Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vanished Tool Makers: Behr-Manning Company, Troy, New York

Behr-Manning, 1959

Above, from a useful publication I found years ago among my late father-in-law's effects.

Herman Behr arrived from Hamburg, Germany in Brooklyn, New York at the age of three in company with his family.  He eventually became involved with his father's hardware company and then became interested in "pouncing paper" involved in the finishing of hats.  He established his own firm, Herman Behr & Company, in 1872.  Several of his brothers joined him and the firm prospered, being incorporated in 1911.  By 1922, the company occupied four and a half acres and employed nearly 300 people.  Below, an ad from 1923:


Behr made the first perfect pouncing paper in this country; introduced the first garnet or red sand abrasive paper in the world; made the first flexible cloth belts of abrasive and followed this with the first successful aluminum oxide coated cloth discs for metal grinding.  In the early 1920's they developed their "Openkote" sandpaper. This was an accidental discovery, resulting from a shipment of paper which was mistakenly coated sparsely with grain.  It proved very effective for sanding soft materials like wood and leather, and was less likely to clog when used on materials coated with oils or varnishes.  Behr refused to patent the process, and it was quickly adopted by his competitors.  In 1928, with the founder growing old and his heirs uninterested in the firm, H. Behr & Co. merged with the Manning Abrasive Company of Troy, N. Y., to form the Behr-Manning Co.  In 1931, the firm was purchased by Norton.  This Behr-Manning products were very profitable for the parent firm and by 1951 the division was manufacturing more than 30,000 items, with sales close to $30 million.  By the late 1950's or early 1960's, Behr-Manning was completely absorbed into Norton and the name disappeared.

As an interesting aside, one of Herman Behr's sons, Karl, was a survivor of the Titanic disaster.  The Behr mansion in Brooklyn also has an interesting story. After the family sold it in 1919, it became the Palm Hotel, which devolved into a brothel in its declining years.  In 1961, it was re-purposed as a home for Franciscan brothers.  There's irony for you.

"How to Sharpen" is one of many guides that Behr-Manning offered in the 1950's.  I've scanned and uploaded the entire 20-page document here.

Popular Mechanics, April 1957

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