Saturday, March 2, 2013

See you later, alligator!

Alligator wrenches were used primarily with square nuts (which used to be more common than hex-sided nuts) and for pipe.  Although the first patents didn't appear until the 1870's, versions of this tool date back to the early years of the 19th century. 

They were made by a wide variety of tool manufacturers, initially as stamped wrenches beginning in the early 1800's.  Below, a combination alligator wrench/screwdriver tool made by "Col. Metal Prod., Inc." and also stamped "U.S." and "1953."   (Although cheap stamped wrenches continued to be produced into the 1970's by companies like Oxwall, the "1953" is likely a model or tool number since manufacturers had no reason to stamp the year of manufacture on their tools.)

Below is an alligator wrench that incorporates a regular wrench opening, as well as a screwdriver and some other protrusions of unknown purpose:

Unfortunately, the manufacturer's name or brand name has been all but obscured by pitting:

On the wrench below, the M inside a diamond indicates that this is a product of the Frank Mossberg Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts.   

In 1899 Frank Mossberg and other investors founded the Frank Mossberg Company to manufacture tools, with the intended production of pipe wrenches, bicycle wrenches, and related items. The company was initially located in Providence, Rhode Island and operated independently of Mossberg's earlier business(es), but by 1900 the company had moved to Attleboro, and then in 1901 the earlier business operations were merged into the Frank Mossberg Company. By the early 1900s the company was producing bicycle wrenches in a number of styles, with names such as Sterling and Diamond.  In 1927, the company merged with APCO (the Auto Parts Company) to become APCO-Mossberg, and later specialized in the manufacture of torque wrenches.

Canadians, in the form of McKinnon Industries Limited, also got into this business:

The company was started in St. Catherines, Ontario in 1878, opening a drop-forging plant to manufacture chains and other items in 1905.  After the founder died, a new company was formed in 1925, which managed to acquire the Canadian interests of J.H. Williams, of which more below.  In 1929, the company was purchased by General Motors.

Another alligator wrench below is stamped "Bull Terrier" and on the reverse is a diamond enclosing the initials "W&B":


This refers to Whitman and Barnes Manufacturing Company, founded in 1877 in Akron, Ohio.  Over the years they acquired many other smaller tool companies, venturing into the wrench business in 1893 when they built a factory for this purpose in West Pullman, Illinois.  They used the names "Bulldog" and Bull Terrier" for their alligator wrenches.


1908.  Exterior view of a Whitman & Barnes Manufacturing Company building, located on the southwest corner of West 120th and South Morgan Streets in the Town of Pullman, in the West Pullman community area of Chicago, Illinois. The view is looking down a street along the enclosing fence. Text on the negative reads: West Pullman Trolley Trip.    Source:

Below, one of their large "Bulldog" alligator wrenches:

Around 1920, W&B was acquired by the once mighty J.H. Williams Company of Brooklyn and then Buffalo.  The Williams wrench below, a "Twin Bull Dog" shows the influence of the W&B acquisition. These much stronger forged wrenches began appearing in the early 1900's. Williams, after a maze of mergers and acquisitions, ended up in the hands of Snap On in 1993, which continues to offer tools under the Williams brand.  

Below, "The Hawkeye" wrench made by the Hawkeye Wrench Company of  Marshalltown, Iowa and incorporating 3 thread chasing dies in the centre.  They were based on a 1903 patent awarded to Charles Benesch of North Dakota.

Popular Mechanics, February 1906
Finally, my favourite, the "Neverslip" patented in 1897:

"Neverslip”was the store brand for the E. C. Simmons Hardware Company of St. Louis, Missouri.  Edward Campbell Simmons went from lowly clerk to president of a huge hardware firm, with tool plants in New Hampshire and the largest pocket knife factory in the U.S.  He introduced the “Kleen Kutter” like of tools and knives, and then extended the alliteration to King Koaster children's wagons; Klipper Klub ice skates; Korn and Koffee Krushers; Karpet King sweepers; Kool King ice boxes; Klear Krystal lamp chimneys; Kar King accessories; King Kord tires, and Keen Klipper lawn mowers.  The company’s 1901 catalogue had over 5000 pages!  The company went bankrupt in 1939 and its assets were purchased by the Shapleigh Hardware Company who continued to market its trademarked Simmons lines into the early 1960’s, living up to E.C. Simmons’ slogan, “The Recollection of Quality Remains Long After The Price Is Forgotten.”


lbgradwell said...

"This refers to Whitman and Barnes Manufacturing Company, founded in 1877 in Akron, Ohio."

Whitman & Barnes once manufactured in St. Catarines, ON too. I don't know the date range, but they were there in 1917 for certain...

Gary said...

On the second alligator wrench pictured, I’m pretty sure one of those “protuberances of unknown purposes” is a bottle opener. You know, by the time you’ve fitted some pipe, tightened some hex bolts, removed some screws, and done whatever you’re supposed to do with that long slot in the middle of the tool, you will have worked up a thirst.

Mister G said...


Anonymous said...

The alligator wrench stamped "1953" actually is a date. That wrench was a US Army wrench; for some reason (probably accountability) the Quartermaster Corps wanted items to be date stamped.

Mister G said...