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Millers Falls Company Arises From Nash's Mills Ashes

Two Greenfield Machinists Found Small Tool Industry After Series of Disasters

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 interfered.

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 added.

Add Goodell-Pratt

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 world.

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 as much.

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.

Present Officers

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 H. Shortell.

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.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: This 1953 newspaper article from the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette in Greenfield, Massachusetts, describes how two Greenfield, Massachusetts machinists founded a small tool industry in the 1860's, after a series of disasters. The attempt by Levi Gunn and Charles Amidon to establish a manufacturing firm for wringer washers in Greenfield met with consistent back luck. First the brook supplying water power ran dry and then $300 worth of wringers, stored in a barn, were destroyed by fire. Undaunted by these obstacles, they joined with William Barber in 1865 to manufacture an iron bit brace, but several more fires again interrupted their efforts until they finally moved to a one-story brick building. The company continued to expand, with the biggest increase in production and employees taking place during World War II (WWII). Today, the company no longer exists.

 

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"Millers Falls Company Arises From Nash's Mill Ashes" article from Greenfield Recorder-Gazette newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Recorder-Gazette
date   Jun 9, 1953
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
height   14.75"
width   6.75"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L06.014


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See Also...

Photograph of Millers Falls Companies with WWII losses

Breast Plate Hand Drill manufactured by Millers Falls Company

"Making High Grade Tools for Industry Since 1868" Millers Falls Company ad from Greenfield Recorder-Gazette newspaper


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