Millers Falls Company Arises From Nash's
Two Greenfield Machinists Found Small Tool Industry After Series of
By Thomas W. Merrigan
A water-powered clothes wringer plant which grew into a multi-million-dollar
business enterprise known throughout the world. That is the Millers Falls Company,
Greenfield's second largest employer which is nearing its own centennial.
The history of this firm, with branches in two Franklin County towns, is an
unusual sage of struggle against the elements. It started with nothing except
an idea in the brains of two Greenfield machinists and with practically no competition.
Today it thrives in a field which is fiercely competitive but in which its reputation
for craftsmanship makes it a dominant force.
The vision of the founders and the willingness of succeeding owners to venture
into new lines are paramount reasons for the Millers Falls Company's attainment
of the position it holds now in the small tools industry. Its willingness to
keep trying something new and thus outpace competitors has been demonstrated
innumerable times since the Millers Falls Company was established in 1868 at
Grout's Corner, now Millers Falls.
In those days that territory was little more than wilderness and the men who
setup shop there were looked on with curiosity. The attempts of Levi J. Gunn
and Charles Amidon to establish a manufacturing firm in Greenfield had met with
consistent bad luck. But with advice and money from Henry L. Pratt, a lumber
operator with a keen business mind, they chose a new site next to the Millers
River because of excellent water power and their persistence paid dividends.
Amidon and Gunn were fellow workmen in the Greenfield Tool Company in the 1860's
and decided there was a profitable future in the manufacture of clothes wringers.
They set up a plant at Nash's Mill Pond with the Cherry Rum brook as a source
of water power. But first the brook ran dry and then $300 worth of wringers
they had stored in a barn were destroyed by fire.
Fires Dog Them
In 1865 they were joined by an ingenious man named William Barber whose idea
for an iron bit brace was snapped up by Amidon and Gunn. With Barber they manufactured
this tool at their Cherry Rum Brook plant where the waters had again risen to
normal. This was the actual beginning of what was later the Millers Falls Company,
but fire again interrupted the efforts of these men when the North Parish mill
was ruined by flames that swept the structure. After this disaster Gunn and
Amidon resumed operations in a section of the Greenfield Tools Company before
flames once again proved their downfall.
When they started production of iron bit braces, their plant turned out 18
a day but capacity had rapidly increased to many times that number when fire
After that fire at the Greenfield Tool Company Amidon and Gunn, backed by Henry
L. Pratt, moved to Millers Falls where a one-story brick building, 250 feet
long and 50 feet wide, was built of brick. This structure, which has been elevated
to two stories, still stands among the many buildings since added to the firm's
physical layout in Millers Falls.
Despite setbacks and the skeptical observations of the few people living in
that community, the Millers Falls Manufacturing Company, as it was known from
1868 to 1872, managed to make a substantial place in the small tools field.
Hand drills, breast drills, bit braces and tool holders got their start at this
plant where the Millers Falls Company was eventually to add a series of new
buildings and many new lines.
The Millers Falls Company in 1916 purchased the Ford Auger Bit Company of Holyoke
and moved both equipment and some employes to Millers Falls where a complete
line of auger bits was produced. The firm continued to make auger bits until
1946 when this product was discontinued and the line sold to another firm.
Continuing a policy of expansion into newer lines and broadening of production
capacity, the company in 1920 purchased the plant and assets of the West Haven
(Conn.) Manufacturing Company which had for many years manufactured the Universal
hacksaw blades. This was operated for a time as a subsidiary and in the years
that followed hacksaw blades were added to the Millers Falls Company lines as
well as small nail sets and other small tools.
The booming automobile age didn't catch Millers Falls Company officials napping.
They voted in 1920 to purchase the National Machine Company of Brattleboro where
truck and car jacks were manufactured for about 12 years before these items
were discontinued because these products did not prove a profitable addition
to the company operation.
Two new lines were added in 1926 with the purchase of the Accurate Level Company
of Detroit. In this same year electric tools were taken on as a new product
and this line has expanded so rapidly that is it one of the major items turned
out by the company today. The following year a full line of planes were also
The biggest single, advancement made by the Millers Falls Company was in 1931
when it acquired the Goodell-Pratt Company which occupied the present Greenfield
plant and general offices on Wells Street. Goodell-Pratt manufactured many precision
tools such as micrometers, measuring scales, thickness gages and other small
tools that were taken over by the Millers Falls Company. The building on Wells
Street provided the company with twice as much floor space and an opportunity
to compete more successfully with a variety of products that had already gained
a favorable reputation in the industry.
Goodell-Pratt Company was founded in 1888 by Albert and Henry Goodell in Shelburne
Falls. Three years later upon moving to Greenfield it was incorporated as the
Goodell Brothers Company. In 1897 it became Goodell-Pratt Company and employed
16 persons, reaching its peak during World War 1 with 740 employes.
Albert Goodell, who had the principal share in the founding of the company,
had been a superintendent in the Millers Falls Company and his brother, Henry,
was a foreman before they established their own firm.
War Brings Expansion
World War 11 brought about the biggest increase in production and employes
that the Millers Falls Company has ever seen. Almost overnight new equipment
was needed to meet the country's defense requirements, a round-the-clock work
force was organized and the company found itself undergoing a severe test to
keep up with the government's requests for new materials.
Civilian production was suspended during the war years when the items turned
out by the company were routed to manufacturing plants requiring tools for defense
production and to American and other Allied military outfits throughout the
Vitally needed by armed forces and defense plants alike were electric drills,
saws and screw drivers, and steel for these was given a high priority. Micrometers,
needed by every machine shop in the country producing war materials, were turned
out by the thousands, along with many portable electric tools. Bit braces from
Millers Falls Company averaged 6,000 to 8,000 a week but these quickly numbered
in the twenty-thousands while hand and breast plate drills increased equally
In one instance a federal inspector urged the plant to double its production
of auger bits or else the government would construct a plant of its own. The
company met Washington's request but again was asked to double production because
the need for these bits was so acute.
Met Peace Needs, Too
The Millers Falls Company was in a more favorable post-war position than most
industries because it manufactured tools that were badly needed during the tremendous
residential and industrial boom that followed. Thousands of veterans building
their own homes bought many tools necessary for construction, as did many large
contracting firms whose business activities were curtailed during the war.
With the increasing popularity of electric tools, the hand tool line began
to slacken but whenever possible employes were transferred to electric tool
departments where they learned this new trade. During the war there averaged
about 650 employes at each plant but the average now is between 500 and 600
employes at each place.
Since the war a new boiler plant has been built at the Millers Falls plant
where the original building has increased to 12. An extension has also been
added to the electric drill department while in Greenfield, where all tools
are shipped out, a new shipping building has been added.
Introduces Many Lines
The Millers Falls Company has been first to introduce many new lines of tools
during its 85 years. The power saw used today originated from an idea H. L.
Pratt had in 1890. The company was also first in turning out the first hand
drill, commercial mitre boxes, hacksaw frame, bench drills, extension bit holders,
auger handles, angular bit stocks, drill bit braces and many other new tools
that have proven successful on the market.
It produces a large variety of tools that would be a cause for the firm's early
founders to blink in amazement at the new wrinkles introduced into the small
tools industry. The company's products include such items as planes, bit braces,
hand drills, levels, screw drivers, grinders, hacksaw frames, electric drills,
keyhole saws, precision tools, forged tools, mitre boxes, hand and breast drills,
power hacksaws, hand hacksaw blades, electric saws, industrial sanders, combination
sets and many others. From these base designs the company also produces many
related types of sets that find a place in markets all over the world.
Much of the Millers Falls Company's worldwide sales in its early years resulted
from the efforts of Edward P. Stoughton who in 1869 became associated with Pratt
in the New York office.
George E. Rogers, father of the company president, Philip Rogers, joined the
company as secretary in 1872 and held the offices of treasurer, vice president
and finally general manager, a post he held until his death in 1915. He was
responsible for many of the firm's new tools.
In addition to Philip Rogers as president of the company, John W. Smead and
Clarence W. Otto are vice-presidents, Earl D. Holtby is treasurer and clerk
and Earle A. Brown is assistant treasurer. Directors are Rogers, Smead, Otto,
Kenneth H. Saunders, Holtby, Joseph T. Bartlett, Donald B. Swain and William
Since 1868 the Millers Falls Company has played an important role in the lives
of thousands of Franklin Country families. At the same time the skills of Franklin
County machinists have raised high the standards in production and capacity
of the Millers Falls Company.
The ability of management and employes down through the years to work together
is responsible for the traditional favorable relations between the two. Team
work and a spirit of family organization have contributed to the success of
management and employes in past years and with this type of association in the
future, the Millers Falls Company and its employes can hardly stray from the
path of prosperity.