Aug. 1, 2000
The dawn of the 20th century was a busy time for manufacturing. The U.S. was in the midst of the industrial revolution, and in the machine tool industry, an important transformation was taking place. In short order, machines went from being belt-driven to

Makino (R.K.LeBlond); founded 1887

Suburban Tool (Taft-Pierce Mfg.); founded 1875

Barnes International Inc.; founded 1907

Wilbur and Orville lift off at Kitty Hawk (1903).

South Bend Lathe; founded 1906

The dawn of the 20th century was a busy time for manufacturing. The U.S. was in the midst of the industrial revolution, and in the machine tool industry, an important transformation was taking place. In short order, machines went from being belt-driven to electrically powered. This cleared the clutter of overhead belt-and-pulley systems, but more importantly, these machines now had all-geared, constant-speed drives from independent electric motors. Feed speeds were no longer coupled to those of the spindle, and most established machine tool builders soon changed over their traditional designs.

During the early 1900s, companies such as Niles Tool Works, John Steptoe & Co., Lodge & Shipley, and G. A. Gray were already producing lathes, screw-cutting lathes, boring and turning mills, shapers, gear-cutting machines, and more for the well-established bicycle, sewing machine, typewriter, railroad, and armament industries. But other industries were springing up, focusing on such new technologies as steam turbines, telephones, and, most importantly, automobiles and planes. These new sectors would change the manufacturing landscape in the century to come.

R.K. LeBlond Machine Tool Co. was one of the companies benefiting from the changes. It began as a jobshop and first manufactured lathes and drills for making steam engines and drill presses. The shop also provided jobshop services for other industries manufacturing typesetting equipment, cash registers, printing presses, and bicycles. By 1900, LeBlond began building lathes for the automobile industry, specifically for crankshafts. The small company eventually became LeBlond Makino Machine Tool Co., then simply Makino.

Also well-known in the typewriter and sewing machine industries was Taft-Peirce Mfg. Co., now known as Suburban Tool. Reportedly, it developed and manufactured the first visable planten typewriter. But its production of sewing machines is what evolved into custom-designed and manufactured machines and setup tools for metalworking and other industries. The company eventually stopped making machines and concentrated on only tooling. Today, Suburban Tool makes standard gage blocks, sine plates, leveling equipment, parallels, and other setup necessities.

Not all companies started in such "high-tech" industries as typewriters or sewing machines. Some began by making basic tools for one of the oldest industries, the farm. The history of SECO/Warwick dates back to 1900 when the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. was formed in Chicago to make nonelectric horse-clipping machines, sheep-shearing machines, hand clippers, and flexible shafts used to drive grinders and drills. The company built an efficient heat-treating bench furnace to temper blade steel. This is what led it into its present business, making custom engineered furnaces for both metal and composite materials.

In 1903, Ford Motor Co. was founded, and machining support for the new company came from the Dodge Brothers. John and Horace Dodge ran a machine shop in Detroit and had just taken delivery of a new Warner & Swasey high-capacity turret lathe. The brothers were to receive $10,000 worth of Ford stock in exchange for manufacturing 650 chassis. Technically, the Dodge Brothers could be considered the first first-tier automotive supplier, and quickly other manufacturers followed suit. For instance, Barnes Drill Co.'s first product was a gang drill for a Detroit automaker. Bruce Frank Barnes of Rockford, Ill., founded the company in 1907 and conceived the idea of using gears for speeds and feeds. It was the first all-geared, self-oiled drilling machine. The company's product line has since grown and now Barnes International Inc., as it is known today, handles precision honing machines along with media cooling and filtering systems.

From 1904 to 1908, Landis Tool Works served fledgling automakers including Peerless Motors, Buick Motors, Reo, Studebaker, Packard, Cadillac, and American Motors. The company also worked with Ford, which placed a large order for 13 grinders in 1906. To pump out all this work, the two Landis brothers, who founded the company, extended grinding wheel life using a simple garden hose. They determined that aiming the water flow from the hose at where wheel and workpiece made contact dramatically reduced wheel wear. This was an early version of coolant for the grinding process.

This was just one example of the innovations Landis pioneered. The company, which got its start in 1889, originally concentrated on threading equipment for high-volume manufacturing. One of the Landis brothers, A.B., developed a self-opening, tangential threadcutting die head. The company eventually expanded into the lucrative grinding market, but never forgot its roots. Today, Landis Threading Systems is still in existence.

While Landis provided grinders for automaking, Carpenter supplied the raw material. The company's steels were used in such automobiles as the Stevens-Duryea, Locomobile, Pope-Hartford, Lozier, and Columbia runabout. And, in 1908, machinists cut axles, gears, crankshafts, and other parts from Carpenter auto steels for the Locomobile Racer, Old 16. This "high-performance" model traveled 257 miles at an average speed of 65.5 mph to capture the Vanderbilt Cup.

On Dec. 17, 1903, however, the company began serving another industry — aviation. It was on that date that Wilbur and Orville Wright lifted off at Kitty Hawk, and the engine powering their heavier-than-air machine operated with components made of Carpenter steels. Carpenter followed up this high-profile event with other successful pairings. The company's steels were in the engines of the Fokker monoplane that Lt. Commander Richard Byrd flew over the North Pole and in the Spirit of St. Louis, which Charles Lindbergh piloted across the Atlantic Ocean.

Speaking of Byrd, engineers and scientists who accompanied him to Antarctica chose South Bend lathes for both expeditions. This was a great honor for the company, which was founded in 1906 by twin brothers John and Miles O'Brien. The twins had a unique way of doing business. They often filled in for each other at business meetings and took turns presiding as president of the company. South Bend Lathes still makes lathes, both manual and CNC, but has added CNC milling machines, rubber role grinders, blasting cabinets, radial and multispindle drill presses, and surface and cutting tool grinders to its product line.

Automobiles and planes were considered cutting edge in the early 1900s, but one might also consider the work of John F. Queeny a little ahead of the time. Queeny, a 42-year-old high school dropout, borrowed $5,000 in 1901 and built a chemical plant on the shores of the Mississippi river in St. Louis. He named the plant after his wife, Olga Monsanto Queeny, and the company started out making saccharin for the U.S. Government. Currently, Monsanto Enviro-Chem Systems, still in St. Louis, produces mist collection and filtering systems.

In 1904, Eiichi Okuma also did government work. His company, which at the time was manufacturing noodlemaking machines, received orders from the Japanese army for lathes and slotting machines. As a result, Okuma developed both a manual lathe and milling machine and shifted into around-the-clock machine tool production. It was at this time that the Okuma Noodle Manufacturing Machine Co. became Okuma Machinery Works Ltd.


Abraham B. Landis Landis Gardner

Abraham B. Landis started out his career making farm machinery with his brother Frank, but quickly became an innovator in the field of grinding machines. After developing the Landis universal grinder, Abraham founded Landis Tool Co. with his brother to manufacture cylindrical grinders. After that the Landis Machine Co. was formed to sell a threading machine of his design. In 1903 he earned a patent for his automatic magazine feed and release for short cylindrical parts, which enabled efficient grinding of connecting rod pins. Then again in 1905 he specialized a grinder for automobile crankshafts that eliminated torsion in the shaft by mounting the work on two live heads, counterbalanced by the journal bearings.

Companies founded in the 1900s

Seco/Warwick (1900), Monsanto Enviro-Chem (1901), Tornos Technologies (1902), Armstrong-Blum (1904), Stoelting Inc. (1905), South Bend Lathe (1906), Barnes International (1907), Monarch Machine Tool Inc. (1909), Rohm Products (1909)