Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vanished Tool Makers: Moore Drop Forging Company, Springfield, Massachusetts

Above, a couple of  my wrenches made by this firm.  The top one is for a Model T but opened up by some previous owner.  Below, the company's trademark, an M in a circle:

Arthur L. Moore founded the company that bore his name in 1900 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Starting with bicycle frames, they moved to the production of wrenches in 1904, particularly the Stillson-type wrenches that were popular at that time (marking them, "Stillson Wrench, Made by Moore Drop Forging Co., Springfield, Mass.).   (In fact, in a celebrated legal case   in 1927, after Moore had made about 5 million of the wrenches, the Walworth Manufacturing Company unsuccessfully tried to sue them for using the Stillson name on their wrenches, citing trademark infringement (which it wasn't, since Stillson was just a name on a patent) and patent infringement (which it also wasn't, since the Stillson patent protection had long since expired).  The Walworth company had earlier (1904) tried to sue the Oswego Tool Company on the same grounds, and had failed then as well.  They didn't seem to learn.)


Moore was one of the suppliers for toolkit wrenches for Ford cars and tractors.  (There's even a National Ford Tool Collectors group online!) In 1908, they began marking their tools with their M in a circle logo. In 1919, they acquired the Page-Storms Drop Forge Company out of Chicopee, Massachusetts.  



Starting in the late 1930's, they began to supply Sears with tools, ultimately producing most of the Craftsman-branded hand tools.  In 1944, needing more space, Moore bought the plant of the J.G. Brill Company, formerly the Wason Company.

Source:  Derek Strahan. Lost Springfield, Massachusetts.  (History Press, 2017)

In 1963, the company bought the drop-forging operation of Billings & Spencer (although the B&S tool division went to Crescent Niagara). By 1965, Moore Drop Forging was huge. It was operating four plants in the Springfield area and two in Ohio.  One plant made nothing but automotive door hinges, another made cold form parts such as shafts and gun barrels.  It produced forged parts for leading manufacturers in the automotive, aircraft and machinery industries. In Springfield, it made wrenches from start to finish: machining, heat-treating, polishing and plating. In 1967, the company was acquired by the Eastern Stainless Steel Corporation, becoming Easco in 1969.  The restructured company continued to provide Sears with tools, while marketing under its own Easco brand.  In 1985, Easco was acquired by the investment brothers Steven and Mitchell Rales and taken private.  The hand tools division was made public, and acquired by the brothers' Danaher Corporation in 1990.  This acquisition made the tools division the largest in the Danaher empire.  The following year, Sears made Danaher the exclusive supplier of their Craftsman tools. In 2005, Danaher shut down the former Moore plant in Springfield and moved machinery and production to Texas and Arkansas to cut $7 million in annual operating costs (this at a time when the CEO was making over $5 million a year and Danaher had sales over $500 million). The corporation said it would reconsider the move if workers took a 50 percent pay cut, and Massachusetts provided further tax concessions.  This didn't happen, and the plant (including two surviving Wason buildings, parts of which dated back to the 1870's) was subsequently demolished. As one commentator remarked, "It seems a shame to see a New England manufacturing plant, one there over 100 years, close its doors for no other reason than corporate greed. Corporate America has no social conscience and certainly no sense of tradition or pride in things like keeping New England craftsmanship alive." In 2010, Danaher merged its tools division with Cooper Tools to form Apex Tool Group. Bain Capital bought Apex in 2012.  (Bain was co-founded by Mitt Romney who was also governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. With friends like this...)  In June 2013, Apex closed the Gastonia, North Carolina plant where Easco had been manufacturing sockets since 1978. About 220 Apex Tool Group employees lost their jobs when production was relocated to Dallas, Texas and China.  

Sears Craftsman tools are now sourced from China.

Springfield, once called "the industrial beehive," has been beaten up. The Gilbert & Barker Company, of gas pump fame, started there.  They closed their factory in 1966, and moved production to Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Later called Gilbarco, they were also bought by Danaher in 2002.  Danaher combined them with Veeder-Root, then bought Gasboy, and now they're Gilbarco-Veeder-Root and make pretty much every gas pump you use.  They were part of Danaher's Fortive Corporation which it spun off in  2016.) Springfield was also once home to American Bosch.  In 1953, Bosch moved a big part of its production to Columbus, Mississippi, attracted by much lower wages and state financial incentives.  That move cost Springfield 500 jobs.  In 1986, after being sold to the United Technologies Corporation, the Springfield factory itself closed in 1986.  The factory sat empty until December 2004, when it burned to the ground.  Arson was suspected but never proved. The day after the Bosch factory fire is when Danaher formally announced the closure of their own Springfield plant. Nice sense of timing. Robert Forrant, a former union business agent at Bosch and now a professor at UMass-Lowell, as written extensively about the human cost of these industrial closures.  In a 2007 op-ed piece, he commented:

Now, I teach industrial and labor history at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and I remain deeply troubled over how working families can put food on the table and save for their children's education and their retirement in an economy with so little regard for people who make things. 
The Bosch fire and the closing of Danaher should give us all pause to consider the society we want - one polarized into the haves and have nots, or one that fairly rewards people for hard work and never forces them to choose between medicine for their children or money for groceries.

Hey, the big corporations now control both medicine and groceries, so it's win-win for them! 


mobilecc said...

On 9-18-18 saw one for sale on e-bay for $24.95 + $4.50 shipping.
I have one (monkey wrench) in my antique tool collection.

Unknown said...

Sitting here with a customer who worked there and retired before they closed ....of course I had to Google 😁

Mister G said...

Did he have any interesting store is to tell?

Unknown said...

My dad was a security guard there when I was like 5 or 6 .

Unknown said...

I just found this blog while looking for help with my memories of childhood. I grew up on Worcester Avenue from '47 till I moved away in '70, and I remember being able to hear the pounding of the Moore forges in the basement of our house. My grandmother worked at Powers Paper, just a stone's throw away from Moore, Bosch and Van-something.

Unknown said...

Hey, I also graduated from Lowell Tech in '65!

Unknown said...

I find myself on ebay looking for tools that say Forged in USA. It's sad when you wake up and realize what we lost.

Anonymous said...

My husband has a 36 inch Stillson type wrench with the Morco M circle logo. He bought it at an auction. I can’t find any information about 36 inch wrenches from the Moore company and wonder if anyone knows anything about them? For example are they rare? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My grandfather worked there in the 1960s after migrating.