Friday, January 17, 2014

Vanished Tool Makers: Henry L. Hanson Company, Worcester, Massachusetts

Over the years, I've picked up a few tools made by this company under their "Ace" brand.  Below, a set of screw extractors:




More recently, I found one of their taps:


They also made vices in Canada.  Below, one of mine:


A visitor to the blog from Worcester sent me these pics of a Hanson-made micrometer.  He tells me that it still works beautifully.  It's very interesting that they made such a wide variety of tools, from vices to mikes:





The Henry L. Hanson Company was initially housed in a five-storey building at 25 Union Street in Worcester.  Built in 1879 by a wealthy merchant, Stephen Salisbury, it was first used by the Porter Last Company before being occupied by Hanson.  For 50 years, Hanson made taps and dies there that gained world-wide fame for their quality. They eventually made a variety of hand and power tool accessories under names such as "Handy" as well as "Ace" and sold these through retail hardware outlets, mass merchants, and automotive and industrial channels.  In 1975, the company moved to a modern facility in the same city.  At some point, the company became a part of the Irwin tool empire (now a part of Newell Rubbermaid), where the name is still used as a brand. Unfortunately, according to comments I've read on various web forums, the taps and dies under this brand name are now made in China and are considered to be of very poor quality.

The city of Worcester was once a huge manufacturing centre, especially after 1828 with the completion of the Blackstone Canal which linked the city to Providence.  The Boston-Worcester railway, established in 1835, also helped build the city's fortunes.  At its height, local companies made machine tools, wire products, power looms, ice skates, and corsets.  However, its industrial decline began after World War II.  The space race provided a brief respite, as the rocket pioneer Robert Goddard was a native and obtained his post-secondary education in the city's universities.  During the Apollo moon landing in 1969, the David Clark Company of Worcester designed the "Snoopy cap", the communications carrier assembly, that transmitted Neil Armstrong's famous first words from the moon.  Other local companies also made the legs of the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module, forgings for the spacecraft, and superinsulation and ceramic coating for the rocket nozzles.

Worcester is now strenuously attempting to re-invent itself.  Today, the old Hanson factory is the home of Max Silverman's Toolhouse restaurant, where you can enjoy a meal in the presence of some of the original Hanson machinery!




9 comments:

HEC Mold&Eng. Inc. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lanette said...

What a great piece of history! I checked on this company because I was in the garage and had a drill gauge in my hand and noticed the brand name so I had to do a bit of research out of curiosity. I'm glad I did!

Anonymous said...

Wanted you to realize that the "Hanson" taps and dies are made in Gorham Maine , USA. I have represented Hanson for many years. They were purchased by the original IRWIN company out of Wilmington Ohio and then they were purchased by the American Tool Company out of DeWitt Nebraska (VISE-GRIP Tools) and then they were purchased by Newell Rubbermaid. Although many of the tools are now imported the taps and dies continue to be made in the U.S.A.

ward norris said...

I have a solid wood display case with several unused bits in it. I got it when Maddux Hardware, one of the old-time country hardware stores, closed down in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Anonymous said...

I just picked up a complete Handy Tap & Die Set that was sitting atop a tool box at my local dump. The have a no picking policy, but when I saw it complete, it found its way into myn truck when no one was looking. There were two full size tool boxes sitting there. I can only imagine what other trasures may have been in them.

The Duke said...

I shudder to think of all of the good tools that are still being consigned to landfill sites. I've saved a few myself from this fate.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Hanson factory when it was located across from the old Warner & Swasey Grinding Machine Division factory. I was attending Worcester State College and worked there until I graduated in 1979, just before they moved their operations to Maine. As I recall, this was their way of busting the union as we were members of the United Steelworkers of America (I still have my union card as a memento). That aside, I still have fond memories of working there as they paid well and took pride in their products. By the way, they also made tools under the Blue Point label which were sold by Mac Tools mostly to mechanics.

Anonymous said...

I'm eighty-five and many years ago -- I don't recall exactly when -- I bought a set of Hanson's drill bits, sizes 1/16 to 1/4. The case says S-113 HIGH SPEED STEEL DRILL SET/ FULL JOBBERS LENGTH. And then in smaller capital letters it says Henry L. Hanson Company, Inc./ Worcester Mass., USA. The 5/64 and 3/32 eventually snapped, and today I bought a couple of replacements. But I didn't like the look of them so I went online and arrived here to learn the sad news that the Hanson Company has disappeared. However, I find solace in the fact that this website exists and that some people -- I suspect a lot, actually -- appreciate well made tools. I have a couple of wood vices and block planes made of wood that I keep on a display shelf, truly beautiful objects. Gene, upstate New York

Unknown said...

I have a full set of ace # 606 l had for years they are great.