Sunday, December 30, 2012

Glass cutter wars

Above, various glass cutters.  From top to bottom:

Fletcher No. 01 in case
Fletcher No. 01 without case
Hoppe, Germany
Red Devil
Fan Out III, Japan

The glass cutter owes its beginnings to O.M. Pike, a jeweler in Leverett, Massachusetts.  He was convinced that he could come up with an alternative to diamonds for cutting glass, so he began experimenting.  He ultimately devised a hardened-steel rod positioned between two friction rollers, which he patented in 1869 as the "Magic Diamond."  Fortuitously, he soon made the acquaintance of Samuel Monce, who worked for the R.J. Ives Machine Shop in Bristol, Connecticut. Monce improved on Pike's idea, patenting a bone-handled tool with a steel wheel as the "Excelsior" (which became more commonly known as the "Bristol Diamond"). Four years later, Fred Fletcher joined the company as an engineer, adding the idea of interchangeable wheels to the product.  Fletcher eventually joined with his two brothers and his father-in-law Franklin Terry to manufacture their new glass cutter in a barn on the Terry property.  In 1911, Fred bought out his brothers and incorporated as the Fletcher-Terry Company.

In 1875, Frank R. Woodward patented the "Woodward Wizard." This was a tool ostensibly designed for cutting paper stencils but Woodward produced and sold it only as a glass cutter.  Woodward didn't have the means to produce the tool on his own, so he approached the Smith & Hemenway Co., Inc. of New York City.  This company had been founded in 1872 by Landon P. Smith and John Francis Hemenway in Hill, New Hampshire.  On a trip to Sweden, Smith heard a blacksmith refer to sparks "those little red devils" which gave him the idea to use the name "Red Devil" for the new glass cutter.  Smith & Hemenway claimed in its circa 1926 catalog that "in 1872 the wizard Woodward conceived the idea of cutting glass with steel..."  Patent infringement cases between Woodward and Monce went on for years, and ultimately it seems that Woodward was able to have Monce's patent invalidated by proving that similar tools (particularly O.M. Pike's) had been in use prior to Monce's patent.   

Both Red Devil and Fletcher-Terry continue to exist as separate companies, both making glass cutters to the present day.  (Fan Out is a Japanese maker of various products, including specialty tools for the stained glass trade.  Hoppe is a German tool maker that appears to have gone out of business.)

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