Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

History of Nicholls Manufacturing Co., Ottumwa, Iowa

In 1913 I bought 8 unused plaster and cement trowels and floats made by Nicholls Manufacturing Co. of Ottumwa, Iowa, USA. I have been unable to learn when Nicholls went out of business, but it was still advertising in "Popular Mechanics" in 1956. In the 1930 US Census, the occupation of Fred Hardsocg (1882-1967) was manager, square factory. In 1940 his occupation was manager, mining equipment.     

"The following is from the book 'Ottumwa: Yesterday and Today' published in 1923.

"The Nicholls Manufacturing Company, 401 to 405 West Main Street [elevated street and vacant lots], with an annual production of 55,000 framing and carpenters' squares, is one of five factories in the United States which makes squares and the only one west of New England according to Fred Hardsocg, owner and manager.

"In 1901 four men formed a partnership for manufacture of a framing square on which Moses Nicholls, a carpenter, had secured a patent. The four men were Mr. Nicholls, Martin Hardsocg, T.F. Norfolk, and A. Wheeler. Martin Hardsocg purchased first the share of Mr. Wheeler and later that of Mr. Nicholls, and Fred Hardsocg, his son, purchased the interests of Mr. Norfolk. Later he bought the remainder of the holdings from his father and has been managing the business for about ten years.

"The plant is operating at capacity and is unable to meet the demand. In addition to squares the Nicholls Manufacturing Company produces floor scrapers, wood pullers, and grass hooks. When the company was established it was a real pioneer in the West and in order to obtain the expert workmanship desired Joseph Miller, an Eastern mechanic, was employed to come here. He made the first square and is still with the firm."
Source of quote

Martin Hardsocg (1852-1942)

Nicholls ad from 1917


  1. Great summary on Nichols Tools. I will visit the site again, found it while researching Nichols info. on a 1901 take-down square. Great work, hang in there

    1. I have a Nicholas take down square with a leather jacket. If been trying to find info on it and what it might be worth.
      If you have some could you if you don't mind email me at
      Thank you.
      Bob caron