Wednesday, March 26, 2014

We used to make things in this country. #147: A.O. Norton Company, Coaticook, Québec

Canadian Machinery, 1921

Arthur Osmore Norton started out in the wholesale and retail jewelry business in Coaticook, but in1886 he purchased the rights to a device invented by another local resident, Frank Henry Sleeper.  Sleeper was only 24 when he came up with the idea of using a ball bearing for supporting loads and transferring rotary motion into linear motion through a gear and screw.   This was the beginning the "Norton Ball Bearing Lifting Jack" which Norton manufactured in Coaticook, Boston and Moline, Illinois.  The jack proved very effective in bridge construction, but was particularly applicable to lifting locomotives and railway cars. Norton incorporated first in the U.S. in 1906, and not until 1913 in Canada (the year after a fire destroyed the Coaticook plant).  

The jack made Norton a very rich man, and his palatial home, built in 1912, is now the home of the Beaulne Museum.  As for Frank Sleeper, he went on to invent and produce approximately 500 different machines, founding his own company, Sleeper & Hartley out of Worcester, Massachusetts, which made machines for producing springs and wire.  It was acquired by the Kinefac Corporation of Worcester in 1991.

Meanwhile, south of the Canadian border, Josiah Barrett was the captain of a river boat operating out of Allehany County near Pittsburgh.  In 1883, he developed a ratchet jack to pull barges together into what was called a "tow."  He turned to Samuel Duff, the owner of a local machine shop, to manufacture the jack, and the two men went into a partnership, forming the Duff Manufacturing Company.  By 1890, the company was offering seven different models of the jack.  Over the next 30 years, they became the largest manufacture of lifting jacks in the world, but still wanted to be bigger.  In 1928, they merged with A.O. Norton to become the Duff-Norton Manufacturing Company.  One year later, they offered a motor-operated power jack, making use of portable air compressors that had recently come on the market.  Ultimately, in 1940, they developed the first worm gear screw jacks for adjusting the heights of truck loading platforms and mill tables.  Duff-Norton continues today as a division of the Columbus McKinnon Corporation.

To see the Norton company's catalogue for 1896, visit the digital archive.

No comments: