operating out of a house in Silver Spring, Md. Doran was mechanically inclined and was able to inexpensively purchase a wide variety of military surplus tools and machinery after the war. He excelled in fixing up the tools and equipment and renting them to contractors who were building the explosion of post-war communities and infrastructure at that time.

Doran met his wife-to-be Jean while working at a hospital overseeing plant and facilities maintenance. They were married in 1951 and raised 10 children together in Chevy Chase, Md.

Doran was trained to operate and repair steam turbine engines and had a natural knack for repairing machinery. As his son, John Doran Jr., who played a major role in the development of Rental Tools & Equipment, said, “He never met a machine he didn’t want in his rental fleet.” Doran admired the catalog-based companies of the era such as Sears Roebuck and W. W. Grainger and developed rental catalogs for the company. His philosophy was that any business could use his products, not just construction contractors.

Doran was an early advocate of computerization in the rental industry and purchased his first NCR model in the mid-1960s for back office usage, and continued to learn how to benefit from them. His “charts” as he called them eventually became the spreadsheets and graphs used today.

Unable to buy some of the specialized equipment that concrete customers asked for in his rental business, Doran founded the Equipment Development Co. (EDCO), still a well-known company in the rental industry. The company eventually was taken over by Leo Swan as Doran was spread too thin trying to operate Rental Tools & Equipment as well as EDCO. Doran also started a company called Automated Functions that designed, built and installed computerized robotic rack retrieval systems.

“John was a natural leader of people,” said Doran Jr. “He was quick to assign a job to an employee that he knew wasn’t currently able to do the job, but he could sense they had the ability to succeed. Those employees reciprocated by becoming the store managers and supervisors that made the company successful.”

Doran was a particularly popular figure in the early days of rental, known for helping other young rental entrepreneurs get started in the business.

“He was particularly proud of his Irish heritage,” added Doran Jr. “He was a second-generation Irishman, hailing from Baileborough, County Cavan. He enjoyed Dixieland music and never missed a good party.”

Doran sold Rental Tools & Equipment to United Rentals in the late 1990s when he retired.

Doran is survived by his wife, seven daughters Catherine and Eileen of Huntington, Md.; Sheila of Boston; Mary, Richmond, Va.; Beatrice, Big Sky, Mont.; Leah, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Nancy, Brentwood, Calif.; and son John of Shadyside, Md. Two other sons, Charles and Daniel, died in 1985.

Services will be held at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Prince Frederick, Md. Viewings will be held Thursday Nov. 14 from 2 to 4 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral and burial will be held Friday Nov. 15 at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Hospice of Calvert, 238 Merrimac Court, Prince Frederick, MD 20678.

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