Sunday, August 5, 2018

Take Me To Your Ruler : Murray-Black Co., Springfield, Ohio

Wall Paper Tools (Straightedges, Cutters, Trimmers, Knives, Scrapers, Seam Rollers) Kitchen Knives and Mini-Jogging Trampolines

I think the thing that appealed to me most about the advent of plastic rulers was the visibility advantage you enjoyed with clear plastic. Extensive use did wear down the straight edge of a wooden ruler, but the same occurred with plastic as well. My favourite wooden rulers for a crisp straight line were the ones that had a brass or metal strip that ran along one edge to ensure a longer life and truer line. I have several Acme rulers (made in Canada), one with the brass strip, and these were well described a few years back by The Duke in a post here 

Not surprisingly, well-made wooden rulers were also produced in the USA and in Europe. One ruler (it is properly a straightedge, but it does have measurement units inscribed) that I have and use on an infrequent to semi-occasional basis is a Murray-Black Co. wall paper hanger’s straightedge. It was likely 72 inches in length originally, but someone who owned it before me cut it down to 48 inches in length. I must confess that although I remember my parents putting up wall paper when I was a child, I have never hung any myself. The brass end cover of a wall paper hanger’s straightedge is there to provide a good clean straight line along which a blade can be run. This device has a track-trimmer slot that runs the length to allow for specialty wall paper cutters to slice a straight path along the brass edge. The Murray-Black Co. of Springfield, Ohio doesn’t appear to exist today, but nearly a century ago it seemed to have been a well known manufacturer of numerous tools associated with hanging wall paper. I have stitched together some of the origins for the company, but the fine details remain a little clouded, and there are many gaps. Please comment if you know more than what I have found.

If you went looking for wall paper hanging tools in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, Ridgely Trimmer Co. of Springfield, Ohio was a well reputed name in the business. Charles Telghman Ridgely (born Feb. 15, 1856 to Joshua T. Ridgely and Elizabeth Geisinger Ridgely) was an accomplished wall paper hanger, and undoubtedly an expert at his craft. He was also a prolific inventor of tools related to wall paper hanging. Between 1888 and 1932 he was issued an impressive 26 patents from the US Patent office. He may even have an extra patent in that mix if the patent assigned to Nellie A. Ridgely of Springfield, Ohio in 1897 is viewed as a submission from Charles under his first wife’s name (it is for a wall paper trimmer). Over half of the patents are assigned directly to the man, but several reveal his involvement with companies he was associated with. These were:

1902 Ridgely Trimmer Co
1905 – 1907 Standard Trimmer Company
1915 Ridgely Murray Company
1930 Ridgely And Dugdale Company

When you look at his creations and their timing, you get a sense that he was a great inventor, but not necessarily a great businessman (sales, marketing, etc.) and that he sought partners for commercializing his ideas. Control of the Ridgely Trimmer Company shifted from Charles Ridgely to a Jerry K. Williams in 1900 (and it flourished until it went bankrupt in 1957). He took his proceeds from that sale and invested in a hotel (the grand Bookwalter Hotel) as well as a news and cigar stand. He returned to the wall paper business with the Standard Trimmer Company, but then seemed to have left wall paper tool inventions and improvements by 1916 when he started applying for vehicle wheel related patents. He submitted nothing to the patent office for the period of 1919-1930, but then has another go at wall paper tool development with a last couple of patent applications in the early 1930s. Now, what does this Charles T. Ridgely character have to do with the Murray Black Co.? Ah, well you see there was that patent submitted in 1915 from the Ridgely Murray Company. That was a brief partnership between Charles T. Ridgely (prolific inventor) and Laban H. Murray (salesman, businessman) that would sow the seed for the emergence of the Murray Black Company.  

Laban Haughey Murray was born on Dec. 30, 1881 to James C. Murray and his wife Anna (Larkin by birth). Laban was an educated man. He belonged to the Alpha Tau Omega Palm fraternity, having gone to Ohio Wesleyan University for his Bachelor’s degree (1904), then to Harvard University for a Master’s degree (1905). He was likely related to Laban W. Haughey who was the first President of The Bank Of South Charleston. Laban Murray married Harriet S. Rogers (born in 1882), of Springfield, on October 1, 1909. They had a residence initially at 230 S. Greenmount Ave., but later relocated to 309 E. High St. (both in Springfield). At that time, he was traveling for the Frost-Johnson Lumber Company. At some point in the next few years (possibly 1912 and no later than 1915) he teamed up with Charles T. Ridgely to form the Ridgely Murray Company. This would have been a great score for Murray since Ridgely, whatever his challenges as a businessman (a fondness for gambling and horses may have been a factor), had an already established record of producing well designed and built tools for the wall paper hanging business. Laban’s wife Harriet died in 1916 at the age of 34. The corporate union of Murray and Ridgely was altered sometime in this same period. As early as 1921, the company was operating as the Murray-Black Company with Joseph W. Black as the new corporate name partner in the business. Neither Black nor Murray appear to have had the technical and innovative skills of Ridgely. Murray had only a single patent granted in 1923, and it was a relatively simple cutter improvement when compared to designs that Charles Ridgely had patented. I found no evidence that Joseph Black had any technical inclinations at all (not by the patent record anyway). The Black surname is, however, well tied to successful businessmen and politicians who served in that area for the century prior. But Murray and Black were quite good at sales and marketing. Consider that right up until the early 1930s the company presented itself on its letterhead as “The Murray-Black Company, formerly the Ridgely-Murray Company”. That goes to show how much the new entity wanted to ride the goodwill that Ridgely had established for himself for several decades earlier. It is perhaps no coincidence that Ridgely’s return to wall paper industry tool design (as evidenced by his 1930’s patents for wallpaper tools with Ridgely And Dugdale) falls in line with the Murray-Black Company decision to discontinue advertising itself as the “former Ridgely-Murray Company”. On May 28, 1929, Laban Haughey Murray died (survived by his second wife Glee Holverstott, born Feb. 26, 1899, graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University 1921, OWU Alumni Award 1956, died Nov. 12, 1990) and this event triggers some amount of shuffling in the ownership and / or management ranks of The Murray-Black Company. In January 1930, Joseph W. Black is listed as the company President and (the now deceased) Laban H. Murray as the Manager and Treasurer. By July 1930, Murray is no longer listed with a position at the company. Indeed, no one is listed as Treasurer and Manager for the company. In 1931 J.W. Black has shifted to the positions of Treasurer and Manager, and Earnest A. Twitchell now appears as the President of the company. Twitchell likely enjoyed a long run as President as he was still listed in that position in 1946.

Charles Telghman Ridgely died in 1940 at the age of 84. He originally had married Nellie (Stark) Ridgely and produced two sons (Charles and Roderick). He was again later married to Ada Leah Pipes in 1914 and produced several more children including a William D. Ridgely, and a Richard L. Ridgely. The Ridgely and Dugdale Company (partner was W. H. Dugdale, a prominent military veteran, lawyer, and member of the Democratic Party) did not appear to have a significant impact on, or duration in, the wall paper tool manufacturing industry. It may be that the patents were used only for licensing purposes.

It would seem that the Murray Black Company largely operated in cruise control for the decades that followed. William H. Starrick filed a patent on behalf of the company in 1937 for an extensible work support structure. The company re-structured and began producing tools under the brand name “Embee”. Garth Q. Briggs filed a patent in 1973 for a wood graining tool on behalf of the company. Finally, in 1983, Andrew J. Mounts filed a patent for a combined foot rest and toe heel shifter mechanism for a motorcycle. Murray Black was not exactly an innovation hotbed, and the glory days of wall paper tools were well behind it. One former employee from the 1960s recalled that he worked there for a wage just a small bump over minimum wage and that the machinery was largely turn of the century vintage with notable safety deficiencies. In 1980 the Murray Black company received a trademark approval for a mini-jogging trampoline “Ener-Jog”. In 1988, the company ended up in the hands of Betty S. Burrows (widow of former owner William F. Burrows), who reportedly was well considered among the employees. She passed away in 2012 and there is no record of any continued operations of the company since. Several sites in Springfield are identified as being production locations over the course of the company history, but the 552 West State Street (now also 552 Johnny Lytle Ave) seems to best represent the company as what it once likely was. Metal Stampings Unlimited now operates from that address. An immediately adjacent property (on the other side of where railroad tracks once lay in service of the community) was likely part of the company at one time, but is now just a dilapidated series of buildings. Chimney stacks of what likely would have been a foundry lie nestled in the ruins. The railway tracks that once served a myriad of manufacturers from this former industrial hub have been replaced with a pathway for bicycles and joggers.



Oldiron said...


I was doing some research on a trimmer and came across your blog. You have obviously been doing the same.
I thought you might find it interesting to know that I have a trimmer marked “THE MURRAY-BLACK CO. PAT. JAN.5’09. SPRINGFIELD, O.”

I looks older than the model 22. I hope this somehow helps in your research.

Thank you.

Mister G said...

culd you take a picture of the trimer, I'll add it to the post.

Oldiron said...

Mister G,
I’m not sure how to get this picture to you. This is my first time
on this website.
Please advise or send me some type email address.

Thank you.

Mister G said...

You could send it to and it will get to me. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi I seen your posting on Murray black straight edge. My brother has passed going through some of his thanks and came across this 84" straight edge had no idea what it was for, but it's looks exactly the same as your 73" straight edge. Could you tell me if there's any Market on these straight edges? Thanks

Becki said...

Any idea what they are worth? We just bought some lumber at an auction and found this same ruler.

Mister G said...

As I've found out, no one seems to want to pay for good tools these days.