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The History of Industrial Development and Toolmaking in US


American Tools in England - Chicago Journal of Commerce & Metal Industries, 12/26/1896

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The following interview recently took place in London between the editor of the Hardwareman and Charles Churchill, the pioneer importer of American machinery and tools in England:

"In what year did you start your business here of importing American tools and machinery?" asked the Hardwareman representative, sailing on another tack.

"In 1865."

"Then you have no less than thirty years' experience of this trade?" "Exactly."

"And I presume that the changes you have witnessed in the trade since you first undertook to present American tools to the English market have been something startling that is, contrasting then and now?"

"Oh, yes. I do not think I can more graphically illustrate it than by showing you my first catalogue issued when I was at Laurence Poultney Lane, and our latest published catalogue.

Now, as the first catalogue was a small four-page list, and the last catalogue consisted of two substantial and handsomely printed and bound books which the firm have now to issue to show the goods they handle, the Hardwareman man was fain to confess that the change between "now and then" was startling enough. Mr. Churchill was then good enough to show him the separate catalogues issued in yearly succession by the firm. They were Interesting not only as an indication and proof of the continuous progress and development of the business, but as a record of the introduction of various well-known American specialties to the English trade."

"I notice, Mr. Churchill," the Hardwareman man went on, "that the catalogues issued during the past five or six years have dropped hardware novelties and specialties for tools and machinery exclusively."

"That is so," was the answer. "Before all, we are in business to sell machinery and tools, and we found that to properly develop our business it was necessary to restrict ourselves to these lines and let the specialties go; hence the gradual disappearance of these miscellaneous hardware lines from our catalogues."

"I suppose you have in stock, at the present time, tools that you were handling when you first started, thirty years ago?"

"Yes, that is true with regard to two lines - the Morse twist drills and the Cushman chucks."

"And the prejudice that you had to meet in those early days was something appalling?"

"It was. It was impossible to convince many people in those days that a twist drill was any good at all. Now all that is altered, and the Morse twist drills have a name that is distinctly enviable."

"What, in a word, is 'the secret of the success of American tools in this country?"

"Well, I think it's summed up in 'superior quality at the same price.'"

"Let us have a specific example—the Disston's saws?"

"Yes. I have no objection to the example."

"No. The reputation of Disston's saws is, I know, worldwide and unassailable."

"And with every reason, I believe. In the matter of quality of steel, temper, and finish, a Disston saw is unequalled. A Disston saw will stand tests that no self-respecting English manufacturer would put a saw of his to. The blade of a real Disston saw, for instance, can be bent round until its end is thrust into the crutch of the handle, and when released will spring back into place instantly."

"Can you tell me something of the manufacture of Disston's saws? You have visited the Keystone Works at Philadelphia on many occasions?"

"Oh, yes."

"Did you know Mr. Henry Disston, the founder of the business?"

"No, I cannot recall that I ever met him. It is curious, though, that Henry Disston, the founder of the American saw trade, was an Englishman. He went to Philadelphia and commenced manufacturing of saws. As the business grew, the works were extended.

Disston set himself to make saws specially suited to the needs of the country. He was always ready to accept suggestions from practical users of saws as to improvements. All such hints were duly tested, and whenever they were found good they were adopted. That policy was followed by his sons, and the foundation of the success of Henry Disston & Sons has undoubtedly been their eagerness to improve and their determination to exactly fit the requirements of saw users."

"Can you tell me some facts about the Keystone Works? They are the largest saw works in the world?"

"Yes. Two years ago they were turning out nearly two million saws a year, and at the present time they have doubtless passed that total. At that time the ground enclosed for the works was no less than thirty-eight acres, and two thousand hands were employed. These are some facts as then officially given.

Lumber consumed for saw handles, 1,325,000 feet yearly; lumber consumed for shipping goods, 900,000 feet yearly; grindstones consumed, 950 tons yearly; steel consumed in file factory, 824 tons yearly; sheet steel produced, 4,500 tons yearly; bar steel produced, 7,000 tons yearly; hand saws manufactured, 2,500 dozen weekly; circular saws manufactured, 50,000 yearly: cross-cut, mill, Mulay, and drag saws, 200,000 yearly; hack and butcher saws, 6,000 dozen yearly; compass, key-hole, and web saws, 43,000 dozen yearly."

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