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Threadwell In New Industrial Era After Decades of Varying Fortunes

Now the third largest industry in Greenfield, Threadwell Tap and Die Company on Arch Street seemed to have a dark future a few years before WW II when the plant operations were at a low ebb.

Revived by the many defense contracts it received during the war, Threadwell was solidly on its feet again at the close of the conflict. Then its condition was improved even more by the purchase of the old factory by a prospective Dayton, O., industrial organization. Today Threadwell Tap and Die is probably in the most favorable position it has held since it was established here in 1892 for the manufacture of butcher's tools.

Threadwell Tap and Die was purchased in 1946 by the Sheffield Corporation of Dayton, second largest manufacturer of precision gages in the U. S., during a program of post-war expansion that is still being carried on. Sheffield has installed a considerable amount of new equipment in the old plant which was owned by a group of local business men at the time of the sale.

In 1892 Walter E. Nichols and his brother, J. Henry, of Bernardston bought the failing plant of the Greenfield Tool Company and formed the firm of Nichols Brothers, manufacturers of butchers' tools. Walter Nichols learned the cutlery trade at the age of 10 but when the brothers started to turn out butchers' tools they were laughed at by hardware men who argued that Yankee craftsmen could not manufacture suitable knives and meat cutters. Only the English were adept at this trade and the Nichols brothers were foolish to attempt this enterprise, they were told.

Gamble Pays Off

But they were stubborn. Walter made the tools and J. Henry Nichols loaded a wagon with these Yankee-made items and left town with only $2 in his pocket. These brothers didn't refer to their butchers' tools as cutlery because to a maker of butchers' tools, cutlery indicated a low grade. But after giving the butchers a chance to try out the Nichols line of tools to prove their serviceability, J. Henry pulled back into town loaded with orders; from then on they had it made.

These tools, finished from Sheffield steel, were hand-ground on grindstones brought from Ohio and weighing a ton apiece. Many veterans of the J. Russell Cutlery in Turners Falls were employed by Nichols Brothers who realized they had reached their sales maximum in the butchers' tools line and decided to branch into a new field. They built a plant on Arch Street for the manufacture of threading tools and this became known the American Tap and Die Company which was merged three years later with the original plant under the name of American Tap and Die Corporation.

In 1920 the Nichols brothers retired from the business and three years later the firm sold to the Wells Tool Company. But in the absence of these plucky Yankees, in 1926 the Wells Tool Company found it necessary to withdraw from the business. That same year the Threadwell Tool Company was formed and after four years of operation, a foreclosure sale on real estate, plants and equipment took place in order to pay the interest on a bond issue on behalf of the new firm.

In 1930, the Mechanics Tool and Wrench Company, which leased a part of the plant, leased the entire layout and continued the Threadwell line of taps, dies and small tools. This was in addition to the pipe wrenches it had manufactured previously.

Sparked by a New Device

In 1934 the Threadwell Tap and Die Company was formed and installed new gas and electric hardening equipment and soon after business showed a fair increase. A new device, developed by Treas. George H. Wilkins and Sec. Herbert J. Smith of the Threadwell Company, provided a new method for thread cutting and restoring trimmed threads. This arrangement, patented soon afterwards, helped the company in its efforts to gain new business inasmuch as it could be used with any wrench and does not require a die stock.

In February, 1941, W. Scott Keith, president of Threadwell, informed stockholders that 1940 showed the first "satisfactory" profit the company had seen since 1929, with exception of the year 1936. He also revealed the firm had a backlog of orders amounting to three times the total of 1939 sales, consisting principally of Navy and Army defense items.

The most essential World War II products turned out by Threadwell Tap and Die on a round-the-clock employment schedule were cutting tools used in boring the Garand rifle and the .30 and .50 caliber machine guns manufactured in the Springfield Armory. The number of employes during World War II rose to nearly 400 and this company, which a few years previously had struggled to keep itself in the black, was one of this nation's many defense plants turning out valuable items for war use.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the Threadwell plant in 1946 the officers of the local firm were Herbert J. Smith, president; the late W. D. duMont, chairman of the board; Miss Esther Herter present Threadwell corporation clerk, was secretary; W. Scott Keith, treasurer, and Herbert V. Erickson, Nathan Tufts, George C. Lunt, and Philip Rogers, directors.

Polk Takes Charge

Paul W. Polk, son of the founder of the Sheffield Corporation, Oscar M. Polk, assumed charge of the local firm as vice-president and manager. His brother, Louis of Dayton, is president. John P. Bernard of Dayton is vice-president, R. F. Whisler of Dayton is vice-president and assistant treasurer and Edward T. Noe, JR., of Dayton, is secretary.

Threadwell, which was forced to release some of its employes following the war, now employes 200. New tools and new equipment have been installed since it was taken over by Sheffield which has announced plans to promote the local firm sales as much as possible along with a general policy of expansion of its other holdings. If business proves favorable in the near future, Sheffield hopes to add new machinery and employes to meet sales demands.

Threadwell dies are non-adjustable while in Dayton Sheffield turns out the collapsible type. It was the relation of these two items that made the purchase of Threadwell appear to be a practical move, according to Mgr. Polk. This decision has turned out to be an advantageous move inasmuch as the Threadwell products have tied in neatly with the many types of tools manufactured by Sheffield at its other plants. The Sheffield line includes machine tools, cutting tools such as taps and dies, gages and precision- measuring instruments and the tooling used with them.

Sheffield is manufacturer of large dies, such as those that stamp out a refrigerator door or fender in a single operation. It sells its products to practically every industry in the metal working field, including appliance, auto and aviation manufacturer. The Sheffield Corporation operates plants at Dayton, Melbourne, Australia, Greenfield and Conway, Mass. Engineering design offices are operated in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Richmond, Ind., in addition to similar facilities in Dayton.

Award Scholarships

In May of last year Sheffield Corporation, through the Threadwell organization, announced that it would award four scholarships to Franklin County youths who are high school graduates. These scholarships would provide up to $1,200 each for tuition and living expenses the first year at the University of Cincinnati. The corporation would also provide these scholars an opportunity to work during vacation periods at the Threadwell plant to earn money for succeeding years of study. Sheffield established the first scholarship in engineering at the University of Cincinnati 12 years ago.

In June, 1949, Sheffield Corporation acquired the old Conant and Donaldson Manufacturing Company in Conway and after more than two years of preparations announced the reopening of this firm under the name of Conway Manufacturing Company. This company handles some of the processes formerly done in Greenfield and its new products include standard adjustable snap gages, adjustable length gages, adjustable inside block gages and gage blanks.

The principal item turned out by Conant and Donaldson was a replaceable and adjustable chaser collet type die. However, this plant which had been formed in Greenfield in 1904 and moved to Conway five years later, saw a decline in business during its later years and when Sheffield took over, more than half the personnel roster was drawing unemployment compensation.

Once a site of a cutlery business that was unproven when established by its owners, the Threadwell Tap and Die today is one of Greenfield's outstanding industrial organizations that promised to play a prominent role in the lives of hundreds of present and future working men of Franklin County.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This 1953 newspaper article from the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette in Greenfield, Massachusetts, describes the Threadwell Tap & Die Company as the third largest industry in Greenfield. Faced with a "dark future" before World War II (WWII), the company was revived by the many defense contracts it received during the war. The company was established in 1892 for the manufacture of butchers' tools when the Nichols brothers bought the failing plant of the Greenfield Tool Company. Despite being laughed at by hardware men who argued that Yankee craftsmen could not manufacture suitable knives and meat cutters, the brothers loaded up their wagon with only $2 in their pocket and were inundated with orders. Eventually, they branched out into the manufacture of threading tools, and in 1934 the Threadwill Tap & Die Company was formed, 14 years after the Nichols brothers retired. The company was purchased in 1946 by the Sheffield Corporation of Dayton, Ohio, the largest manufacturer of precision gauges in the United States during a program of post-war expansion. The company was bought out by Bendix, then merged with Besley, and is now located in China.

 

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"Threadwell In New Industrial Era After Decades of Varying Fortunes" article from Greenfield Recorder-Gazette newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Recorder-Gazette
date   Jun 9, 1953
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   6.5"
height   17.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L06.022


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See Also...

Partial sample of Saleman's Kit marketed by Threadwell Tap and Die Company

"Threadwell The Greenfield Plant That Is Making History In The Precision Tool Field!" ad from Greenfield Recorder-Gazette

Threadwell Tap and Die Company's Tap & Die set made in WWII


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