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
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
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
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
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
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 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.