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.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

History of Billings Union Trowel Works

Union Trowel Works, or Billings Union Trowel Works, began in Newark, NJ and relocated to Irvington, a town on the Newark border. Owner James E. Billings began his career as a blacksmith. Union Trowel made brick trowels, edgers and groovers, other mason's tools, and caulking irons.

James E. Billings was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in June, 1843. He married Maria Josephine Cutting on 6 Feb. 1871 in Pittsfield, MA. Mrs. Billings had a daughter by a previous marriage and the Billings had 2 daughters. By 1880 the family was living in Newark, NJ, and James was working as a blacksmith. He started the trowel works in 1890, and the most recent advertisement found was October 1911. The 1910 and 1920 US Census listed only Mrs. Billings in Newark. We have been unable to learn when Mr. Billings died and where he is buried.

Union Trowel was a frequent advertiser in trade publications in the first decade of the 20th century. Billings was an early adopter of the 8-hour work day for his employees, and a supporter of the Bricklayers and Masons International Union. The business may have been taken over by William Johnson, whose business was located nearby.

Billings trowels appear in John Stortz & Son's 1938 catalog, but it does not say where they were made. The line included the wide heel, London, and special narrow London pattern brick trowels, pointing trowel, margin trowel, and tuck pointers.  

Billings Union Trowel Works brick trowel
"This enterprise was founded in 1890, in premises situated on Greene Street [Newark, NJ], and in 1892 its rapid and steady development necessitated a removal to more commodious and spacious quarters. These were found at the present location in the Hedenberg yards, near Plane Street. The building occupied is 40 x 50 feet in dimensions, fully equipped with improved machinery and appliances driven by steam-power, and a full force of skilled machinists and tool-makers are employed. The restricted space at our disposal does not allow of a detailed reference to the numerous articles, tools, etc., which are turned out from these works, such as back chisels, moulders’ tools, etc. Mention must be made, however, of the famous "Union Trowels," the only ones endorsed by the bricklayers' convention held at Indianapolis, Ind., in January 1892. The Union Trowel Works, the only eight-hour trowel-works in the world, turn out no roll-work; there is no patent process of hardening and tempering, grinding or polishing, but all work is hammered. While prices are always the very lowest consistent with value and merit, all goods are warranted by Mr. James E. Billings, the proprietor, to be exactly as represented. Special patterns are also made to order. He is a gentleman of push, energy, and good judgment, and of honorable and liberal methods. Mr. Billings is a member of the United Friends as well as of the I. O. O. F., and in the latter order has filled the highest and most honorable offices."

Newark, New Jersey’s Greatest Manufacturing Centre, Illustrated, 1894

Billings pointing trowel

Billings cement groover

Union Trowel Works advertisement

Billings trowels in 1938

Billings trowels in 1938


  1. I would like to purchase a never been used or slightly used billings trowel. FMJ