Friday, April 21, 2017

Vanished tool makers: Jones & Lamson, Springfield, Vermont

Photographed at the American Precision Museum when I visited there a few years ago.

In 1858, Lamson & Goodnow partnered with B. Buchanan Yale to purchase the assets of a private armory called the Robbins & Lawrence Company in Windsor, Vermont.  (The building is now the site of the American Precision Museum.) They initially renamed the firm Lamson, Goodnow & Yale but eventually Ebenezer Lamson took it over, renaming it E.G. Lamson & Co. They continued to make machine tools and Ball and Palmer carbines. In 1868, Russell Jones moved his textile manufacturing equipment into the area, and the company became Jones, Lamson & Company, now adding the production of textiles alongside the manufacturing of guns, machines for making guns, sewing machines, and various other machine tools.  (After the American Civil War, Lamson changed the name of his firm to the Windsor Manufacturing Company, and by 1870, he had sold his arms making tools and machinery to Winchester and Smith & Wesson.) Combining textile and machine tool production turned out to be a bad idea, so in 1876 the machine manufacturing part of the business became the Jones & Lamson Machine Company.  Business slowed down in the 1880's and Springfield, Vermont offered the company tax concessions, so the firm relocated there in 1888. James Hartness joined the firm as Superintendent in 1989, focusing production on turret lathes. 


Above images from Howard Monroe Raymond, Modern Shop Practice. Chicago: American Technical Society, 1919:
Above, from George W. Barnwell (Editor).  The New Encyclopedia of Machine Shop Practice.  New York:  Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc., 1941.
Jones & Lamson prospered and became a very important machine tool manufacturer, particularly of the Fay Automatic Lathe.  This was a significant advance in production turning that was made obsolete only with the development of CNC.

George W. Barnwell (Editor).  The New Encyclopedia of Machine Shop Practice.  New York:  Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc., 1941.
For photos of their factory, go to Vintage Machinery.

Workers trained in their works went off to start their own companies and by the 1930's there were more than 50 companies making machine tools in what came to be called Vermont's "Precision Valley."  During World War II, the company's president served on the national commission on the standardization of screw threads. Those were the glory days. In 1964, Jones & Lamson was acquired by the Rhode Island-based conglomerate, Textron.  The new owners invested money in modernization, but there was a price to be paid for giving up local ownership.  Dun & Bradstreet, the financial ratings service, estimated that between 1968 and 1976 absentee parent companies like Textron were responsible for more than half of all manufacturing jobs lost in New England due to plant closings and ''runaway'' shops. A U.S. recession in 1980 hit the industry harder, as did competition from cheaper Japanese machine tool makers.  In fact, in 1982, 50 percent of new lathes bought in the U.S. were of foreign manufacture.  

In 1980, Textron split the company into two divisions.  The lathe division remained in Springfield, while the optical comparator division, J&L Metrology was moved to South Carolina.  (That move proved unsuccessful, since about 70 highly skilled workers were left behind in Springfield.  Fellows Gear Shaper bought J&L Metrology and brought it back to Springfield where it is now privately owned.) Layoffs at Jones and Lamson reduced the workforce from nearly 1200 to closer to 200 in 1981. In September 1983, Textron announced that it would be moving its operations out of Vermont. The Springfield facility would only be used to assemble lathes, while the specialized machine tools were moved to a more efficient plant in Cheshire, Connecticut, with further production from a plant in Lot, Belgium.  About 180 Springfield jobs were lost.  In 2002, Bourn & Koch purchased the assets of Jones & Lamson and Fellows, and continues to provide spare parts for these machine tools.

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